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Second Thoughts Game #18: Blue Jays 4, Indians 6

Murphy and Brantley bail out Carrasco as Tribe avoids sweep

Second Thoughts Game #18: Blue Jays 4, Indians 6
Michael Brantley hits a solo home run against the Blue Jays to help the Indians avoid a sweep. (Photo: Chuck Crow)
April 21, 2014
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The Indians have been in a kind of funk where they needed a game where almost everything clicked to help them relax and breathe easier.

Well, I don't know if Sunday's game was exactly what the doctor ordered as there were still some pitching issues with Carlos Carrasco and John Axford, but at least on offense, they appeared to be working better as a team. They worked pitch counts, drew walks, got on base and, most importantly, didn't try to do too much with runners in scoring position.

Player of the Game: Michael Brantley (2-for-3, HR, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R, BB)

So far this season, when the team has asked for clutch hits, they've, not surprisingly, turned to their best clutch hitter last season in Michael Brantley. Dr. Smooth continued to live up to his moniker this Easter Sunday as he got the Indians on the board with a solo home run in the second inning and an RBI double in the fourth inning to bring the Tribe to within one of the Jays.

Brantley currently leads the team in home runs (3) and RBI (16) after his performance on Sunday. He is batting .394 with runners on base and .318 when they are in scoring position so far this season. What's most interesting is he's actually at his worst when the bases are empty as he only has a .176 batting mark in those situations. Yet two of his three home runs have come with no one on base.

When the cards are down and the Indians need a clutch hit badly, there is no one I'd rather have at the plate. Well, maybe other than the guy I'll be talking about next.

Murphy Making Good

The good news for Brantley is that he doesn't have to shoulder the whole team with them currently struggling with runners in scoring position. Indians newcomer David Murphy has proven himself to be a valuable hitter in the clutch in the early going, as well. So far, Murphy is batting an impressive .500 with runners in scoring position with five of his seven hits going for extra bases.

Such was the case on Sunday as Murphy came through when the Indians needed a clutch hit the most. After John Gibbons pulled starter Brandon Morrow after giving up a leadoff single to Nick Swisher in the sixth, he went to his bullpen, which has struggled with command as of late. Aaron Loup came into the game and got Jason Kipnis to ground into a fielder's choice and was able to pick off the Tribe second basmen as he was trying to steal second.

So with the Indians down two runs with their backs up against the wall, they dug in and managed to draw three straight two-out walks to load the bases, which was probably the best display of plate discipline that they've shown so far this season.

Then up stepped David Murphy with the bases loaded and two outs. And on the second pitch of the at-bat, Murphy laced a two-seam fastball into left field for a bases-clearing double. He didn't panic, nor did he try to do too much. And with that the Indians suddenly had a 5-4 lead.

I said before the season that Murphy at his best reminded me of Michael Brantley as a hitter and that if he got back on track, he and Brantley in the lineup together could really balance out the offense. Look at the lineup right now and ask yourself where would this team be without them?

Can Carrasco still start?

Is three starts too early to draw a definitive conclusion about a pitcher? Yes, but what if we're seeing a continuation of the same habits and patterns that have already long been established?

Carlos Carrasco didn't necessarily have a bad start on Sunday, but those bad habits and patterns cropped up once again, particularly his struggles when pitching to the lineup for the second time. During his career, opposing hitters have only managed to hit .252 against the right-hander when facing him for the first time during a game. From the second at-bat onward, however, they have compiled a .327 batting mark.

This has been a fact that even Carrasco himself admitted during Sunday's postgame interview.

"During the second time through the lineup, I think they knew what pitches were coming," Carrasco told reporters following the game.

His splits so far this season are, unfortunately, consistent with that statement as opposing hitters are batting only .240 against him during their first at-bat of a game, but are mashing the ball the second time around at a .435 clip.

So does this mean that the Indians should pull the plug on Carrasco's career as a starter? I don't think they will yet, but I do believe it will be inevitable if he cannot figure out how to make adjustments during the second and third times through the lineup.

The good news is Carrasco may be better suited as a relief pitcher since he would most likely have to face hitters only once during a game. Last season, he pitched well with a 1.32 ERA in eight appearances out of the bullpen.

Facts and Notes

  • Michael Brantley is now tied for the lead in the American League in multi-RBI games with five.
  • Indians veteran DH Jason Giambi is expected to be activated and added to the roster at some point on Monday.
  • John Axford has saved six of the eight wins for the Indians thus far.
  • David Murphy's three-run triple was the only hit with runners in scoring position for the Tribe during this series.
  • Cody Allen has now had back-to-back appearances without recording a strikeout for the first time since September 6th and 8th of last season against the Mets.

Up next: Royals (9-8) vs. Indians (8-10) @ Progressive Field. First pitch at 7:05 pm ET.

The Indians will send their best starter of 2014 thus far in Zach McAllister to the bump at Progressive Field for another AL Central showdown, this time against the Royals. McAllister is coming off back-to-back dominant starts (both wins) against the Padres and Tigers during which he has pitched at least six innings and allowed one run or less.

Squaring off against McAllister and the Tribe will be former Indian Jeremy Guthrie. The right-hander has had some struggles with inconsistency so far this season despite having a 2-0 record. He's coming off a no-decision in Houston where he allowed four runs in six innings of work, including two home runs.

Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.

User Comments

Walter
April 21, 2014 - 2:59 PM EDT
Giambi has been activated. Wood was sent down, 7 man bullpen. Not surprised they kept Johnson. Part of the reason is the Indians will be playing the Giants this weekend, will need extra fielder and bat.
Hawk1228
April 21, 2014 - 2:16 PM EDT
I didn’t get to see the game while Carrasco was pitching as I was driving to Columbus. But I did hear Hamilton make the statement that it appeared that Santana and Carrasco were not on the same page as they were earlier in the game. And not hearing the interview with Carrasco where he made that comment, I would tend to think that there was some disagreement on pitch selection based on what Hamilton said during the broadcast.
Walter
April 21, 2014 - 2:03 PM EDT
Based on Carrasco comments, maybe he is tipping his pitches. Need Giambi to take BP with Carrsaco throwing. He did solve the problem with Outman. Outman so far his having good success coming out of the bullpen.
Daingean
April 21, 2014 - 11:33 AM EDT
Carrasco's trend is that he pitches when he's behind (on the scoreboard) but when it's even or he's got a lead, he just falls apart. Might be a lot of pressure as he's not won as a starter in a few years but he's alway had the rep of self destructing (even from his days in the Philly system).
Rich
April 21, 2014 - 11:12 AM EDT
I was disappointed with Carrasco's statement that the Jays might have know what pitches were coming. It's like he's saying, "It's not my fault, it was the pitch-calling." Is he blaming the catcher or whoever was calling the pitches from the dugout?

He's quicking working his way into a career as a relief pitcher.

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