Stephanie Storm’s final thoughts on the Indians 4-3 loss to the host Twins in the opening game of a three-game series at Target Field in Minneapolis.
1) The Indians will consider themselves lucky if they escape Monday night with their only loss being the game. In the bottom of the second inning, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera fielded a ground ball off the bat of Chris Parmalee awkwardly and promptly left the game with what was later announced as “lower back spasms.”
“He jabbed at the ball and locked up,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He couldn’t get it unlocked. He just couldn’t get it loose…When he came out, it started to loose up. A lot will be determined on how he wakes up in the morning.”
2) Call me a conspiracy theorist (I’ve certainly been called worse during 20 years in this business), but it initailly struck me as an interesting “coincidence” that not even an hour after Cabrera’s departure, the team announces that No. 1 prospect Francisco Lindor (who happens to be the Tribe’s shortstop in waiting for when Cabrera is either traded this season or walks away afterwards as a free agent) is promoted to the final minor league level.
3) However, Indians officials were quick to shoot down any thoughts that the two moves were connected in any way. One even going as far (albeit at my request) to swear so with his right hand on the Tribe’s 2014 media guide, that Lindor’s promotion had been in the works before the Indians night game in Minneapolis even got underway.
I will admit to having been more than a tad bit disapointed in that the last few weeks of July in baseball is one of my favorite times of the season - as the July 31st trading dealine looms. However, I’m pleased that Lindor’s season is progressing just I suggested it would back in spring training if all went well: Lindor would have a great first half at Double-A Akron, then second half of the season getting his feet wet at the Triple-A level for the first time – making for a fun spring next year in which one of the key questions will be whether the phenom the Tribe drafted with their top pick (8th overall) in the 2011 draft out of high school is ready to make his highly-anticipated major league debut.
4) Forgive me. I’ve digressed enough. Back to Monday’s game. It figures that with Francona trying his best to give super utility man Mike Aviles some rare playing time in center field (“Aviles is all fired up to play center,” the skipper noted as batting practice got underway) and in the same turn give All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley a much-deserved night off, neither happened.
Francona’s good intent was dashed pretty quickly when Cabrera left the game. With Cabrera gone, Francona had to move Aviles in to take over at short and in turn, Chris Dickerson, who was not originally in the lineup entered the game in the top of the third inning to hit for Cabrera, took over Aviles’ spot in center.
Later in the action with the Twins leading 3-2, Francona ended Brantley’s night off early, pinch-hitting him for struggling Ryan Raburn. And just like he’s done all season long, Brantley came through. He promptly doubled with one out in the eighth inning, and then quickly came around to score and knot the game 3-3 on Roberto Perez’s RBI single.
5) Speaking of Perez, the rookie catcher continues to impress during his first big league action, even just seeing limited time as a reserve behind starter Yan Gomes.
“In wasn’t trying to do too much, just looking to put the ball in play,” Perez said. “I got a fastball inside and put a good swing on it.
Sounds simple enough. But it’s smart of the rookie to stay within himself at a time when most new comers are feeling the pressure of proving they belong.
6) Unfortunately for the Tribe, one mistake by veteran reliever Bryan Shaw in the bottom of the inning allowed the host to rally for the win on Josh Willingham’s solo home run to left center field. After the game, a long time beat reporter for the Twins said the players were perplexed why a guy who owns as good of a cutter as Shaw does, challenged Willingham with an off-speed pitch.
In Shaw’s exact words to that question, here’s how he explained it - which sounded pretty darn logical to me: “The last pitch (Willingham) hit wasn’t that good of a pitch. Slider, kinda middle thigh high – obviously not where I was trying to throw it.
“It was 3-2 (count) right there and I was trying to throw something soft because he was catching up to the heater, hitting the heater. He laid off a heater on the 2-2 pitch that was just off and away. So you’re trying to flip a slider in there. We threw two sliders earlier in the at bat, both of ‘em bounced. So was just trying to get this one a little more on the plate. But he put a good swing at it. Kinda wanted it down and away, but left it middle.”
Hey, it happens even to the best of them. And quite honestly, it’s hard to nit pick about the pitch selection of the Indians bullpen, which has been practically rock solid yet again – even while having absorbed the blow of John Axford losing his closer’s job in early May. So it was a bad pitch by Shaw. It happens.
7) On the other side of the coin on this sweltering and muggy night was starter T.J. House. A lefty who continues to learn on the job to make adjustments to big league hitters.
“He threw a lot of strikes, just not the quality strikes we’ve seen,” Francona said. “There was a lot of contact. But we made a couple of plays on the bases to throw guys out. Saying that, he battles and kind of stays in there. He bends, but doesn’t break. When you look up, there weren’t a lot of runs.”
True. But even House is well aware that at this level, he’ll need to be more efficient with his pitches to stick around.
“I don’t think five innings from me is going to cut it,” he said. “Personally, my opinion, I feel like I need to do a better job. So, just moving forward I gotta work on keeping runners off the bases and get quicker outs.”
8) As much as the Indians want to believe they can still be playoff contenders, it’s unlikely as long as they’re depending so much on rookie starters like House and youngsters such as Danny Salazar, who is slated to start Tuesday’s game in his return to the team. Salazar will make his first start for the Tribe since spending two months back in the minors ironing out mechanical flaws that made him look nothing like the dominating rookie hurler he was in his first taste of the major leagues last season.
9) Don’t misunderstand, there’s nothing wrong with the young pitchers figuring it out and finding their way. But when they are being depended on to this degree to help carry the staff while Justin Masterson needs another rehab start at Triple-A this Friday following Sunday’s so-so start for the Clippers, it’s simply not a good sign for those hoping to see the Tribe playing in October.
10) In his first rehab start for the Clippers, Masterson threw 72 pitches. He gave up two runs on five hits over five innings in a no decision, as the Clippers lost 7-5 to the Indianapolis Indians at Huntington Park. On the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his right knee, Masterson also walked two, struck out six and had threw his fastball routinely between 91-93 mph. But it was more pedestrian than a veteran major leaguer ready to reclaim his title of staff ace.
“(Special assistant to baseball operations) Tim Belcher and some scouts watched (Masterson) and tried to evaluate how (his mechanics) transferred to a major league game,” Francona said. “I think Masterson wanted to come back and pitch here Friday. But when he gets back here, the DL is over. So we felt one more start would be really beneficial.”
11) Thus, right-hander Zach McAllister (another starter who hasn’t fared as well as the Indians hoped after a good April), will likely be called back up from Columbus to start Friday in Kansas City.
In the meantime, Masterson was en route to Minneapolis before Monday’s game started, looking to join the club and throw a bullpen in front of pitching coach Mickey Callaway. As promised, the big guy was indeed in the locker room after the loss, a big smile on his face as usual.
12) Finally – and a total aside - if you need a good laugh like I do every once in awhile and you haven’t seen what Angels reliever and prankster Jason Grilli did during an interview on MLB Network Monday, trust me, it’s worth the time to find it. You can thank me later.