Jason Kipnis will be making his 2017 regular-season debut on Friday night against the Chicago White Sox.
Kipnis was sidelined for the first few weeks of the season with a right shoulder sprain. He appeared in seven minor-league games in his rehab assignment between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. Kipnis was delayed a couple days after being hit with a pitch on his left hand by former Indians pitcher Justus Sheffield last week.
Kipnis is hitting sixth Friday night, allowing the first five in the lineup—Carlos Santana, Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Ramirez—to remain the same. That was the major question regarding his return, as it afforded manager Terry Francona several different options as to how to configure the lineup. For now, it appears as though Santana will remain in the cleanup spot and Ramirez will hit behind Encarnacion as a high-contact switch-hitter.
In a corresponding move, Yandy Diaz was optioned to Triple-A Columbus. He hit .236 in 15 games with the Indians and warranted some praise from Francona for his poise during his first taste of the big leagues. Diaz played a fine third base and while he hit only .236 with little power, he was 15th in baseball among qualified hitters (25 results) with an average exit velocity of 92.8 mph.
Perhaps Brody Chernoff was on to something.
The six-year-old son of Indians general manager Mike Chernoff, Brody was on air with Tom Hamilton when he said in spring training that his dad was trying to lock up shortstop Francisco Lindor for seven more years.
It’s possible Brody meant Jose Ramirez, who did sign a contract extension that could keep him in Cleveland for seven years. The Indians, for the most part, just got a good laugh out of it. But per a report by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, the Indians were also interested in locking up their superstar shortstop for the foreseeable future as well.
Per the report, the Indians put an offer on the table of around $100 million, but Lindor turned it down. The hope was that the two sides could agree to a deal prior to Opening Day, but they couldn’t find enough middle ground.
That is likely in part due to Lindor’s top-of-the-charts value and Major League Baseball’s consistent revenue growth, which is only expected to continue. Lindor, still a pre-arbitration player, won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season. He currently stands as one of the most valuable assets in the game and could opt to go year-by-year in arbitration, waiting for what would likely be a massive contract on the free-agent market in his age 28 season.
The Indians would likely be aiming to secure Lindor through his arbitration years and one or two of his free-agent years, but the value on the back end could be so high that Lindor and other young stars such as Houston’s Carlos Correa, Chicago’s Kris Bryant and many others might choose to wait before signing lucrative long-term extensions. As Verducci points out in his report, there are enough young stars in the game that an effective market reshaping could take place in the next 4-5 seasons.
Last season Lindor amassed 6.3 WAR, per FanGraphs, which was eighth in baseball among position players. He also burst onto the national spotlight during the Indians’ run to the world Series and has become one of baseball’s most marketable stars at 23 years old.
The Indians have effectively made signing players to long-term deals prior to being eligible to arbitration their signature. Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Roberto Perez and Jose Ramirez have all followed that path, agreeing to long-term extensions that include club option years. As Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti explained this spring after announcing Ramirez’s extension, it’s a balance of risk between the player and the club.
“It’s an approach that we’ve had for quite a number of years,” Antonetti said. “What we’ve tried to is frame alternatives for players and give them an option to, in some cases, players have chosen to proceed year-to-year and in other cases they have elected to pursue contracts. What we try to do is to frame alternatives for players to choose. Because it’s a question of how do we share risk? .. What we try to do is to come with what type of shared risk makes sense for the team and the player. When there’s alignment on that, that’s when we can reach agreements like this.”
It might be a bit harder to share equal risk in Lindor’s case, though. He’ll remain under club control through at least the 2021 season, meaning he likely won’t be going anywhere for quite some time. But for now, per the report, he’ll wait for his big payday.
Here are 14 Walk-Off Thoughts after the Indians fell to the Detroit Tigers 4-1 on Easter Sunday
1. Carlos Carrasco was a bit wild but effective all the same, allowing two runs on four hits and five walks to go with five strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. The lone damage against him came via an Alex Avila two-run home run that ended up being all the offense the Tigers needed.
2. Carrasco was held back some discomfort in his elbow this spring. He entered the regular season without being fully stretched out, which was one of the concerns for the club. Still, with the off-days, the Indians chose to take however many innings he could give them over trying to figure out another setup or carry eight relievers.
3. Carrasco has delivered in all three of his starts while being stretched out. He’s also now allowed no more than two earned runs in any of his three outings. He gave up two runs in 5 2/3 innings on 78 pitches against Texas. Facing the Chicago White Sox, he upped it to 95 pitches, holding them to one run in seven innings. On Saturday, Carrasco topped 100 pitches for the first time.
4. Corey Kluber has dealt with some (fluky) ailments and Josh Tomlin is still searching for his location. The Indians certainly can feel comfortable, at the moment, with their No. 2 starter.
5. Indians manager Terry Francona: “I think he's been terrific. We did have some anxiety coming out of camp, just because he hadn't pitched a lot. But, he sure has answered the call and he looks to be positioned where he'll be good, he'll get better, which is good for us. We need that.”
6. Carrasco: “From the first start, I felt normal. Whatever happens in spring training, you just put it in the past. Right now, it’s the season, so everything is fine.”
7. The Indians’ offense was stagnant for most of this home stand. The lone exceptions were Lonnie Chisenhall’s grand slam in the ninth on Friday that only threatened the lead for a second and the Indians’ 13-run rout of Justin Verlander that brought up questions of sign stealing. Aside from that 13-run explosion against a Cy Young contender, the Indians averaged 2.8 runs per game in the other five games.
8. Francisco Lindor is hitting .362 and leads the club with four home runs. Jose Ramirez is hitting .349 and leads the club with 13 RBI. Chisenhall was activated from the disabled list a few days ago and has hit the ground running with a .417 average and two home runs. But, no other regular has been able to get going.
9. Lindor: “We are doing it, we’re just not hitting at the right time. We’re just not doing situational hitting right now. But I feel like guys picked it up a little bit, guys started hitting it a little more. We’re doing it, we’re just not doing it at the right time.”
10. Early-Season successes and faults are often magnified. April is the month in which everything is right out in front but can be forgotten—for example, at the end of April the Indians last season still had a losing record.
11. Lindor: “Last year we weren’t in first place until late May, maybe early June. I’m not sure. We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve just got to make sure we stay within ourselves, not try and do too much, and continue to compete. We’ve got to have fun, we’ve got to enjoy the game day-in and day-out.”
12. Yandy Diaz is slowly starting to be rewarded for his consistently hard contact. Per Baseball Savant, Diaz is 13th in baseball with an average exit velocity of 95 mph. With at least 25 batted balls, Diaz’s average exit velocity is fourth, bested by only Miguel Cabrera, Nick Castellanos and Mitch Moreland.
13. That’s a pretty strong indicator that his roughly-.200 batting average as of a couple days ago was going to rise. That’s the beauty of something like exit velocity. It isn’t meant to predict hits 100 percent of the time. It’s aimed at simply showing that, to a higher degree of probability, a certain player should improve and falter a bit based on hard contact. Or, it’s simply to show that a catch was even more impressive than originally thought, or anything along those lines.
14. Francona: “Yeah. The way he uses the field, he's going to get hits. Fortunately, he looks kind of mature enough where, if he does line out, it's not going to make him do something different. A lot of times, especially with young hitters, you see, when you hit a ball at somebody, well, it's not good enough. So, you try to do more. That's when you get into trouble. He stays with his approach.”
The Indians squandered an effectively wild outing by Carlos Carrasco in a 4-1 loss the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field on Easter Sunday.
Carrasco (1-1) allowed two runs on four hits and five walks in 6 2/3 innings. He also struck out five. The decisive—and really, only—blow against Carrasco came in the second inning. Following Tyler Collins’ single, Alex Avila, one of the hottest hitters in the league to start the season, drove a two-run home run to left field, putting the Tigers up 2-0.
That home run proved to be the difference on a day in which Tigers (8-4) starter Matt Boyd (2-1) allowed just one run in six innings pitched, in large part behind a changeup the Indians struggled to handle.
“The changeup kind of took the sting out of our bats,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “Sneaky fastball. Real good changeup. He could throw it any time, any count. And it's a good one.”
The Indians (5-7) were held scoreless until the sixth. Michael Brantley and Edwin Encarnacion each singled with one out. Brantley then stole third, allowing him to score a few pitches later via a sacrifice fly off the bat of Jose Ramirez, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 2-1. With the tying run on third, though, Boyd struck out Brandon Guyer, the Indians’ lefty-masher, to end the inning.
Miguel Cabrera answered in the eighth with an RBI-single up the middle off of Bryan Shaw. Cabrera exited the game with lower back tightness. JaCoby Jones entered as a pinch runner and later scored on a wild pitch by Zach McAllister.
On a sleepy Easter Sunday, the Indians’ lineup was never able to threaten the Tigers’ lead against closer Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth.
It was the Indians’ third straight series loss since they opened the season by sweeping the Texas Rangers. They went 2-4 on this home stand, all against American League Central opponents.
“Last year we weren’t in first place until late May, maybe early June,” said Francisco Lindor about the club’s slow start. “We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve just got to make sure we stay within ourselves, not try and do too much and continue to compete.”
Aside from a 13-run rout of Justin Verlander Saturday night, the Indians’ offense was stagnant throughout the home stand, averaging 2.8 runs a game in the other five.
“We are doing it, we’re just not hitting at the right time,” Lindor said. “We’re just not doing situational hitting right now. But I feel like guys picked it up a little bit, guys started hitting it a little more. We’re doing it, we’re just not doing it at the right time.”
The topic of sign stealing has again followed the Indians following a poor start of a Cy Young-level opposing pitcher.
In October, the Boston Red Sox and starting pitcher Rick Porcello began to switch up their signs due to a belief that the Indians might have figured out their signs following Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
And on Saturday, following the Indians’ 13-6 win against the Detroit Tigers, Justin Verlander brought up similar questions. Verlander stopped short of accusing the Indians of stealing signs but did say the Tigers were using multiple signs just in case.
“We’re not the only team that does that against these guys,” Verlander said of the Indians, per the Associated Press. “I think it’s kind of one of those things that you just cover your bases, make sure you’re not allowing anybody to do anything. If they are, who knows, you never know, it might just be one of those things to appease the mind. I know we aren’t the first ones, I know we’re not the only team to accuse them of doing it. I don’t even know if we did accuse them, it’s just kind of one of those … I guess when you do go to multiple signs with nobody on, you say ‘Hey, that’s a little fishy.’ But you never know.”
It’s part of the chess match teams have to play with one another to ensure their proverbial code books aren’t being deciphered. It could also be a simple case of head games. Or, it could simply be pitchers looking for answers as to why something happened.
“I think in our game, it’s probably human nature [to be concerned about that],” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I hear our guys, too. You hear all the stories. I heard them all in Boston, how the guys in the bullpen were always giving signs. Once we found that out, we’d line them up out there and they’d all do different stuff just to aggravate the other teams. I’ve heard about the guy in Toronto up in center field for years. [Josh] Beckett swore he was up there.”
“Again, the object of the game is to have your guys know the signs and have the other team not. With all the technology, that can get more difficult, just like a lot of other stuff. But I can tell you, with a fair amount of certainty, I’m just happy when guys get our signs. And I’m being serious about that.”
Regardless, it’s something to which at least two teams have expressed concerns. Verlander and Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, per MLB.com, on Sunday morning began looking at film to see if he was tipping pitches. Regardless of the reason, the Indians seem to have gotten a couple teams thinking.
“Every team, it's so hard to know fully what's really going on and what's not,” Francona said. “Usually, if you do what you're supposed to—like Verlander left some pitches up yesterday. If he doesn't do that, we're probably not having this conversation.”
Here are 16 Walk-Off Thoughts on the Indians’ 13-6 win against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday.
1. Obviously, a slumping Indians lineup was going to go off against Justin Verlander, last year’s AL Cy Young runner up [/end sarcasm]. Because that’s baseball, even though some have the impression that stats, namely the advanced metrics that now play a key part in how teams make decisions, must 100 percent of the time guarantee the expected outcome. That’s part of the fun within a grinding 162-game season. It’s about, perhaps, increasing your odds by a few percentage points, not making things black-and-white.
2. Three home runs in the first three innings, all off Verlander. Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall each turned on inside fastballs. Carlos Santana took a mistakenly located curveball and crushed it. After several games of frustrations and missed chances, the Indians packed about a week’s worth of power into one hour.
3. Indians manager Terry Francona: “We were kind of due to start to swing it a little bit. I’m not sure I would have picked Verlander. But we did a good job and stayed after them. You kind of get that line moving and you get first-and-thirds. The ball was really flying and we took advantage of it.”
4. Ramirez had a career day: four hits, a walk, two home runs, six RBI. The latter two are both career highs. He hit dual three-run home runs, one in which he pulled, one that he sent the other way. He also hit pitches all over the zone.
5. That’s where a lot of his offensive value rests, at least in being able to project that he’ll sustain much of the success he’s had the last year. Per FanGraphs, his line-drive percentage and hard-hit percentage have each continued to rise since 2015.
6. Among players with at least 500 plate appearances since the beginning of last season, Ramirez’s 23.2 percent line-drive rate is 13th in the American League. It’s one spot ahead of Miguel Cabrera at 23 percent. This season, it’s at 29.4 percent, and his hard-hit percentage is up to 38.2 from 26.8 a year ago.
7. Ramirez isn’t the most lethal hitter in the league. But similar to Michael Brantley, he’s able to make solid contact at such a high rate, in so many different zones and against so many different pitchers that he’s a difficult out. Match that with how well he uses the whole field, and Ramirez becomes a fairly sustainable hitter and, as the Indians apparently saw, a worthy investment.
8. Francona: “And that’s I guess what’s reassuring when a guy has a year like he did, an entire year, like he didn’t just do it in a spurt when he got called up. He did it from start to finish and you know its’ there. It’s a really reassuring feeling. … He’s got a lot of Brantley in him from the left side. And as he knows the league, not necessarily sure that he’ll get stronger, and he might, but I think you’re going to see him do a little more damage just [with] his familiarity with what they’re trying to do to him.”
9. Ramirez was hitting .200 entering Friday’s game. He’s now at .341. That’s April baseball for you.
10. Francona: “That’s kind of what we usually say. It's such small sample sizes. Everything gets magnified. He took good swings all over the ballpark. When you drive a ball the opposite way—you say me time and time again -- when you drive the ball the other way, you're doing a lot of fundamental things correctly.”
11. It had Progressive Field chanting “Jose, Jose” in the eighth. Ramirez: “Sometimes it makes me laugh and other times it really motivates me, because it feels really good to have their support. The fans are really important to us and I want to give something back to then for what they've given to me.”
12. The weird thing with Ramirez is that his helmet has stayed on at a remarkably high rate. It’s the least sustainable thing about him.
13. Ramirez: “I don't know what's happening. I'm going to have to let my hair get longer and straighter and maybe move my head around so it'll start falling off more. The fans are asking the same thing.”
14. As for the lineup as a whole, it’s always an interesting question as to how one big hit can impact a club as a whole, whether it’s the same game or even the day before. Chisenhall hit a grand slam in the ninth inning on Friday that brought the Indians to within one. It seems like fool’s gold to believe that hit could spark a lineup of nine guys, but the beauty is that while there’s often a lot of value in quantifying everything, somethings must be left to be subjective.
15. Corey Kluber might subscribe to that theory, saying: “It was good. I think the way the game ended last night, we weren’t able to come all the way back, but I think it kind of maybe turned a couple feelings around at the plate. If that can carry over into the next day, you know, the results and putting a lot of runs on the board, it’s not always going to be the case, but they were relentless today.”
16. Francona, meanwhile, doesn’t. He’s often said that momentum in baseball is only up to the next day’s starting pitchers. On Saturday, he reiterated that: “I don’t think so. I think the next day’s starter is the momentum or the stopper. We were kind of due to start to swing it a little bit. I’m not sure I would have picked Verlander. But we did a good job and stayed after them. You kind of get that line moving and you get first-and-thirds. The ball was really flying and we took advantage of it.”
The slumbering Indians lineup woke up in a big way on Saturday, knocking around Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander in a 13-6 win at Progressive Field on Jackie Robinson Day.
After a week filled with, for the most part, offensive futility and missed scoring chances, the Indians drilled three home runs in the first three innings against last year’s American League Cy Young runner-up.
The Indians (5-6) tagged Verlander for nine earned runs, a new career high, and totaled 11 hits off him, the most he’s allowed in any single start since June of 2014.
Jose Ramirez started the barrage in the first inning, turning on an inside fastball and belting it for a three-run home run. An inning later, Verlander (1-1) left a curveball over the middle of the plate to Carlos Santana, who crushed it for a two-run home run. Lonnie Chisenhall hit his second home run in as many days in the third, a two-run shot to right field that extended the Indians’ lead to 7-0.
And with that, a week’s worth of power was bottled into one hour.
Carlos Santana tacked on two more in the fifth with a single to right field off Shane Greene, though the runs were Verlander’s responsibility.
“We were kind of due to start to swing it a little bit,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I’m not sure I would have picked [it to happen against] Verlander. But we did a good job and stayed after them. You kind of get that line moving and you get first-and-thirds. The ball was really flying and we took advantage of it.”
Indians ace Corey Kluber (1-1) cruised through the first three innings, facing one hitter over the minimum and striking out six of the 10 hitters he faced. Then, the Tigers (7-4) began to respond.
Victor Martinez drove in a run with a single in the fourth and was followed by Justin Upton, who drilled a two-run home run to left field to make it 7-3. Nick Castellanos cut the deficit to 7-4 with a groundout in the fifth that sored Jose Iglesias.
Leading 9-4, Kluber exited the game in the seventh after Ian Kinsler walked and Castellanos singled with one out. Miguel Cabrera singled home a run off Andrew Miller and Upton cued a ball no more than 60 feet but in the perfect spot down the first-base line to score another run and make it 9-6.
Tyler Collins followed with a single to load the bases and bring up James McCann, now representing the go-ahead run. Finally, Miller ended the rally, as McCann lined out to Jose Ramirez at second base to end the inning.
Ramirez, who went 4-for-4, added the exclamation point in the eighth, hitting his second three-run home run of the day, this one off Anibal Sanchez. It marked his first multi-home run game. The six RBIs were also a career high. Abraham Almonte capped the day’s scoring with an RBI-single that hit off of Sanchez.
Here are 14 Walk-Off Thoughts on the Indians’ 7-6 loss to the Detroit Tigers Friday night.
1. It didn’t take long for a little extra tension to enter Friday night’s game. Trevor Bauer’s first pitch to Miguel Cabrera was high-and-inside, and either by an emotional reaction or a strategic ploy, Cabrera took exception to it.
2. He turned and began yelling into the Indians’ dugout, directing his words and gesturing toward manager Terry Francona. He walked in that at-bat and as the inning ended, again began yelling into the dugout. He to be escorted back toward his own bench by the umpires. In-between innings Cabrera was still talking about it, this time with first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr.
3. Francona: “I'm not really sure what he wanted me to do. I'm not gonna run down the steps and hide. I just told him to hit, and he did.”
4. Perhaps it was because he was angry the pitch was a little too close for comfort. Perhaps it was somewhat related to last season, in which these two teams had a bit of bad blood. Perhaps it was aimed at elevating tensions enough to get both benches warned, thus making it harder for each pitcher to throw inside. Some in the Indians’ clubhouse think it might have been the latter.
5. Perez: “I think in that situation, we didn’t know if he was serious about it or messing around. I couldn’t tell. I thought the ball wasn’t close to him. Bauer tried to come in on him. I think he got what he wanted, that warning. So we stopped pitching him in. I thought that was the game right there.”
6. Bauer: “That's what he's looking to do. He can't hit the pitch in. You throw in there and it doesn't get called a strike, or he check swings or takes a full swing and it gets called a ball and he gets upset or—I don't know. He's one of the best hitters in the game, so he gets a lot of those calls.”
7. Here’s what Cabrera had to say on the matter, per the Associated Press’ Brian Dulik: “It was an argument between Francona and me—no one else. He made his point, I made my point. … I say something bad, he said something back to me. … It’s kind of that team. We remember bad things that happened. Sometimes, teams have disagreements. … I’m open to [talking] to [Francona]. If he wants to talk, we’ll talk. I like to compete. That’s it.”
8. Bauer did say that he thought the warnings didn’t impact the game plan, which he continued to follow, adding, “No. I still executed the game plan. I executed it really well. I don't know if I've ever seen warnings issued when no one's been hit, no one's been thrown at. It's what they decided to do.”
9. In the fifth, Bauer threw a cutter on the outside edge of the plate that Cabrera hammered to the opposite field for a three-run home run that broke the game open.
10. From Francona’s perspective, the warnings might have impacted Bauer, saying, “Yeah, I would say it did. That at-bat that he hit the home run, you can tell he was kind of sitting out over the plate. He is a good enough hitter and he knows what to do with it.”
11. Though, it certainly didn’t seem to affect Daniel Norris, who threw six shutout innings on only two hits allowed. Until Lonnie Chisenhall’s grand slam in the ninth, it was another lackluster performance for a lineup that can’t seem to string anything together.
12. Chisenhall hopes that grand slam, while not enough Friday night, can spur the Indians’ lineup a bit, saying, “I was talking to Guyer about that on the way up. It happened a lot last year where I think we'd scuffle a little bit in April and then a few of those games where we're fighting back, that rolls over. The passion, the fight, the on-base ability, it carried to the next game. So, we'll see what's going to happen tomorrow. Verlander's on the mound, so it's going to be a fight.”
13. On Friday night, Cabrera got the last laugh, as he often has, being one of the best hitters of his generation who was consistently tormented the Indians. The Indians dominated the Tigers last season after the Tigers held the upper hand by a severe degree in the several previous seasons. The Tigers are a club high in payroll, age and talent but low on time to keep this contention window open. It could be a fight between these two all season.
14. And Bauer and Cabrera will almost certainly square off again.
Having already devoured Trevor Bauer in the fifth inning, Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera sat on the bench in the sixth eating a candy bar. It was that kind of night for the Indians, who attempted to rally in the ninth but just fell short.
Bauer went toe-to-toe with Cabrera on Friday night and learned a valuable lesson, one many pitchers have to had to be taught: given enough time, one of the best hitters of this generation is going to get the best of just about anyone.
Bauer (0-2) angered Cabrera with the first pitch he threw to him and later paid for it on the scoreboard in the Indians’ 7-6 loss to the Detroit Tigers. It was their sixth loss in the last seven games since sweeping the Texas Rangers to open the season.
Bauer’s first pitch to Cabrera in the first inning was high-and-inside. Cabrera took exception to it and began yelling and gesturing toward the Indians’ dugout. That at-bat ended with a walk. As Cabrera jogged by third base at the end of the inning he continued to yell into the Indians’ dugout, eventually having to be escorted by the umpires back to his dugout.
Both benches were warned in an attempt to diffuse the situation. Cabrera simply grabbed hold of his revenge in the fifth inning.
Leading 1-0 and with two runners on base, Cabrera took Bauer’s offering, a cutter on the outside part of the plate, and belted a three-run home run to right field to extend the Tigers’ lead to 4-0.
Whether Cabrera was angry or just trying to make it more difficult to pitch on the inside part of the plate, he did what he has so many times and again tormented a struggling Indians (4-6) club.
Bauer in the sixth allowed a two-run home run to Alex Avila, which ended his night. He allowed the six earned runs on six hits and two walks and struck out six. Just after Bauer's exit, Cabrera was seen eating a chocolate candy bar on the Tigers’ bench.
Offensively, the Indians’ lineup continued to heat up at a rate even slower than the Northeast Ohio spring, still struggling to put together any kind of a rhythm against Tigers starter Daniel Norris (1-0). That was until the ninth inning.
Trailing 7-1 entering the inning, Yandy Diaz brought the Indians closer with an RBI-single up the middle. Tigers (7-3) closer Francisco Rodriguez entered to face Lonnie Chisenhall with the bases loaded and two out. Chisenhall, just activated from the disabled list on Thursday, crushed a grand slam to right field, slicing the Tigers’ lead to 7-6.
Rodriguez recovered, though, striking out Austin Jackson to end the game and rendering the wild comeback attempt moot.
Being a major-league reliever in the front-end of the bullpen with options remaining can be an opportunistic but volatile position to be in for a young pitcher.
Shawn Armstrong is currently experiencing that two-sided coin right now, as on Friday he was optioned down to Triple-A Columbus in favor of Nick Goody.
Armstrong made the Opening Day bullpen behind a strong 2016 at Triple-A and an equally solid performance this spring. It placed him as the seventh member of arguably the best bullpen in baseball and afforded him a chance to continue his career at the major-league level.
But, with Armstrong having an option remaining, it also leaves him vulnerable to move between the majors and Triple-A at any point this season. It effectively made him collateral damage after Josh Tomlin’s poor, 1 2/3 innings start against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday. Armstrong threw 2 1/3 innings and struck out five, but it made him unavailable for at least one day in the bullpen. Needing the extra insurance to ensure nobody is overused, Goody was needed to be called up.
Armstrong, Goody, Carlos Frias, Joe Colon, Kyle Crockett and a few others all vied for the final spot in the bullpen this spring. All have options remaining. The Indians held a meeting to explain that outside circumstances could dictate some moves. It’s why sometimes teams rotate between a few relievers to manage the bullpen over a long, 162-game season.
“A lot of times, when you send them down, what they hear is they’re going to Triple-A,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “And they miss the rest of it. This was at a point where there was no anxiety. There was no emotion. We were just explaining to them what happens sometimes. We weren’t sure if we should do it or not and seeing Armstrong’s reaction, I’m glad we did. He understood, he was professional.”
Having so many relievers with options is a luxury normally not afforded to teams.
“It’s hard for young players to understand, and I totally get it,” Francona said. “But as an organization, you can really get hamstrung by not. Like last year, after the Toronto game, we knew for about the next week, it was going to be a struggle. And our guys didn’t have (options).”
Goody was acquired this offseason via the New York Yankees for either a player to be named later or cash considerations, a decision that has yet to be made. Francona said this spring he “has some [Jeff] Manship” in him as a right-handed reliever with a strong slider who can get right-handed hitters out.
“The communication has been really good with Tito and [Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti] and [pitching coach] Mickey [Callaway] and everybody,” Goody said. “That’s all you can ask for as a player. That was nice. Armstrong came up here and dealt. When you have options, that's what happens. We both knew that. I saw him walking out and I was like—he killed it last night. It is what it is.”
Grants totaling $1 million via the Larry Doby Youth Fund were awarded to 18 different organizations on Friday.
The Larry Doby Youth Fund was formed last October by Francona, ownership, players in the club house and members of the front office. Its goal is to support Northeast Ohio community organizations that provide education and resources to help curb youth violence. Francona at the time called it probably the proudest moment of his baseball life.
Among the 18 organizations receiving the combined $1 million in grants include athletic clubs, mentorship aides and communities that aim to connect the community with the local police departments. The grants will be presented to the 18 organizations on Saturday.
“I know tomorrow when we actually get to present it, it will be a proud moment,” Francona said. “I know I told you last year, but that was one of the more special things that I’ve ever been a part of, and I know it’s not the end-all be-all, but it’s a start.”