Stephanie Storm’s final thoughts from the Indians 7-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday night.
1) Before the game, the Indians informed embattled closer John Axford that he was being moved out of the crucial ninth-inning role. Indians manager Terry Francona insisted the move was temporary. It was a move that needed to be made, as Axford’s recent struggles had already cost the team back-to-back losses and nearly another Friday night if not for Cody Allen bailing him out of a bases-loaded jam.
2) What is a bit surprising is that the club’s deep thinkers are opting to go with a “closer by committee” approach for the foreseeable future, even though Francona said he doesn’t like that term and prefers the idea of a “closer by situation” for now. Regardless of what it’s called, it means the Indians haven’t given up on Axford despite his past of similar ups and downs that cost him the closer’s job in Milwaukee early last year.
3) I’m not suggesting that Francona isn’t telling the truth when he says the club has four late-inning relievers it could turn to in a save situation in Allen, Bryan Shaw, Scott Atchison and Marc Rzepczynski. But it’s obvious Allen and Shaw are the top two candidates to fill in if pitching coach Mickey Callaway can’t work his usual magic on Axford.
4) There’s also truth to Francona’s explanation that by removing say, Allen, from the mix and retaining him solely for the ninth inning, it could cost the club in earlier innings where he might be needed more often. However, the budget-conscious Indians didn’t take a one-year flier on Axford for $4.5 million, they are relying on him to be worth every penny – even if only for one season.
5) The Indians offense owned left-handed pitching last season, a trend that has gone the opposite way so far this season. In 2013 the Tribe hit a league-high .271 against lefties with a dominating 36-20 mark. But not only did the Tribe’s batsmen struggle Saturday against Rays veteran lefty Erik Bedard (one hit over six shutout innings), they dropped to 4-9 on the season with a paltry .212 average against lefties to date.
4) Asked about the team’s struggles in this area, Francona pointed to the fact that struggling hitters Carlos Santana and reserveRyan Raburn were a big reason for the team’s dominance over lefties last year.
“I think once we get going, we’ll be fine,” Francona said. “To the present, Carlos had been pretty big for us as well as Raburn. I don’t wan to blame them (this year), but a lot of time last year with a lefty, they were hitting fourth and fifth with an OPS of probably a 1.000. Ray’s starting to show signs he’s starting to swing it and we’ll get Carlos going.”
5) Zach McAllister’s clunker Saturday (allowed a season-high tying five runs over 4 2/3 innings) snapped a string of seven quality starts by the Indians starting rotation. That’s not necessarily alarming in itself, as it was bound to happen sooner or later. But what is becoming a growing concern is that after opening the season 3-0 with a 2.28 ERA over his first four starts, the right-hander is 0-3 with a 5.75 ERA over his last four. In five road starts this season, he’s just as bad, going 1-3 with a 6.08 ERA.
6) With the Tribe trailing 7-0 entering the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall entered the game at first base as a defensive change for Nick Swisher – the first time he’d ever played first base professionally (minors included). With Santana having taken over as the Indians everyday third baseman, Chisenhall has seen a bulk of his at-bats come as the team’s designated hitter.
7) While the change seems to have done wonders for the former first-rounder’s offense, the Indians have been working with Chisenhall at first base and in left field the last couple weeks at first in an effort to increase his versatility. Francona said an inning is too small of a sample to read too much into already, but he did spot at least one good sign.
“But one thing that was encouraging was that right off the bat with a right-hander he was way off the bag. A lot of times you send a guy out there and he’s anchored to that bag because it’s safe.”