Sixteen final thoughts after the Indians take the first of 19 games against the Tigers this season.
1. Zach McAllister earned the distinction of being the most impressive Indians starter in terms of putting back-to-back games together. In the first half of a home doubleheader against the Padres on April 8, McAllister gave up no runs on five hits in 7.2 innings and struck out seven in a 2-0 Tribe victory. On Wednesday, McAllister (2-0, 2.04) went six innings and gave up one run on four hits, striking out four and walking two against the Tigers at Comerica Park.
2. Going into the season when I considered the Tribe’s starting rotation, McAllister and Carlos Carrasco concerned me the most. After the first 14 games, I’d have to say Carrasco and Danny Salazar now.
3. McAllister is from Chillicothe, Ill., but he said this was one of the coldest games he’d ever pitched it. Temperature at game time was 42 degrees; it dipped to 36 in the ninth inning. Center fielder Michael Bourn said it felt like 20 degrees the way the wind was blowing. McAllister said he had trouble gripping the ball, especially new balls.
4. The key to the game for McAllister came in the fourth inning, when he threw 31 pitches, nine each to Victor Martinez and Austin Jackson and both reached base. Martinez walked and Jackson singled to right. It wasn’t just that McAllister recovered to retire Nick Castellanos on a fly to center (with Bourn making a long running catch) and strike out Alex Avila. But McAllister retired the side in order in the fifth and gave up only a single to Martinez in the sixth.
5. “That was a big inning for me,” McAllister said of the fourth. “The middle innings of games did a lot of damage for me last year. To finish that fourth inning with a strikeout and to execute some big pitches when I really needed to was important. The (at-bat) for Victor, I never thought it was going to end. He’s a great hitter. You’ve got to give those guys credit, they put together great at-bats and were able to get on base and made it tough for me.”
6. Of the fifth and sixth, McAllister said, “Especially last year, the third time through the lineup usually those guys were able to jump on me and put something together. It was nice to be able to get through that fifth and sixth pretty smoothly.” That shows growth and maturity from the 26-year-old who has made 53 starts for the Indians.
7. “I thought he did a great job,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of McAllister. “That’s a good lineup. He used his fastball really well, early in the game was real efficient. He kept us off the field a lot. On a night like tonight, it felt like we sat in the dugout more than we were on the field, which is good. He worked quick. A couple innings they grinded out some at-bats he kept his poise and made pitches and really did a good job. He should feel good about himself. He’s throwing the ball really well. He got back to where he’s throwing that fastball down and it works for him. His fastball’s his best pitch and he knows it and when he locates it he’s really good.”
8. The Indians also have to be encouraged that three days after blowing his first save as an Indian against the White Sox, closer John Axford bounced back with his fifth save of the year. “I think that’s good. We had to sit for a couple days, but he knows we’re not going to run away from him,” Francona said.
9. Axford’s outing wasn’t without drama, especially after Avila reached third base with one out when Bourn dropped the ball after Avila doubled to the gap in right center. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus sent Don Kelly in to pinch it for Alex Gonzalez and Axford struck out Kelly. Coming into the game, Kelly was hitting .250 against the Indians in 32 at-bats with two home runs and eight RBI. “He made some real good pitches to Kelly. Kelly is a guy who has hurt us so much in the past,” Francona said.
10. Of the Kelly at-bat, Axford said, “I wanted to make sure I stay away as much as possible, the breaking balls, the one fastball, running the ball in, making sure I kept the curve balls away, making sure that they weren’t going to run into his bat with the swing impact that he has. It’s a big one. That’s what you want to do with a guy on third base and less than two out.”
11. Axford admitted it was good to get the save in the next chance after blowing one. Asked if he used anything he learned from Sunday, he said, “A one-run game tonight, I knew that part of the lineup some guys were going to be swinging the bat. A lot more off-speed pitches, working off the fastball knowing they were going to be aggressive. Being able to throw both my breaking pitches for strikes and getting them in the zone and having them move, I knew I would be able to use all three pitches tonight. I mixed it in a lot more than I did last time out.”
12. Bourn felt badly about the error that allowed Avila to go to third. “I just dropped it. It wasn’t anybody’s fault but mine,” Bourn said. “I had it in my glove and when I tried to hurry up and throw, moving too fast, I made a crazy throw. I should have just thrown it right to Kip. It ended up not costing us. I was trying not to let him get to third in the first place. He hit a good one in the gap and he split us right in the middle. I knew I had an angle to cut it off but he ended up getting to third.”
13. In his first game of the season after being activated from the disabled list Tuesday with a strained left hamstring, Bourn said he had no physical issues, even on the long running catch in the fourth. He plans to play in Thursday’s 1:08 p.m. game. “I’m going to try to go up against (Justin) Verlander, one of the best pitchers again. Hopefully it will be another battle,” Bourn said.
14. It seems good for the Indians’ confidence to beat the Tigers in their first meeting of the season after going 4-15 against them a year ago. “I know I struggled against them last year. All of us did,” McAllister said. Before Wednesday, he was 0-2 with a 4.85 ERA against the Tigers in six career games. Last year he was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in three games. “To put together a good game and get a win is the most important thing. It’s definitely a good feeling, especially struggling in Chicago (going 1-3) a little bit, to come here and get started off on the right foot.”
15. “It’s very nice to off to a good start,” Bourn said. “They dominated us last year and we don’t want that to happen again. That was the difference between us winning the division. They beat up on us. We can’t take it lightly against anybody in the division.”
16. Added Axford, “It’s nice to get that first one and hopefully we can improve on those numbers from last year. Maybe that one game will mean something at the end.”