Stephanie Storm’s final thoughts about the Indians 6-4 loss to the visiting Detroit Tigers in the first game of a three-game weekend series at Progressive Field.
1) All Victor Martinez does is crush Indians pitching. Think I’m kidding? Try this stat line on for size: in 52 games against his former team, Martinez is batting .367 with eight home runs and 44 RBI.
Before the game when asked about Martinez, Indians manager Terry Francona (who also managed Martinez in Boston when the Indians first traded him for prospects at the 2009 trading deadline), joked that Martinez hits well against EVERY major league team, not just the Tribe, calling him “even more scary of a hitter than he used to be.”
Even without a breakdown of Martinez’s numbers against each team of the league, I beg to differ. Here’s betting he still saves his best for the Indians, who traded him in his prime when he was still squatting behind the plate every game because stat geeks came up with a formula that indicated his production would begin declining soon. Still haven’t seen it yet, short of a season in which he’s been injured.
2) On Friday, Victor wasn’t the only Martinez to go yard against Tribe pitching. J.D. Martinez is becoming Martinez Indians killer Jr. Hitting behind Victor in the fifth spot, he launched a first-pitch, three-run homer against reliever John Axford in the eighth inning that turned a close 2-0 game into a more comfortable 5-0 advantage.
It ended up being a clutch hit as well, as the Tribe offense finally came to life in the botom of the inning for four runs that would have given them the lead and a tougher series of relievers out of the ‘pen.
3) Here’s a great stat for you (well, if you’re a Tigers fan, that is): Detroit’s “Martinez tandem” has hit home runs in the same game three times this season – all three coming against the Indians at Progressive Field. That’s makes it pretty hard to intentionally walk Victor, no matter how you look at it.
4) Alright, since we mentioned Axford, we might as well get it out of the way now. Axford still isnt close to regaining his ninth-inning closer’s role. In fact, there’s no doubting it’s now youngter Cody Allen’s much-deserved position for good. The only difference is the Indians are paying Axford a lot more money right now as he signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract in the off season. That’s 4.5 million reasons why the Tribe brass is keeping Axford stashed in the far reaches of the bullpen instead of just cutting bait now.
“He started out the first two hitters 0-2 and 1-2 and then allowed them both to work back into full counts,” Francona said. “Once he had the wild pitch to Victor, it’s kind of hard to pitch to him. And then J.D. Martinez got one that caught way too much of the plate.”
Asked the always-loaded question: How did you feel? Axford replied: “I felt good, just couldn’t locate my slider.”
Did it add to frustration that after you gave up the three-run shot, your teammates rallied?
“Yeah, my outing was frustrating on its own,” he said. “But when you add to that a comeback right after that, it certainly makes it worse.”
Francona mentioned that J.D. Martinez is a first-pitch fastball hitter, which is why he let Axford pitch the dangerous young slugger, whom they hoped would be a little anxious. Instead, he had no choice but to swing when it was served up in the middle of the plate on a platter.
“I wasn’t trying to get one by him,” Axford said. “I was just trying to throw him an away fastball and get him to ground out. I wasn’t trying to sneak anything by him or trick him, just trying to locate (a fastball) that I was able to locate throughout the inning.”
5) Just like most starts, Tribe starter Corey Kluber pitched well, but for the second consecutive outing, still shouldered the loss.
“I felt like I was pretty good for the most part,” Kluber said in his usual robotic delivery. “I pounded the strike zone and worked ahead. Unfortunately, the mistake I made to Victor ended up being a big one.”
Francona certainly wasn’t going to knock Kluber’s one mistake on a night he kept the team in the game through seven innings.
“Klubs dodged his way through a really good lineup and held runners good enough where (catcher) Yan (Gomes) could make some throws,” Francona said.
6) Francona aluded to Gomes throwing out two more base runners Friday (Don Kelly trying to swipe third in the third inning and Bryan Holaday trying to steal second in the seventh). In nabbing both, Gomes has quietly gunned down five consective base runners.
On the season, Gomes has caught 15 out of 47 would-be base stealers (32 percent). That includes a rough stretch earlier in the season when he made a barrage of throwing errors when “his feet got too fast” as former Tribe catcher and current first base coach Sandy Alomar put it before working with Gomes to calm down and simply trust the strength in his arm.
“Yan’s been great back there, throwing out guys,” Kluber said. “It’s comforting for a pitcher knowing that while you’re still trying to keep (base runners) close, you kind of have a security blanket. If guys are on base and they want to take that chance, there’s a pretty good chance Yan’s gonna throw them out.”
7) It was a quick showing (one that arguably should have began at the beginning of the inning), when Francona called on reliever Vinnie Pestano with two outs in the eighth inning. The right-hander had just been recalled from Triple-A Columbus to fortify the Indians bullpen that will temporarily go nine deep until July 1 while a fifth starter isn’t needed. After Axford was politely asked to give up the ball after dishing up the game-winning homer, Pestano promptly retired the only batter he faced in Nick Castellanos via a strikeout.
After being demoted to the minors April 9 after just three outings resulted in a 13.50 ERA, Pestano appears to worked on a slew of issues that left his delivery out of whack. With everything back in place, over the Tribe’s former seventh-inning set-up man’s last 18 appearances this past month, he recorded a 0.48 ERA with 20 strikeouts, three walks and a .172 average against.
“You can't work on a bunch of different mechanical issues at once,” Pestano said. “So, I had to work on one, and when one felt like it was place, I worked on another.”
8) Call me crazy, here's betting that’s likely where Axford’s headed next.