CLEVELAND: Whatever happened to the concept of home sweet home? The secret to the Indians’ early season success has been “Hit the Road, Jack.”
Jack Hannahan is one of the few Tribe batsmen with respectable numbers on home turf. But his .306 average at Progressive Field pales next to his .360 average on the road.
“I think that’s just baseball,” Hannahan said Thursday after the Kansas City Royals’ 4-2 win. “This is only our second homestand. It’s a little early to say that [the team can’t hit at home].”
Maybe so, but the Tribe’s offense has been pathetic at Progressive Field, averaging 3.5 runs per game with a .186 team batting average. On the road, the club is averaging six runs a game and batting .281. The record reflects this difference: 7-2 on foreign turf, 2-6 at home.
“I don’t feel any different playing at home or on the road,” Hannahan said. “Home is where you have to take care of business. We’re going to start playing better at home, no doubt about that.”
More than likely, Hannahan is correct. In the long haul, few teams perform better in enemy territory than they do in the friendly confines of their own ballpark. But for now, the reality is just the opposite.
“We struggled some the last four games [one on the road],” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “Today, we continued to scuffle at the plate. We hit some balls hard, but they played good defense.”
Acta couldn’t ascribe a reason to why his team has hit so poorly at home.
“It’s just a coincidence,” he said. “It has nothing to do with playing here. We scored a lot of runs at home last year. And it’s not the weather or the lake or anything like that.”
Maybe Thursday it had something to do with the opposing starter, Luis Mendoza, who limited the Tribe to six hits (none for extra bases) and two walks in five innings. But this is the same Luis Mendoza (1-2, 6.00 ERA) who gave up five runs and nine hits in four innings 11 days earlier.
“Basically, he had the same stuff,” Travis Hafner said. “I think he was sharper today, hitting his spots and mixing his pitches better.”
The hardest-hit ball for the Tribe was a sixth-inning, opposite-field drive to left that looked like it might clear the 19-foot wall or at least bounce off the barrier. Instead, Alex Gordon caught it on the track, as Michael Brantley scored after the catch.
But had the ball bounced off the wall for a double, Asdrubal Cabrera also would have scored, and Carlos Santana would easily have dashed two bases to third, giving the Indians three runs with runners on second and third and nobody out.
“I hit the ball on the screws,” Hafner said. “I thought the worst-case scenario was that it would be off the wall. It turned out that the worst-case scenario was that it was caught.”
There were others who could have made something happen in the inning, but Shelley Duncan struck out and Hannahan grounded out to end the threat.
Josh Tomlin started for the Tribe, and it was obvious that he was not at his best in the first inning because he walked a batter. He also gave up a run but extricated himself from more serious trouble by throwing a double-play ball.
Tomlin (1-2, 5.48 ERA) does not walk batters in the first inning. He seldom issues walks in any inning, and he walked two in 4? innings. Acta lifted him in the fifth with two outs, two runs home and runners at first and second. Tomlin was charged with four runs and eight hits.
He might have avoided giving up even one run in the fifth, but Jeff Francoeur dumped a bloop single to left that a diving Duncan couldn’t quite come up with. Instead of being the third out of the inning, the hit drove in the first run of a three-run rally.
“Josh had to battle today,” Acta said. “He didn’t have his good command. He only threw first-pitch strikes 50 percent of the time.”
Tomlin didn’t have any excuses.
“Physically, I felt great,” he said. “My command was not as sharp as it should have been early. It was a miserable day, but it had nothing to do with the weather.”
Also weighing in the home vs. road issue, Tomlin said, “It’s just a fluke.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at https://ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.