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Rays 6, Indians 4: 14 Walk-Off Thoughts on Danny Salazar’s boom-or-bust outing, Edwin Encarnacion

By Ryan Lewis Published: May 16, 2017

Here are 14 Walk-Off Thoughts after the Indians’ 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.

1. Danny Salazar altered his pregame routine prior to Tuesday’s start in an effort to fix his first-inning woes. He had been using weighted baseballs near the end of his warmup and felt it was throwing off his delivery mechanics.

2. The new routine worked—for the first inning. Salazar worked a 1-2-3 first with two strikeouts. But, then he started missing spots, and the Rays capitalized with four solo home runs. Four home runs, nine strikeouts, two walks. Eight of the first 10 batters either struck out or went yard. It was a “true outcome” kind of night.

3. The specific issue with Salazar’s first innings this season had been that he couldn’t keep his fastball down early in starts. He was happier with that aspect, but other issues arose.

4. Salazar: “It is frustrating. I've been struggling. Today, I was able to bring my ball down a little bit, but things just aren't working the way I'm expecting.”

5. He saw all four home run balls as missed locations, saying, “I missed spots with all of them. It doesn't matter. The way I feel right now, it doesn't matter what I do out there. They looked so comfortable against me today. The first inning, it was like, 'I got this.' But then after that, they got too comfortable. They're a really aggressive team. Every time I miss a spot, that's what's going to happen.”

6. Francona was mostly pleased with Salazar’s outing, aside from the home runs of course. Salazar reached nine strikeouts in a game for the fourth time this season and only walked two.

7. Francona: “Whew. I'm going to give you a couple adjectives. One is 'vexing.' He has good enough stuff to punch out nine. He gives up six hits -- four of them are home runs. So, when he missed, he missed. One was a [slider] up to Norris. The other ones were fastballs that he yanked across the plate. So, it's just a matter of... because I thought he was better tonight. I really do. I thought he came out of the gate and tried to find his stuff early. It's just, when he made a mistake, he really paid for it.”

8. Salazar, pitching coach Mickey Callaway and the Indians are still searching for answers as to how to get him entirely on the right track. Callaway took the recent off day to take a harder look at his pregame routine and how to best adjust it. The weighted balls before first pitch are gone, and he wants Salazar to focus on getting the ball down every time he throws, even while just playing catch. The hypothesis for the upward fastballs had been the weighted balls, and on Tuesday night, that specifically wasn’t as much the issue. But now, it was a consistency problem. Salazar could be in an adjustment period for a while until he finds what works for his pregame routine, and how to best match that up with his mechanics to get his upper and lower halves in sync (which also had been a possible, negative byproduct of the weighted balls).

9. The word with Edwin Encarnacion this season has been: patience. Encarnacion is historically a slow starter. Normally, it’s around this time or in early June that he begins to heat up. There have been indications of this, albeit at a slower pace than what fans would have liked.
10. Encarnacion’s batting average has been hovering around the Mendoza Line. On Tuesday, he went 2-for-4 and crushed a line-drive home run to center field that, as Jordan Bastian of pointed out, was the lowest-hit home run of the season for the Indians. It was a missile of a home run, his sixth of the season. The power is in there, the Indians just need to see more of it. Francona has been confident it’ll arrive in a greater sense soon. The numbers support that.

11. Francona: “Very much so. I thought early on, it's so hard, it's real hard to see the first three innings -- for both teams. And he stayed on a pitch and hit it to right, just because you can get yourself in trouble early, especially the way he was changing speeds. And he stayed on it and hit it to right, and I thought that was a good sign. And then, even his last at-bat, getting jammed, but staying through it enough to, there's a hole over there. I think he deserves a couple of those. Yeah, it is good for him, man. It's good for us.”

12. Zach McAllister threw two scoreless innings and has somewhat quietly had a very good start to the season, along with Nick Goody. It hasn’t just been the back-end of the Indians’ bullpen limiting offenses. McAllister now owns a 1.08 ERA with a 2.87 FIP with a 12.96 K/9 rate. It’s been by far his best season. It’d be hard to imagine a better duo at the bottom of any bullpen pitching better than Goody and McAllister.

13. Francona on McAllister: “He's been tremendous. He has really been good. It's multiple innings and he's gaining confidence by the day, as he should. He's throwing the ball really well.”

14. McAllister could be in a bit of an interesting spot in terms of his future outlook with the club. He entered this season never having a better WHIP than 1.348. That’s not exactly ideal. He and the Indians avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $1.825 million deal for this season. He’ll be eligible for arbitration again this offseason, his final year before being eligible for free agency. Depending on how he finishes this season, the Indians could potentially have a decision to make regarding if it’d be worth it keep him another year or non-tender him, as the club does have excellent depth. The club could also choose to keep him through 2018, along with most of the bullpen (with the exception of Shaw). With how he’s pitching this season, it might be making that decision easier (albeit more costly).

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Five home runs doom Danny Salazar, Indians in 6-4 loss to Tampa Bay Rays

By Ryan Lewis Published: May 16, 2017

CLEVELAND: Danny Salazar racked up strikeouts but had trouble keeping the ball in the ballpark, as five home runs—four on Salazar’s account—were enough to down the Indians 6-4 Tuesday night at Progressive Field.

Salazar, a power pitcher, has often been one to pitch with a higher-than-normal number of “true outcomes,” meaning home runs, walks or strikeouts. That was taken to the extreme Tuesday night. He began the night striking out four of the first five batters he faced. But then the home runs came in a hurry.

Colby Rasmus hit a solo home run in the second to put the Rays on top 1-0. Derek Norris and Corey Dickerson then went back-to-back to lead off the third inning. In the fifth, Dickerson added a second homer of the night, an estimated 449-foot no-doubter to center field.

In all, Salazar (2-4) struck out nine hitters, the fourth time this season he’s reached that mark, but was undone by the four home runs allowed, his career high for a single game.

In a way, there were mixed results to this outing, the first start after Salazar and the Indians revamped his pregame routine, doing away with the exercise of throwing weighted balls just before his first pitch. All season leading up to Tuesday night, he had struggled mightily to escape the first inning. Salazar got past the first inning without issue, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the mini-home-run-derby put on by the Rays (20-22).

Shawn Armstrong, called up from Triple-A on Tuesday, entered in the sixth but couldn’t stop the power barrage. With a runner on, he allowed the Rays’ fifth home run of the night, this one to Tim Beckham, to extend the deficit to 6-1.

The Indians (20-18) made it a game in the bottom of the sixth inning. Francisco Lindor and Michael Brantley led off the inning with singles against Rays starter Jake Odorizzi (3-2). Carlos Santana scored a run with a ground-out to first base on a diving play by Logan Morrison. Edwin Encarnacion, who has struggled the season and recently saw his batting average dip below .200 for a bit, drilled a line-drive, two-run home run to center field to cut the Rays’ lead to 6-4. It was his sixth home run of the season.

As Zach McAllister continued his strong season by throwing two scoreless innings, the Indians’ offense struggled to get anything going against the Rays’ pen, consisting of Jose Alvarado and closer Alex Colome (10 saves).

In the ninth, Encarnacion reached base via a broken-bat single to bring the tying run to the plate, but the Indians’ lineup never came up with the last needed counterpunch, eventually running out of time to make up for the Rays’ five-homer night.

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Indians to push Carlos Carrasco back two days; Abraham Almonte placed on disabled list

By Ryan Lewis Published: May 16, 2017

CLEVELAND: The Indians made a series of moves and decisions on Tuesday, among them the announcement that starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco is for now avoiding a stint o the disabled list but will be pushed back two days prior to his next start.

Carrasco left Monday night’s game in the fourth inning with left pectoral tightness. The Indians feel the extra two days is all he needs before taking the mound again, which would tentatively be May 23 in Cincinnati. Mike Clevinger will start Saturday’s game, per manager Terry Francona Francona.

“The idea is to give him two days of just letting him be in the training room,” Francona said. “And then he’ll start his five-day cycle up to pitching, which puts him the second day in Cincinnati. So we’re backing him up two days. I think Carlos feels like he’ll be more than ready, the trainers are fine with that.”

Carrasco has led the Indians starting rotation thus far in 2017, owning a 4-2 record, 2.60 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 52 innings pitched.

Abraham Almonte was also placed on the 10-day disabled list, paving the way for top prospect Bradley Zimmer’s promotion to the big leagues. Almonte aggravated a right biceps injury in Monday night’s game and received an MRI on Tuesday. It’s still unclear how much time he will need before returning, but it was clear that his placement on the DL would be inevitable.

“We don’t really even have a timeframe, things like that, other than he’s a DL and he needs to rest for a time period,” Francona said. “We don’t actually know what that is yet.”

The Indians on Tuesday also recalled relief pitcher Shawn Armstrong from Triple-A Columbus. To make room on the active and 40-man rosters for Zimmer and Armstrong, the club demoted third baseman/outfielder Yandy Diaz and designated pitcher Carlos Frias for assignment.

Diaz had been in an undesirable spot as a developing younger player who also didn’t have much of a chance to see the field in Cleveland. The Indians would prefer Diaz to receive regular at-bats in Triple-A.

“We tried to explain to him … we keep ramming it down his throat—defense, defense, defense—we’re not mad at him. We just want him to know how much of a premium that we put on that side of the field. I think he’s been pretty good about grasping that. We’ll sit and figure out where he’s going to play in Triple-A because we’ve moved him around a lot. Sometimes I think we worry about doing him a disservice.”

Armstrong begins his third stint with the Indians this season after opening the club with Cleveland out of spring training. He has a 5.63 ERA in eight innings in the majors this year. In Triple-A, Armstrong has a 2.89 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings.

Frias was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers for cash considerations this offseason as additonal pitching depth. Frias turned in a quality spring but was behind Armstrong and Nick Goody among relievers vying for the seventh spot coming out of camp.

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Indians promote top prospect Bradley Zimmer to major leagues

By Ryan Lewis Published: May 16, 2017

CLEVELAND: Outfielder Bradley Zimmer, the Indians’ top prospect, was sitting in an ice bath around 11:30 p.m. Monday night, winding down after Triple-A Columbus’ 5-4 win against Indianapolis, when he was told Clippers manager Chris Tremie wanted to see him in his office.

That’s when he heard the words every minor league who has yet to taste the majors wants to hear.

“I got out my sliders [flip-flops], went in there soaking wet and gave him a hand shake and he said, ‘Congratulations. You’re going to the big leagues,’” Zimmer said Tuesday at Progressive Field. “It’s honestly—that moment is hard to put into words, how that moment was. The feeling is something that I’ll never forget. I’m still to this moment enjoying it. It’s still sinking in.”

Zimmer immediately called his parents, who flew in Tuesday for the game from California, as well as his brother, Kyle, a pitcher for the Kansas City Royals’ system. Zimmer was in the starting lineup against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday night, hitting ninth and playing center field.

Zimmer has been the Indians’ No. 1 prospect for the better part of the last couple years, displaying a rare combination of power and speed, though it hasn’t quite been the easiest road to the big leagues. He got off to a rough start last season and made a series of swing adjustments midway through the year. He then came to spring camp this year and impressed, hitting .358 with a 1.084 OPS, clearly showing the type of potential that had made him a top prospect within the system.

One of the knocks against Zimmer had been his hitting against left-handed pitchers. Albeit in a small sample size, he seemed to correct those issues, hitting .321 with a .970 OPS against lefties at Triple-A this season. It was one of the aspects pointing to Zimmer being ready for his major-league debut.

The second part of the puzzle was a need in Cleveland, which arose after Abraham Almonte joined Brandon Guyer and Austin Jackson on the 10-day disabled list. Almonte aggravated a right biceps injury in Monday’s game, putting a third outfielder on the DL.

“One, there has to be a need,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Zimmer’s call-up. “And two, when there is a need, you want the guy to be in a really good spot for a younger player. By all accounts this as as good a place as he’s been in. So with the timing fitting, we thought it made sense.”

Zimmer has long been touted as having the skills to play center field, which is where the Indians intend on keeping him in Cleveland.

“He’s still learning, but the skills are there,” Francona said. “You can see, he can run a ball down. He gets going to top speed, with a guy with those kinds of strides, it’s really amazing how he does it. As he gets to know the league, you’re going to see an above-average defender. It might not be the first week. There might be some balls with youth or not knowing, but there are a lot of skills there to make him a good outfielder.”

It’s a major move for the Indians, a team clearly in their window of contention now and potentially for the next several years. Zimmer, who will wear No. 4, is seated next to Francisco Lindor’s locker. Two of the major assets of the franchise, now both in Cleveland, slotted next to one another in a corner of the clubhouse.

“It’s cool just because he’s doing some pretty special things this year and last year for this team,” Zimmer said of Lindor. “It’s cool getting to sit next to a guy like that and kind of pick his brain and be a part of the team now.”

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Indians promote top prospect Bradley Zimmer to majors; Armstrong recalled; Almonte to DL; Diaz down

By Ryan Lewis Published: May 16, 2017

The Indians’ top prospect for much of the last couple seasons is heading to the big leagues. On Tuesday, the Indians promoted outfielder Bradley Zimmer to the majors, as his development path has in a way lined up with the recent injury-related turmoil in the Indians’ outfield.

The Indians also placed Abraham Almonte on the 10-day disabled list with a right biceps injury, recalled relief pitcher Shawn Armstrong from Triple-A Columbus, optioned third baseman/outfielder Yandy Diaz down back to the minors and designated pitcher Carlos Frias for assignment.

Zimmer made a series of swing adjustments around the midpoint of last season after a rough start. He then came to camp this spring and impressed, hitting .358 with a 1.084 OPS, clearly showing the type of potential that had made him a top prospect within the system.

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Indians 8, Rays 7: 21 Walk-Off Thoughts on Carlos Carrasco’s exit, Nick Goody’s momentum

By Ryan Lewis Published: May 15, 2017

Here are 21 Walk-Off Thoughts after the Indians’ 8-7 win against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night.

1. Carlos Carrasco left the game in the fourth inning with left pectoral tightness. He had been beaten up a bit for the first time this season and his velocity was down. That’ll likely be the bigger storyline from Monday’s game, in which the Indians scored eight runs for the second straight day and the bullpen held on for 5 2/3 innings.

2. As of now, the Indians don’t see it as anything beyond some tightness. Carrasco will be evaluated on Tuesday. It hasn’t yet been determined if he will miss a start.

3. Francona: “The left pec area was tight. I don’t think anybody thinks it’s anything more than that. He wasn’t letting it go. And you start to worry a little bit. When I went out there finally he kind of said, ‘Yeah it’s tight.’ So we got him out. We’ll certainly look at him more tomorrow. We’ll have a much better read. But it’s hopeful, maybe a couple days could remedy that. We’ll see.”

4. Carrasco started to feel some tightness at some point Monday night prior to the fourth inning. In the fourth, it worsened, eventually warranting his exit from the game.

5. Carrasco: “I feel fine. Just kind of got pec tightness, so that’s why they took me out of the game. … It was one pitch and every time when I threw one pitch, I would feel it a little bit more. I think Tito made the right decision to take me out before getting worse. But that will be fine.”

6. The Indians are already without ace Corey Kluber as he deals with a lower back strain. Carrasco had been one of the better starting pitchers in baseball heading into Monday’s start, owning a 1.86 ERA and 0.77 WHIP.

7. The early word isn’t as good with Abraham Almonte, who left after the fourth inning after aggrieving a right bicep strain. Almonte was attempting to play through it, but after a throw into second base was obviously delivered at less-than-100-percent, the Indians took him out.

8. Almonte is very likely heading to the disabled list on Tuesday. It could create some more playing time for Yandy Diaz, depending on the corresponding move.

9. Francona: “With Abe, I give Abe a lot of credit for trying to play through that. We’ll get him an MRI tomorrow just to see exactly what’s going on, but we’re going to have to shut him down for a little bit. So it’s kind of inevitable he’s going to go on the DL. … It’s just pinching him. He wanted to stay in there. I give him a lot of credit. But if he’s feeling it, I don’t see how it’s going to get better. And it’s just not fair. He came up and was reluctant to make the throw. That’s not fair to anybody.”

10. Nick Goody entered for Carrasco and wasn't perfect, but mostly for the job done. He gave up a double to Evan Longoria that made it 7-5. He also allowed two more hits and walked one but go through an inning, in part thanks to Boone Logan.

11. Goody to this point in the season still hasn’t given up an earned run. He’s been mostly used in right-handed leverage situations. On Monday night, he faced a more balanced opposition.
12. Francona has compared him to Jeff Manship because of Goody’s breaking ball and ability to get righties out. And so far, the Indians are receiving a Manship-2015-esque performance from him. He’s added yet another reliable weapon in a loaded bullpen.

13. Francona: “He’s been doing a very good job. He continues to gain trust. We first brought him up to face some right handers. Now he’s starting to face both. His confidence is I’m guessing at an all-time high. It should be. Because he’s throwing the ball really well.”

14. Boone Logan on Goody: “Shoot, he's been I think the star of the show down there, to be honest with you. You expect Miller and Chicken there to close it out at the end all the time, but you've got to get there first. He's been doing a really good job of putting up zeros and leaving guys stranded. Those innings are important, too. He's been doing a really good job.”

15. Andrew Miller: “He's been perfect. It's not always going to be that way, but we're riding him pretty hard right now and he's doing a great job and he's been of big use for us. He's getting more and more higher-leverage innings. As a whole, Boone came in and was awesome today. Bryan did a good job. It was just one guy after the other, but yeah, he's been good for us.”

16. As for Miller, he gave up a run, and it’s amazing how that’s actually quite noteworthy. It’s the first earned run allowed for Miller this season. The normally untouchable lefty walked Corey Dickerson to lead off the eighth, who eventually came around on a sacrifice fly.

17. The clubhouse knows how big of a deal it was. As Miller prepared to answer questions from reporters, Boone Logan walked by and yelled, “Holy **** he gave up a run. It’s the ******* end of the world.”

18. And, really, that run could be considered only half-earned on Miller’s part. With runners on first and second, Longoria grounded a ball to Jose Ramirez at third. He could have easily stepped on third and then looked to throw to first. Instead, Ramirez threw to second to try for the 5-4-3 double play. The throw pulled Kipnis off the bag, negating the chance to turn two. A few pitchers later, Logan Morrison scored the run with a sacrifice fly. If Ramirez steps on third, it’s entirely possible Miller gets out of the inning unscathed.

19. Francona: “He did that earlier in the game with Longoria I think it was. Such a long game, mighta been yesterday. I thought he was going to third. For whatever reason, maybe he felt like he was too far away to finish the play. I’m sure if he had to do it over again he’d just take the couple steps then go to first. I thought Kip did a good job of leaving the bag, getting the out. That ball could have gone into right field.”

20. On the offensive front, the Indians had a frustrating start to May. But, in the last two days, they’ve not scored eight runs in back-to-back games. Carrasco’s rough outing was softened by a five-run first inning, highlighted by Lonnie Chisenhall’s three-run home run, his second in as many days. Francisco Lindor also hit his team-leading ninth home run in the eighth inning that turned out to be the winning run.

21. Yan Gomes drove in Ramirez in the third with an RBI-double of the wall in left field. He’s now hitting .347 in May after a dreadful April, and in the last two weeks has looked like his 2014, AL Silver-Slugger self. Francona showed patience in Gomes, naming him the primary catcher over Roberto Perez and sticking with him—for the most part—through April. Thus far, that decision has been rewarded.

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Indians beat Tampa Bay Rays 8-7; Carlos Carrasco exits game with pectoral injury

By Ryan Lewis Published: May 15, 2017

CLEVELAND: The Indians won Monday night’s game but might have lost a bigger battle in the process.

Sparked by a five-run first inning, the Indians took down the Tampa Bay Rays 8-7. Starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco, however, had to exit the game in the fourth inning after experiencing left pectoral tightness.

Carrasco struggled for the first time this season on Monday night, allowing runs in each of the first four innings. After allowing an RBI single to Brad Miller with two outs in the fourth, which cut the Indians’ lead to 7-4, Carrasco was visited on the mound by manager Terry Francona and head athletic trainer James Quinlan and had to exit the game.

Carrasco is off to a hot start in 2017, entering Monday’s outing with a 4-2 record, 1.86 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings pitched.

The Indians’ 7-4 was quickly cut to 7-5 after Carrasco’s exit and Nick Goody’s entrance via an RBI-double by Evan Longoria. From there, though, the bullpen held a two-run lead for rest of the night. Goody, Boone Logan, Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen (10 saves) combined to throw 5 1/3 innings from that point, giving the club somewhat of a silver lining despite Carrasco’s injury concerns.

Miller entered with the tying runs on base and one out in the seventh. He struck out both Rickie Weeks and Derek Norris to end the inning. In the eighth, he allowed his first run of the season, though it was in part due to an errant decision and throw by Jose Ramirez.

With runners on first and second and nobody out, Evan Longoria grounded a ball to Ramirez, who instead of stepping on third, tried for the double play and threw to second. His throw pulled Jason Kipnis off the bag, who was able to apply the tag but not turn the double play. A few pitchers later, Logan Morrison hit a sacrifice fly to center field, cutting the deficit to 7-6 and ending Miller’s scoreless innings streak at 18 1/3 innings to start the season.

Carrasco wasn't the only Indians player to lead the game early. Abraham Almonte left the game after four innings after aggravating a right bicep strain. Daniel Robertson entered the game in his place. Almonte felt a pinch in his shoulder area last week but had been cleared to play this weekend with what was more of a bicep issue.

Offensively, the Indians put another positive night between them and their slump to start the month of May. Already trailing 1-0 and facing Rays ace Chris Archer, Carlos Santana hit an RBI-single to left-center field to tie it. Edwin Encarnacion, hitting fifth in the lineup for the first time this season, then grounded into what was nearly an inning-ending double play. Encarnacion was safe by half a step, which scored Michael Brantley, who had walked earlier in the inning.

Lonnie Chisenhall blew the inning open two batters later, drilling a towering three-run home run to right field to put the Indians on top 5-1.

Almonte opened the second inning with a triple off the wall in left-center field. He later scored on a throwing error on Norris. In the third, Yan Gomes continued his torrid May by doubling off the left-field wall, which scored Ramirez from first.

Francisco Lindor belted a solo home run to right field in the bottom of the eighth, his team-leading ninth of the season, off Jumbo Diaz to push the Indians’ lead to 8-6. The Rays answered in the ninth, making it 8-7 on Peter Bourjos' solo home run off Allen with two outs. Allen recovered to record his 10th save, getting Norris to pop out in foul territory.

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Corey Kluber throws light BP session, progressing from back injury; Lineup shuffle continues

By Ryan Lewis Published: May 15, 2017

CLEVELAND: Indians ace Corey Kluber took the next start in his rehab from a strained lower back but continues to operate without  set timetable for a return.

Per Indians manager Terry Francona, Kluber threw a light-intensity 20-pitch bullpen session on Monday. If Kluber’s back responds well, he’ll move onto a higher-intensity bullpen session and then most likely a simulated game. At least one minor-league rehab appearance could also be needed prior to Kluber returning to the starting rotation.

Kluber was dealing with back stiffness for most of the season until he was forced to exit his start on May 2 in Detroit, which then warranted his placement on the 10-day disabled list. Kluber was 3-2 with a 5.06 ERA while pitching through his back issues.

“The fact that he's getting up on the mound is good, because that means he's getting better,” Francona said.

The Indians also have received some poor news surrounding injured outfielder Brandon Guyer, on the 10-day disabled list with a sprained left wrist. Guyer hurt the wrist roughly a week ago while swinging. An MRI revealed some damage within the wrist, which is expected to sideline Guyer for four-to-six weeks.

Another rehabbing outfielder, Austin Jackson was able to run on the field prior to Monday’s game. Jackson is on the 10-day disabled list and working his way back from a hyperextended big toe. Jackson will also run the bases on Tuesday and then be reevaluated by the club.

Jackson has been pain free for a few days.

“It went good. It went really good,” he said. “I didn’t have any pain. That’s what we’re shooting for right now.”

Do the shuffle

Francona shuffled the lineup a bit prior to Sunday’s game, placing Jason Kipnis in the leadoff spot and sliding Carlos Santana back to the No. 5 spot.

The shuffling, to a smaller extent, continued to Monday prior to the Indians’ game against the Tampa Bay Rays. For the first time this season, struggling slugger Edwin Encarnacion was placed fifth, flip-flopping with Santana, now in the cleanup spot, from the lineup the day before.

That order allows the Indians to split up the switch-hitters—Santana and Jose Ramirez—while still providing Encarnacion with some lineup protection.

“It'll probably help us somewhere else, maybe bullpen-wise,” Francona said. “Things like that. That's really all it is.”

As Encarnacion has struggled to begin this season—slow starts aren’t uncommon with his track record—he’s still maintained a 16.6 walk percentage, better than his 12.4 and 12.3 walk percentages the last two seasons, respectively. It shows a hitter not trying to do too much at the plate, albeit with some possible, building frustration.

“You can tell where sometimes he’s starting to see the ball and he’ll take ball four and it looks like he wants to swing so d*** bad, but he knows it’s a ball,” Francona said. “I think that’s a great sign. How many times you see guys want to go 3-for-1? And to the best of my knowledge, you can’t do that. I know, I tried. That’s when you get yourself in trouble.”

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Indians break out of offensive slump, pound Minnesota Twins 8-3

By Ryan Lewis Published: May 14, 2017

CLEVELAND: Offensive slumps within a baseball season can be infuriating for teams. Breaking out of them, even for a day, can be like a breath of fresh air.

The Indians got plenty of the latter on Mother’s Day, finding their missing offensive firepower and throttling the Minnesota Twins 8-3 at Progressive Field.

Manager Terry Francona decided to shake up the lineup prior to Sunday’s game, sliding Jason Kipnis into the leadoff  spot and slotting Carlos Santana fifth. That move paid immediate dividends, and in turn made Francona’s move look pretty smart.

“Good players can do that,” Francona said afterward.

Kipnis led off the first inning with a solo home run to center field, his first home run of the season, and the Indians kept pouring it on against Twins starter Hector Santiago (4-2).

Daniel Robertson, promoted to the majors on Sunday morning in place of the injured Brandon Guyer, put the Indians on top 2-0 with an RBI-single to center field in his first at-bat with the Indians. Lonnie Chisenhall followed with a two-run home run, his third of the year, to make it 4-0.

In the third, both regulars who were moved in the lineup went deep. Santana led off the inning with a line-drive home run to left field. Later, Kipnis added a three-run home run to right field, giving him three hits–including his single in the second inning—and four RBI in the first three innings as the leadoff hitter this season.

The Indians (19-17) had totaled six hits and one run in the first two games combined in their series with the Twins (19-15) before racking up eight runs in the first three innings on Sunday.

“It was nice. We know what kind of offense we’re capable of having,” Kipnis said. “That being said, it’s about going out and executing and guys hitting with runners in scoring position and putting pressure on the defense. That’s stuff we haven’t been doing lately. We know we can put up crooked numbers with the best of them when things are going well.”

Kipnis was hitting just .155 before Sunday’s three-hit, two-home-run breakout. Getting him going had been one of the missing pieces to their offensive puzzle.

“I kept saying that it’s a matter of time, and it is, because he’s too good, it was just nice to see, “Francona said. “It kind of set the tone early. …  We just did a lot of things today that we haven’t been doing. It made for a fun day. We needed a day like that.”

Trevor Bauer (3-4) cruised while holding that lead, allowing three runs on seven hits and striking out seven in six innings pitched. He also walked none, making it the most efficient outing of his season.

“I thought he pitched really well,” Francona said. “I thought he pitched better than he did. He had no walks and seven strikeouts. A lot more strikes than balls today. I thought he was really good.”

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Indians grinding through offensive slump; Kipnis slotted leadoff in lineup shuffle; Guyer to DL

By Ryan Lewis Published: May 14, 2017

CLEVELAND: The Indians have been stuck in an offensive rut, and some frustration could be building.

The Indians entering Sunday were averaging just 2.45 runs per game in 11 May games. They also had been limited to one run and six total hits in their first two games of their current series with the Minnesota Twins.

It might be leading to several hitters in the lineup trying to do “too much” at the plate, an occasional byproduct when attempting to break out of a slump.

“We’re getting in that mode where everyone’s trying to do more, when we just need base runners and to go first-to-third,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “When guys start popping up, they’re trying to do more. … I think it’s human nature. It doesn’t help, though. … I think everybody’s a little frustrated. It’s stating the obvious.”

The Indians have scored three or fewer runs in nine of their first 11 games in May. In one of the two positive offensive nights, it still resulted in an 8-7 loss. Francisco Lindor, caught in a bit of a slump of his own during this stretch, has chalked it up to situational hitting.

“It's just timely hitting,” Lindor said. “We're getting in a couple games where we push each other, get one hit here, one hit there and next thing we know, we [will] score five, six, seven runs. It could be tomorrow. It could be Monday. It's just a matter of continuing to play the game the right way and backing each other up. The bullpen is doing a great job. So is the pitching staff. It's May. We have a long way to go.”

Francona was asked a few days ago if he had considered moving Edwin Encarnacion down in the order. He’s not one to make changes in the lineup just to make a change. But at times, with additional reasoning, the lineup could be shuffled.

That was the case on Sunday, with Jason Kipnis being bumped up to the leadoff spot. Carlos Santana was moved down to the No. 5 spot behind Encarnacion. It’s unclear if that order will continue past Sunday, but it certainly got off to a good start with Kipnis ripping a solo home run to lead off the first inning on Sunday.

“I just think with some of his energy, I think it’s got a chance to give him a jumpstart,” Francona said. “Nobody has a crystal ball, but I think it fits his personality a little bit. I think it’d be good for him. I know he’s not been hot, but he’s also got I think 75 at-bats under his belt. There’s hits coming.”
Francona isn’t one to panic over a tough stretch in May and start reshuffling the heart of the lineup every day. But in certain cases, the Indians could see what might work and what doesn’t.

“Nobody has a crystal ball, but I also want to keep someone behind Edwin where, we don’t want to hurt his chances of getting hot, ever,” Francona said. “We can’t swing for him, I know that, but I don’t want to make it harder. So you always want somebody behind him that you feel like they want to make sure they think about it. That was kind of the idea today. It’s been not a very good ten days offensively. I just thought this made sense. We’ll see moving forward.”

Guyer to DL

The Indians placed outfielder Brandon Guyer on the 10-day disabled list on Sunday. An MRI revealed a sprained left wrist. He had dealt with the injury for about a week before it eventually worsened over the weekend.

Guyer had struggled all season, playing a role in the Indians’ early issues against left-handed pitchers. He’s hitting just .182 this season.

In his place, the Indians purchased the contract of Daniel Robertson and promoted him to the majors. In a series of corresponding moves to get Robertson onto the 40-man roster, utility infielder Michael Martinez was designated for assignment. Erik Gonzalez was then promoted to take his place on the active 25-man roster as the utility player off the bench.

Gonzalez this year at Triple-A Columbus played everywhere except center field and first base, giving the Indians a solid defensive option at several positions. The Indians are also nearing the point of needing to give Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and others a day off, allowing Gonzalez to find his way into the lineup instead of sitting on the bench every day.

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