Second Thoughts Game #34: Twins 3, Indians 4
The Walk-Off Magic Returns
It’s been a long time since we’ve had one of these wins. Mike Aviles’ hit in the bottom of the ninth inning (with two outs!) gave the Indians their first walk off win of the year. The inning was made possible on a fly ball that went off the glove of the Twins’ Eduardo Escobar, the rare occurrence when the Indians have been able to capitalize on another team’s miscues in the field.
The win, while hopefully a momentum and confidence booster for the team, doesn’t mask their ongoing struggles at the plate. Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana, and Asdrubal Cabrera have extended their funks through the first week of May. Clutch hits from Michael Brantley and Aviles were the difference in this game. While there were some miscues defensively, there were also some plays from Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Santana that saved runs.
The Indians have now won four of six, and the two losses during that stretch were games they probably should have won. The team certainly isn’t firing on all cylinders, but they’re ticking upwards. This was game 34, and it’s about that time when teams begin looking at making changes. It’ll be interesting to see how aggressive Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona will be in bringing up/bringing in players that can help this team.
Evaluating Danny Salazar
As the rotation seemingly rounds into form, the one pitcher in which questions remain is Danny Salazar. Salazar’s been bit by some bad luck (.395 BABIP, 66.2% LOB coming into Wednesday) but he’s certainly had his fair share of contributions to the struggles. For starters, his control isn’t the same as last year. In 2013 Salazar threw 67.7% of his first pitches for a strike. This year that number is all the way down to 55.8%. Hitters have adjusted, and are taking a more patient approach against him this year.
The issue that has arisen is Salazar’s reliance on his fastball. He’s throwing the pitch nearly 75% of the time, and relying on it even more when he’s down in the count – which is often. It’s not the same fastball as last year. His velocity is still down, swinging strike percentage is down, and his line drive rate on fastballs has risen to over 30% (per Brooks Baseball). At this point, Salazar hasn’t shown the control or refinement of his secondary pitches to get hitters off his fastball.
With some people thinking he might be pitching for his rotation spot, Salazar had a pretty good game. It was just the second start this season where he managed to avoid the long-ball and easily his second best start of the year. He managed to become the fifth straight Indian starter to pitch into the seventh inning, where he ran into trouble. Salazar left with runners on second and third, which scored after back-to-back hits of Bryan Shaw in relief. Regardless, Salazar had a quality start and should put an end to the calls for Trevor Bauer – at least for the time being.
There remains work to be done on Salazar’s end. As discussed, the most pressing issue is control. He maxed out at 99.2 MPH in Wednesday’s start, and his velocity is climbing back to last year’s levels. Long-term, Salazar has work to do with his secondary pitches. Right now his changeup is his second best offering, but in this game he threw it only ten times (9%) in this game. It’s hard to imagine that Salazar’s almost complete reliance on his fastball is something that’s going to be sustainable.
-Yan Gomes committed his ninth error of the season in the third inning, with another errant throw to second on a stolen base attempt. Two batters later Danny Salazar got a strikeout on a ball thrown in the dirt. That pitch got away from Gomes, who then made a throw to first that pulled Swisher off the bag and allowed the runner to reach. Two more examples of Gomes’ throwing struggles. I’m not sure it’s realistic with only Carlos Santana as Gomes’ backup, but some mental health days could be in order at this point.
-Michael Brantley (aka Mr. Clutch) is hitting .333 with runners in scoring position so far this year. For an Indians team that is second to last in the American League in runs scored, it’s hard to imagine where they’d be without Brantley.
-The Indians will complete their series against Minnesota on Thursday at 12:05 PM. Justin Masterson will face off against Kevin Correia to complete the homestand.
Could always use Kottaras....o wait....