Stephanie Storm’s final thoughts on the Indians 6-4 loss to the Kansas City Royals Friday night at Kauffman Stadium.
1) The Ax Man cometh…and The Ax Man dishes up another big hit.
Just when it appeared that John Axford had fixed the delivery problems that cost him the Indians closer’s role in mid-May, back-to-back bad outings in Kansas City have left doubts that he may never get back to the dominating form that allows a team to entrust him such an important role.
Manager Terry Francona had increasingly begun to trust the lanky right-hander again “in high-leverage” situations as he calls them. Mind you, we’re talking about a late-inning set up role, NOT even the closer role. And wouldn’t you know Axford is struggling again.
2) Entering Friday, Axford hadn't allowed a home run over his last 11 appearances.
But in Thursday’s 14-inning marathon, it was Axford who gave up the game-winning hit in the Tribe’s 2-1 loss that helped spoil Corey Kluber’s gem (although lefty Marc Rzepczynski was actually tagged with the loss for allowing the winning run to reach safely). A day later on Friday, Axford dished up a no-doubt, two-run home run to pinch-hitter Billy Butler that handed the Royals a 6-4 victory.
“I thought it was a really good situation for Ax,” Francona said. “He tried to go away with the fastball and it ran over (the plate) and it went a long way.
“He's been throwing the ball very well and tonight was about a as perfect a scenario (as you get): you don't have a guy on first who’s a runner. (Axford) can let his stuff work - he just made a mistake in locating it.”
Axford echoed those thoughts, just a little more succinctly.
“It was supposed to be low and away and didn't end up there, so it ended up in the seats,” he said.
Hard to argue with that analysis. So, moving on…
3) Friday’s game also featured another mediocre start by Josh Tomlin where he continued the maddening theme of giving up the long ball – at an increasingly alarming rate. The right-hander now has dished up 16 homers in his 15 starts since being called up from Triple-A Columbus.
Friday, Tomlin gave up back-to-back home runs to lead off the second inning to Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas that gave the host an early 2-0 advantage.
4) Yet, I’ve always admired Tomlin for his brutal honesty. Asked if dishing up the long ball is something that kind of snowballs, he could have used an excuse to take the easy way out. But he doesn’t. He tends to take responsibility and shoulder the blame.
“It might appear that (giving up home runs just snowball), but for me it doesn't. I'm trying to stay in the moment. When (you give up a home run), you can't go back and fix it. You have to stay in the moment and attack the next guy.”
So what does Tomlin have to do to fix the it?
“I’m just trying to get back to throwing four pitches for a strike in any count,” he said. “I needed to use my changeup a little more in the zone and get back to throwing quality strikes as opposed to trying to do something and leave the ball over the middle of the plate.”
5) If not for Justin Masterson’s continued struggles on the mound, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tomlin sent back to the minors to work on his home run issues. But The Little Cowboy’s spot in the rotation appears to be safe as long as the pitcher-formerly- known-as-the-Tribe’s-ace continues to have outings like this against minor league hitters: Over 6 2/3 innings in his second rehab start at Triple-A, Masterson (who was a major league All-Star just a year ago) gave up five runs on four hits with SIX walks against the Norfolk Tides in Columbus.
6) Something tells me we’ll hear a lot more details about Masterson’s issues tomorrow during Francona’s daily presser. Although it’s getting to the point where even the positive Tito has to be growing weary of the big right-hander’s mechanical issues.
7) Carlos Santana is increasingly turning back into well, Carlos Santana. And thank goodness for that. Sure, the Tribe’s first baseman is still batting just .212, but the hits are coming more increasingly and as Friday showed – his power is coming in bunches. Santana single-handedly kept the Indians in Friday’s game with a solo home run in the fourth inning to cut the deficit 2-1, then later slammed his second long ball of the evening – a two-run shot that again cut the Royals lead to a run, 4-3.
The pair of homers marked Santana's fourth career multi-homer game and his first since Sept. 23, 2012 – which ironically also came against the host Royals.