In trading veteran Asdrubal Cabrera to the Washington Nationals Thursday, the Indians have turned their shortstop over to youngster Jose Ramirez.
Well, temporarily at least.
While Ramirez is likely just keeping the position warm until the organization deems it time for the Francisco Lindor Era to begin, the last two months of the season provide the Indians front office the opportunity to get a good look at the Ramirez.
“We were able to make this trade because of our belief in Mike Aviles and Jose Ramirez," Tribe general manager Chris Antonetti said. "We feel very confident in both guys playing shortstop and maintaining a very high level of play at the position.”
Although Ramirez has played sparingly since making his major league debut last year as a September call up, he gave the front office a good glimpse of his abilities Thursday in the Indians 6-5 loss in the final game of a three-game series with the visiting Seattle Mariners.
Ramirez was just 1-for-4 at the plate, but he beat out an infield hit with one out in the seventh and then scored from second on a Carlos Santana RBI single that briefly gave the Indians a late 5-4 lead.
Santana’s 12th RBI over his last 9 games came against Major League Baseball’s top-ranked bullpen, as he sent a liner into left field to beat the shift. Santana’s hit against Mariner’s reliever Danny Farquar snapped a 4-4 tie when the speedy Ramirez hopped over the ball as he scampered home from second base with the kind of speed Cabrera never had.
Ramirez also fielded cleanly each ball that came his way on the evening, including starting an inning-ending double play in the first on a sharp ground ball hit by Robinson Cano that likely would have went for a hit if not for Ramirez shading him close to the second base bag, stepping on it to beat a sliding Chris Taylor for the first out, then firing the ball to first to nab Cano.
“A big part of what we want to see is Jose Ramirez play,” Francona said. “He’s an exciting young kid that with coming up last year (as a September call up from Double-A), his development got so sped up. This kid’s young and he got himself to the major leagues (quickly). We’d really like to see him play.”
Late in the game, Ramirez’s run scored might have been the game winner if not for the Mariners offense returning the favor against another one of the major’s best bullpens when Mike Zunino belted a two-run homer to left field in the eighth inning.
For Tribe veteran right-hander Bryan Shaw, Zunino’s 17th home run of the season marked the fourth he’s given up this year, as he took the loss. Worse, it allowed the Mariners to reclaim the lead late and go on to earn the one-run victory after closer Fernando Rodney sidestepped a two-out Santana single that briefly kept the Indians hope for a rally alive and clinched his 30th save.
“Uncharacteristically, (Shaw) wasn’t commanding," Francona said. "He was trying to fight his way back in the count and get a strike. (But) he threw it right where Zunino could whack it.
"When (Shaw) doesn’t pitch a lot, he worries about his command. He almost gets too strong.”
Earlier in the game, the teams traded runs, beginning with the Indians taking an early lead against Mariners starter Chris Young. Jason Kipnis led off the first inning with a double, moved to third on Ramirez’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Michael Brantley’s team-leading 66th RBI of the season.
But the Mariners got the run right back in the next inning when Kendrys Morales led off with a double to left field and later scored on Logan Morison’s sacrifice fly to knot the score 1-1. Chris Dickerson, who started in left field for the Indians, got turned around on Morales’ ball that should have been caught. Dickerson, who came up limping, left the game in the third inning, Aviles taking over for the remainder of the game.
Thursday's start marked was another brief outing for Indians right-handed pitcher Zach McAllister, who dished up four runs on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings – three of the runs coming in the third inning that began with four consecutive hits by the Mariners.
The second hit of the rough inning for McAllister came via a two-run homerun to right field by Dustin Ackley. Two batters later, Cano sent his 400th career double into left field to score Taylor and push the visitor’s advantage to 4-1.
“I didn’t think we could give up more (runs),” Francona said. “When Zach’s good, he’s down with his fastball. When he’s (not), some of those balls start getting elevated. When he drives the ball down in the zone, everything seems to feed off that - including his confidence.”
But in the bottom of the inning, Jason Kipnis smacked a two-run, 395-foot home run that just snuck over the centerfield wall to pull the Indians to within a run. Two batters later, Michael Brantley followed with a one-out triple off the right field wall, then scored on Santana’s sacrifice fly that knotted the score at four runs a piece.
McAllister was able to come back out for the fourth inning with a clean slate thanks to his offense pulling even, but he pitched to just two more batters before manager Terry Francona paid him a mound visit and called for the bullpen to handle the final 5 2/3 innings. Save for Shaw's bad pitch to Zunino, the other five Tribe pitchers combined to allow just two meaningless hits in relief.