Second Thoughts Game #59: Red Sox 3, Indians 5
The Indians won their fifth game in a row and eighth straight at home with a 5-3 win against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night. Lefty T.J. House pitched well and aside from a hiccup in the middle innings the bullpen locked it down late to preserve the win.
Anyone who has read my minor league stuff over the past few years knows how much of a fan I am of T.J. House. Not only is he a talented left-handed starting pitching prospect, but he just gets it. He is a hard worker, extremely personable and has the makeup you love to see from any baseball player.
House, 24, had another good showing last night in a start against the Red Sox. He went 5.2 innings and allowed two runs on six hits, one homer, two walks and had four strikeouts. It was neither a great nor bad outing, it was just a solid effort and exactly what the team needed from their fifth starter. He competed against a pretty good Red Sox lineup and made the pitches when he had to as he really did a nice job pitching out of some jams with runners on base. He only allowed the solo homer as the second run was an inherited run allowed by Marc Rzepczynski who came in relief of House with a runner on first and two out in the sixth inning.
House was only at 93 pitches when he was removed, but I would have left him in for one more batter considering he had just struck out the last batter he faced, it was the bottom of the order and a lefty was coming up who was hitting just .202 with a .588 OPS on the season. It seemed like a good opportunity for Francona to push House through six innings to give him a quality start and test him at the same time to see if he could push through it and finish off the inning. Had Bradley reached base, then you take House out.
Now, it is important to note that the 93 pitches House threw were the most he has thrown in Cleveland this year as his previous two starts had him at 87 and 81 pitches before he was pulled, so Francona may have been protecting him knowing his pitch count was up there. However, he has gone well over 90 pitches several times this season at Columbus and even gone 107 pitches in one outing, and last year he averaged 98 pitches an outing at Columbus so he has the stamina to pitch a little deeper into the game.
The move actually backfired as Rzepczynski came in and hit Bradley and then served up a hit to the number nine hitter to bring the score to 3-2 before getting the last out of the inning. Then in the seventh the Red Sox tied it after three pitches from Scott Atchison after two doubles to start the inning. In a matter of 15 pitches the 3-1 lead that House left with was gone and his chance to earn his first big league win evaporated.
In any case, the Indians still came out on top, and House has now shown he can give the team some quality innings. He was a third of an inning from earning a quality start, but for all intents and purposes that was a quality start and that is now two good outings in a row from him. He has filled in quite well for the injured Zach McAllister and at this point I would leave him in there for at least another start.
McAllister will make a rehab appearance today with Low-A Lake County and is eligible to come off the disabled list this weekend, but considering how much he struggled before he went on the disabled list and how well House has pitched I would stick with the hot hand for now in House and just option McAllister to Columbus so he can work on getting himself back on track and more consistent.
The Bourn Ultimatum
Outfielder Michael Bourn is some kind of hot. Over his last 14 games he is hitting .397 with one home run, six RBI, three stolen bases and 1.005 OPS, raising his .248 batting average 51 points to its current .299 and raising his .651 OPS over 100 points to its current .776 number.
Bourne’s performance to date is part of what was expected out of him when the Indians signed him to a hefty contract in February last year. He is hitting and putting good swings on the ball, which is what typically happens when a player is enjoying a good stretch of play. But it is important not to let the most recent 14 games of good play cloud our judgment of him as he needs to now maintain this performance the rest of the season. Not the .397 rate he is hitting at over the last two weeks, but the .299 average he has now compiled over the first two months of the season.
Bourn is a streaky hitter, so he is likely to slip back into a funk at some point. It is then that it will be important for him to still maintain a good approach at the plate to work walks and limit strikeouts, be a plus defender, be a fundamental hitter and impact the game on the bases every chance he gets. To date, aside from the good batting average, he has not done a lot of those things as his .344 on-base percentage is only slightly above average, he has trouble bunting, he has become almost non-existent as a base-stealing threat and his defense in center is a far cry from what it was hyped to be coming out of Atlanta.
So while Bourn continues to hit well, which is great to see, it is those other areas of his game that I would like to see him improve and be more consistent in before I really start believing in him again. These last two weeks are a great start and he is starting to run a little more and appears to be gaining some confidence in his legs again, so hopefully this is the beginning to him finally giving the Indians a return on their investment and being the impact player they felt like he could be for them.
Before the game Terry Francona mentioned how he knows how much he has overused Brian Shaw this season and that he needs to monitor that workload a little more. So what does he do? He goes out and brings in Rzepczynski in the sixth inning and throws Cody Allen 1.1 innings.
Allen’s use is fine as he is the defacto closer and he is their best reliever, so he was given the task of locking that one down last night and he did. But I have to wonder what was the point of bringing in Rzepczynski in the sixth inning and throwing him for the fourth time in five games?
Rzepczynski is now tied for first in all of Major League Baseball in appearances with 31. Shaw and Allen are not far behind tied for third with 30 appearances. Of the top eight relievers in appearances in all of baseball, the Indians have three of them, which is not good and shows a manager who is way too reliant on his top pen arms and lacks confidence to use his other pen arms in close situations.
In all fairness, the Indians have played a lot of close games, so it has pushed Francona to use his top trio more than he probably would like. Scott Atchison has been used more of late and has gained a lot of trust from Francona, though his performance has declined some with the added workload. Also, Josh Outman has been the only other regular out of the bullpen and has mostly pitched well though the walks are still a concern.
That is five pitchers that Francona is using in the pen on a regular basis, but he has rarely used the other three. He likes to have his eight-man bullpen and the idea was to have it in order to cover for starters who don’t pitch deep into games but also keep from overusing your top pen options. But right now he has three bullpen spots which are just not being used and he has no trust to use in a key spot, even in the sixth or seventh inning.
Look at the usage the last 11 games: Rzepczynski (7 games), Allen (6), Shaw (5), Atchison (5), Outman (5), John Axford (2) and Carlos Carrasco (2). The use of Allen, Shaw and Atchison is actually quite normal, but Rzepczynski is pretty high and Axford and Carrasco are very low. I understand that Carrasco is more of a long man so his outings will be few and far in between, but there is no excuse to pitch Axford just twice in 11 games. In fact, Axford and Carrasco have both not pitched in a game in over a week.
Axford was removed from the closer’s role in order to work on his command, which has gotten better in the limited opportunities he has had, but I don’t see how he can be counted on to get back into higher leverage situations if he is not pitching more frequently. There is no doubt that Francona does not trust Axford and it looks like he just doesn’t know how to use him at this point. It may be best to just move on if that is the case and bring someone like C.C. Lee back up or even Vinnie Pestano or an Austin Adams to use as middle relief in the sixth and seventh innings because the Indians need to find more options to go to in the pen and can’t keep relying on the same three guys to get them out of jams every night.
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The question is, do you unload Bourn at the first opportunity (I.e. The trade deadline) or in the offseason, so as not to disrupt the offense that is starting to show some life now and part of the reason why the Indians have come from 10.5 back to 3.5 back of the Tigers?
If you did move Bourn, presumably, Brantley moves to CF (unless Morgan moves there- but isn't he on the 60-day? Probably not a ready option for a while), and who moves to LF? Aviles on a regular basis? Holt? Moncrief (provided he can get his plate discipline in order in the next two months)?
That's why I wonder if the Indians would actually made that trade in-season or more likely in the offseason, especially since Santana and Swisher are struggling and both Cabrera and Kipnis have been on-and-off again. Just hope that Bourn can keep up the good hitting and play the whole season to maintain the better trade value throughout so that doing it during the offseason is a viable option; unless the Indians fall out of the race or are blown away by a package, I doubt they trade Bourn in-season, especially with the other offensive issues this team has.
Both aren't going anywhere unless they're unloaded in a trade. You think other teams want to pick up their contracts?
Also, Carrasco is not the problem here. He's been pitching pretty well for the 7th or 8th guy, and I can see him developing over the season into a solid top-five member of the BP, but its going to take a little time, as its a new role for him. Axford is entirely another story. He's about as dependable as Perez was, that is, not at all. Imo, he may not even make it through the season (I think Tito will not want to re-live his mistake of sticking with Perez too long last year).
Hagadone did pitch well last night (and no, he did not pitch everything high, his curve and FBs were both high and low, that's why he was striking people out). His control is very sketchy though, and a couple of hitters helped him out by swinging at pitches out of the zone.
Raburn is a black hole right now, and you're right Tony, if this 'slump' goes on for another 20 games, then you have to pull the plug and look for other options.
I can see three possible needs as we come up on mid-season: 1) a dedicated backup catcher to replace Santana (imo he's had one too many concussions--I think its possible that Kottaras could be the answer there); 2) a RH bat who can play the OF and DH (unless Raburn turns it around soon); and 3) an experienced back-end reliever.
It just seems like we are wasting a roster spot.
It might also be a time to move on from Ryan Rayburn. He killed the first inning by grounding into DP. Had an golden chance to blow the game wide open in the 1st inning. Second nite in a row a DP saved the Red Sox.