Stephanie Storm’s final thoughts on Trevor Bauer’s maddening first-inning woes, Victor Martinez’s continual paybacks and a Scott Atchison for MVP vote following the Indians 11-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers Thursday at Progressive Field.
1) I know full well that a game decided by seven runs (all coming in the top of the 11th) in extra innings might make the four runs given up by the starting pitcher seem irrelevant in most cases. Thursday’s game might have been one of the few instances where it’s not. That’s because I can’t help but wonder what might happen if Trevor Bauer were to begin each of his outings in the second inning.
You know, instead of Bauer starting the game and having a relief pitcher come in so many innings later, perhaps the Indians could start a reliever for an inning and have Bauer’s outing begin in the second? Sound a bit extreme? I’m betting that while the Indians brass would never admit it publicly, something to the effect has probably crossed their minds as well at some point this season.
2) Why all this fuss over when Bauer starts? Because first innings are killing Bauer – and the Tribe.
Take Thursday’s four-game series finale between the Indians and visiting Tigers, in which Bauer spotted the veteran-laden visitors (a team that needs no help scoring) a 4-0 first-inning lead. The 38-pitch frame featured a little bit of everything. In numeric order I give you 20 balls, 18 strikes, 10 batters, four runs, four hits, three walks, one wild pitch, bases-loaded jam and mound visit by pitching coach Mickey Callaway.
As the Tribe’s young right-hander labored through the lengthy painstaking process that included pitching around the bases loaded just four batters into the game, the Tigers batted around as Bauer worked to extract himself before manager Terry Francona’s patience wore out and he called for the emergency long relief guy he already had warming up in the pen.
3) A rough start happens every once in awhile for any pitcher. But a rough first inning that happens more then not usually means that guy’s not for long in the big leagues. Consider these simple, yet telling eye-popping stats about Bauer’s first innings compared to the rest: In 22 first innings with the Indians this season, he owns a 6.55 ERA and 1.73 WHIP. In the 107 2/3 other innings combined, those numbers dip significantly to a 3.59 ERA and 1.34 WHIP.
It’s a maddening pattern that’s become all too familiar in Bauer’s outings, even as he seemed – albeit briefly – to be moving beyond the trend as he carried a career-high 15 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings streak into Thursday’s start. If such rough beginnings were merely a fluke, then no big deal. It’ll happen from time to time. Yet, with Bauer, it happens nearly every time out. Which is to say, practically every five days.
4) Add that to the fact that one of the things Bauer is most known for an unusual pre-game routine that includes a wobbly stick and doing long toss from the insane distance of foul pole to foul pole. I can’t be the only one who wonders why he doesn’t ditch the routine and try something new? You know, just to shake things up a bit?
“We can’t get out to deficits like that,” Francona said following Thursday’s disheartening loss. “He worked behind in the count his first time and a half through the order. The second time he worked ahead and the results were drastically different. That, and when you are behind in the count and throwing the ball up, you are asking for trouble.”
Asked to elaborate on what he and his coaching staff are seeing in Bauer that makes the results so drastically different from the first to the second inning?
“It was the first 14 hitters,” Francona said. “It’s not just the way it broke down. He just finds his rhythm. He tries to find his pitches early in the game and it takes awhile. We’ve talked to him about simplifying it early. He’s a stubborn kid. He’s come a long way. You’re not going to get it in one jump and it takes awhile to be the finished product.”
5) Describing the eccentric Bauer with the “S” world has practically been a no-no for the club since the Arizona Diamondbacks were quick to label the free-spirited Bauer as such and ship him to the Tribe in utter exasperation a mere two years after making him their early first-round selection.
“I don’t think (he’s stubborn in) a bad way,” Francona said tactfully, after being asked to elaborate on the point. “It takes guys different length of times to understand themselves. He’s done a pretty remarkable job considering where he was last year. He just has to keep going.”
6) For as much as I love Victor Martinez (his signed Tribe jersey still hangs in my home office and my son keeps a picture of he and Martinez talking in the dugout on his nightstand), even I’m growing weary of his heroics against the Tribe.
Once again, the Revenge of Victor provided the deciding blow late Thursday against his former team that traded him in his prime in 2009, sending a one-out, three-run homer over the right-field off Josh Tomlin in the decisive 11th inning.
Martinez finished the series a red-hot .500 (7-for-14) with two doubles, two homers, five RB and five runs scored. But that’s just his recent stats. Consider over his last 20 games in Cleveland dating back to last season, Martinez is batting .397 (31-for-78) with six home runs, 22 RBI and a 1.218 OPS (.500 on-base percentage and .718 slugging percentage). This, despite being walked twice intentionally Thursday in an effort to keep his impact on the game to a minimum.
7) A free agent after this season, Martinez has reached base safely via hit or walk in 23 consecutive games dating back to Aug. 13 vs. Pittsburgh, marking the longest active streak in the American League. Over that stretch, he’s hitting .393 with six home runs, five doubles and 25 RBI.
Oh and by the way, Thursday’s long ball was his sixth homer against the club that drafted him (as a skinny shortstop) at Progressive Field this season. That marks the most by an opponent at the Prog since Kansas City’s Jermaine Dye also hit six homers in the 1999 season.
8) “Victor will go through periods, unfortunately, where it looks like he’s
playing softball,” said Francona, who managed in Boston in 2009 when the Indians traded Martinez to the Red Sox. “He just goes up there and swings as hard as he can and rarely misses. It’s not a good feeling.
“He took a swing (Monday) where he swung so hard (but) missed and
looked so perplexed. I mean, he takes good swings all night and he keeps it
locked in for so long. It’s tough.”
9) Finally, the Indians ageless wonder that is Scott Atchison could very well be the Tribe's unsung MVP this season. He did it again late in Thursday’s game, pitching around a jam with runners at the corners and just one out in the 10th inning.
As good as the “old Man” has been all season, he’s been practically unhittable as of late. Over his last 14 appearances, Atchison has limited the opposition to one earned run and a 0.57 ERA over his last 14 outings spanning 15 2/3 innings 's last 14 outings.