Category Archives: Cleveland Indians

An 18-year-old’s positive first impression with the Indians

Clint Frazier acted like he belonged.

The Indians hope that turns out to be true.

The team’s first choice in baseball’s First Year Player Draft signed his contract on Saturday, realized he was $3.5 million richer (signing bonus) and then took batting practice with the first group of Indians.

“It was different,” Frazier said with a smile. “I felt like I could go out there and hit some HRs pretty easy, but not today.”

If today wasn’t easy you’d like to see when it is. Frazier acted like a seasoned pro, spraying balls to left and right field and hitting several into the bleachers in left (one unofficial count had him with seven home runs and five off the wall). It was batting practice, but Frazier was giving his first impression with Terry Francona, Ty Van Burkleo and Sandy Alomar watching intently from the backstop.

Frazier, who had a school-record 63 home runs at Loganville (Ga.) High School, met with Francona briefly on Friday, and spent 20 minutes talking with Jason Giambi, who advised him not to make the game harder than it is.

What impression did he make on the one time he had to make a first impression?

“Very polite, very respectful,” Francona said. “And he’ll give ya a handshake that …”

Frazier handled himself with the poise of a veteran with the media as well, answering questions fully — and often with a smile. Just like he smiled when he walked into the Indians clubhouse for the first time as an 18-year-old and saw the major league players waiting for him wearing red wigs, a tribute to his mop of red hair.

Frazier leaves for Arizona on Sunday, where he will start in rookie ball with the Indians Arizona team. That he’s leaving his family for the first time on Father’s Day was not lost on him

“It’ll be very bittersweet,” Frazier said. “My Dad just told me this is the best Father’s Day present anybody could have. I’m glad to be able to come out here and bring a smile to his face and enjoy the last moments with my family. Obviously, going into the new life that I’m going to be living is something they’re very proud of.”

Did Kipnis get away with one Friday night?

Did Jason Kipnis get away with one on his game-winning fielder’s choice in the bottom of the ninth Friday night?

With runners on second and third and one out, Kipnis hit a hard ground ball that Adam LaRoche dove and snagged. But when LaRoche got to one knee to throw home, Kipnis veered ever so slightly off the dirt and onto the grass in fair territory at Progressive Field. End result was he got in the way of where LaRoche wanted to throw and Drew Stubbs beat the throw home for the winning run in a 2-1 game.

The evidence for interference is here (complete with requisite complaining by the Washington broadcast team). It’s pretty compelling.

Baseball rule 7.09 (b) states ”it is interference by a batter or runner when … before two are out and a runner on third base, the batter hinders a fielder in making a play at home base; the runner is out.”

Had umpires ruled that way, rule 7.08 (g) states that Kipnis would have been out, Stubbs would have gone back to third, and Michael Bourn back to second. Nick Swisher would have been up with two out.

Screen shots of the above video linked to earlier do illustrate the play pretty well. The live one is blurry, but shows Kipnis on the inside grass:

As does this one replay:

Here, Kipnis has just hit the ball, and is starting to run.

But it’s not long before he sees LaRoche has made a great play, and he veers left:

By the time LaRoche has thrown, he’s on the grass:

Did it matter? The play was close at home … though LaRoche’s throw went to the left of Kipnis and right of the catcher, who could not get the tag back in time.

Kipnis was not asked about where he ran after the game, but he did address the play, saying: “It actually lined up perfectly where when I’m running down the line I was kind of  not in his way a little bit, but maybe could hinder his throw a little bit.  The ball was coming right at me so I had to duck a little bit.”

Getting in a guy’s way when he makes a throw is part of the game. And Kipnis’ game is filled with hustle and scrappy plays like this one.

But doing it out of the baseline is not supposed to be legal.

Clearly this is a judgment call, and the result stands. The umpires may have felt Stubbs would have beaten the throw regardless. They did not see it as interference and nobody from the Nationals argued. They may have simply felt it was baseball gamesmanship, with Kipnis doing what he could to help the team win (gamesmanship that has been part of the game forever).

But Kipnis  also might have gotten away with one — for the team.

The sounds in the background are the manager and teammates congratulating Kipnis with high fives and smacks on the back.

Indians win first game of doubleheader; Francona talks Masterson and Chisenhall

The Indians won the first game of the doubleheader against the Yankees behind Justin Masterson’s complete-game shutout.

Masterson became the first Indians pitcher to have two 1-0 complete game wins in a season since 1989 (Bud Black and Greg Swindell). It was the first time the Yankees had been shut out in Progressive Field since 2003. Jason Kipnis provided the Indians with their only run on a first-inning home run.

Here’s a sampling of what manager Terry Francona and Masterson said after the game, when Francona also addressed sending Lonnie Chisenhall to AAA Columbus:

Francona:

On Masterson: “Masty went out and did exactly what you want your ace to do. They loaded up with their lefties and from the very first pitch of the game he had power, he had a breaking ball, he attacked hitters.”

On if he pondered not letting Masterson pitch the ninth: “No. I just wanted to check with him to make sure he had enough to send him out to finish. He got an extra day (rest). When you pitch a game like that I don’t want to send him out for one or two hitters and then go get him. He said he had yanked a couple sliders earlier, but he had plenty left.”

On sending Chisenhall to the minors: “We gave him those two days off last week because he had kind of struggled getting himself into a rhythm hitting. It felt like the outcome of his at-bats, I think, were starting to affect his play. He even kind of admitted that, he said, ‘It was kind of building on me.’ This guy is such a building block in our organization. This is not an indictment on him. He’s going to figure it out and he’s going to be a force here. I just think it’s better for him right now to go be able to take a deep breath, get some at-bats and get himself rolling. You’ll see him back here, leaning on some fastballs.”

Masterson:

On the complete-game win: “I think it’s nice at the beginning of a doubleheader. I think it’s what every guy who starts a doubleheader wants to do. Just to keep the bullpen out of it so we can be fresh for game number two. I think that’s probably the most satisfying thing. To be a complete  game, whether it’s 1-0, 1,500-0 doesn’t matter.”

On to game two.

Indians option Chisenhall to minors

Is it numbers, is it performance, or is it a combination?

The Indians sent Lonnie Chisenhall to AAA Columbus on Monday, one day after manager Terry Francona talked about how Chisenhall was fighting himself at the plate.

Chisenhall has struggled. He’s hitting .213 in 94 at-bats — and this after he was more or less named the team’s third baseman. He’s two-for-16 in his last seven days, five-for-26 in his last 14. And he’s 2-for-22 (.091) against left-handers.

Injury has plagued Chisenhall in the past. But clearly this season he fought his swing.

LHP David Huff was brought up to take Chisenhall’s place.

It could well be that the Indians felt they needed another pitcher for Monday’s doubleheader against the Yankees. MLB rules allowed them to add a 26th player for the day; that spot went to second-game starter Trevor Bauer. To add a pitcher, Chisenhall really was the only option to be sent down of the position players.

Or it could be a combination. Performance and need prompted the move.

Mark Reynolds and Mike Aviles can both play third, and will in Chisenhall’s absence.

Manager Terry Francona did not speak to the media before the game. He’ll surely address it after. At which point his quotes will be passed along.

Indians catch-up: On Chisenhall, getting ahead in counts, Kipnis, etc.

Some of this and that the morning after Saturday night’s good win over Detroit and heading into Sunday’s series finale in Detroit:

–Manager Terry Francona pointed out the advantage in getting ahead of a hitter by suggesting to check Corey Kluber’s stats from Friday night’s Detroit win. Hitters worked Kluber to a 2-1 count eight times; the results, unofficially, six hits and a walk in eight at-bats, with four of the six hits a double. Conversely, when Kluber had hitters at a 1-2 count, he held them hitless in six at-bats, with three strikeouts. As Francona said: “I’m not an advocate of ‘take strike one’ to build the pitch count. Then you’re hitting 0-1 the whole damn day, and that doesn’t do any good.”

–With Vinnie Pestano on the disabled list, the Indians have to juggle who will pitch the seventh inning in games they are leading. Normally, Joe Smith would take the seventh, Pestano the eighth and Chris Perez the ninth. With Pestano out, Smith moves to the eighth with a bullpen by committee working the seventh. Saturday, the committee of Nick Hagadone and Cory Allen didn’t get it done. “I think it will depend on who we’re facing,” Francona said. “I told Smitty we’re not gonna wait around until the eighth if there’s a bunch of righties. That seems silly to me.”

–Not one Indians player this weekend asked for a Browns rookie minicamp update. Go figure.

–Francona talked a lot about Trevor Bauer on Saturday. What he said is here.

–Lonnie Chisenhall entered Sunday’s game hitting just .220 in 91 at-bats. Chisenhall was finally given the third-base job this season, and he’s struggling. The number that jumps out: He’s hitting .091 against left-handed pitching. In his career he’s hit just .200 against lefties. Francona said he’s been patient with Chisenhall because he didn’t want to have him looking over his shoulder early, but he’s also been a little tempted to play Mike Aviles, who oddly enough is a right-handed hitter batting .200 against lefties and .420 against righties.

–Francona said Chisenhall has “gotten himself into a little bit of a rut,” adding: “He’s just got to get in position where he can let his bat speed work. He’s gotten himself into some positions early this year where you see him fouling a lot of balls over the third-base dugout. … He can’t get the bat head where he wants it to be. It’ll get there, and when it happens …” As to whether Chisenhall might be pressing … “I hope not. It’s a lot easier to play certainly when you’re relaxed and you’re confident. But you have to get to that point first. That’s that chicken or the egg, whatever analogy you want to use. It’s easy to tell somebody, relax and play.”

–As of pregame, the Yankees had not announced their second starting pitcher for Monday’s doubleheader. “It’s a big secret,” Francona said with a smirk. Sort of like NFL teams trying to hide the identity of the starting quarterback.

–Francona clearly appreciates the way Jason Kipnis plays, saying: “He’s very hard-nosed the way he plays. As a manager, when a guy hits a ball and runs as hard as he can every time, it’s appreciated. When he hits it, he runs like it’s his last at-bat. I can’t tell you how that makes you feel as a manager. He plays all out all the time. You saw his reaction when he scored (from first on Saturday). That’s just pure joy. You can talk all you want about making money and everything, and I hope they all get rich. But the good players for the most part like trying to be better than the other teams and finding a way to beat them.”

Annual Indians attendance discussion underway again

The Indians return to Cleveland Monday for a makeup doubleheader against the Yankees. It’s a traditional doubleheader, with two games for the price of one.

Fans who had tickets to the rained out games from the first homestand can get in, but a doubleheader is a rare bargain. The Indians played them way back when, and they were always targeted games for kids and families. Why not go when you can see two? Ernie Banks has immortalized the statement, “Let’s play two.”

But will the fans show up?

At present the Indian are averaging 14,103 per game, which ranks last in the league. It’s worse when considered that the Indians are 4,238 behind Tampa Bay, the 29th ranked team. That’s almost 25 percent lower than the Rays.

There’s been a lot said about the attendance, and in some ways it’s an annual May discussion. Cleveland traditionally does not draw until Memorial Day. The reasons are the same ones given every year. School, cold, blah blah blah.

“I guess I feel like my responsibility is to try to get our team to play the best baseball we can, and if you’re an Indians fan you’ll be proud of your team,” manager Terry Francona said. “I guess if we get to a point where we’re backing it up and not just on a hot streak, our attendance will get better.”

“The fans that come out have been very supportive and they’ve been fun and it’s a great buzz,” said Jason Giambi. “There’s nobody that should tell anybody how to spend their money. That’s the most important thing. We would love to have them out there.”

Who wouldn’t?

The Indians have done their part, so far. They brought in players in the offseason. They’ve won 19 games and they’re competing with the Tigers for the division lead.

But a few things work against them. Fans have seen fast starts dissolve the past two seasons; though the players, coaches and manager are different, the doubt lingers. Francona is right to say the team has to still back it up.

Too, while the Indians say their fans harken back to the glory days of the ‘90s, it would seem that the more recent past affects perceptions just as much, especially the trading of back-to-back Cy Young winners CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee That sent a message of financial instability that one strong offseason evidently won’t fix. Detroit draws 37,000 for an Indians game with 20,000 down the street in Joe Louis Arena for a hockey game because the Tigers and Red Wings have won.

The Indians have not been over .500 since 2007 and lost 90 games in three of the last four seasons. That track record led the chipping away of any team’s base: Season ticket sales. In Cleveland, the number has dropped below 8,000, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. The season ticket base explains why a team like Miami that might have 3,000 in the stands for games can pad its numbers and say it averages 18,864. The Indians can’t, because they don’t have the base.

For whatever reason, the fans seem to hold the Indians to a different standard than the other pro teams in town.
There is absolutely no explaining the blind faith given the Browns after 13 years of futility, change and arrogance.

The Cavs have continued to draw post-LeBron better than the Indians did post CC and Cliff.

Both those leagues have salary caps, which helps equalize the competition. Yet the fans punish the Indians while giving the Browns a pass.

The claim that Cleveland is a “football town” is nonsense. The Indians will draw if they win. Baseball brings people downtown 81 days a summer. It matters.

Giambi is right … fans have the right to spend their money as they see fit. If they’d rather see The Great Gatsby than the Indians, so be it.

Winning cures a lot of issues, but it’s clear that the Indians have to win a lot more than other teams in town before people will come out again.

At least this season they have a good chance to get their part done.

More on Scott Kazmir’s strong start against Oakland

Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway spent a little time talking about Scott Kazmir before Friday night’s game in Detroit.

Callaway said the team had done some research and learned that the last time Kazmir hit 95 and 96 in velocity was 2009.

Which would be four years ago.

Kazmir’s 10-strikeouts in the win over Oakland was his first double-digit strikeout game since 2009, and he didn’t walk a hitter for the first time since 2010.

In one sense, these best-since numbers are not surprising, because Kazmir did not pitch well in 2010 and 2011, when he spent time with the Sugar Land Skeeters.

But the way Kazmir threw was very encouraging to the Indians — and opened eyes.

“He’s gotten better, considerably better every outing he’s  been out there,” Callaway said. “From the first of spring training until now, it’s been unbelievable.”

Manager Terry Francona gushed about Kazmir after his first bullpen session in spring training. Now the Indians have their fingers crossed it lasts.

“He’s in a good spot,” Callaway said.

The web site FanGraphs.com had an outstanding chart on Kazmir’s fastball in the game, and how his velocity increased the more he threw. The site wrote: “The last three fastballs he threw were all 96 mph, and they were pitches 101, 102 and 103 on the day. A guy who lost his spot in Major League Baseball his fastball was sitting at 86 ended (Thursday) throwing 96.”

It’s early, but clearly the Indians are hopeful.

If Kazmir keeps doing what he’s doing, they’ll have themselves one of the better reclamation project stories of the season.

Ohio coaches do first-pitch honors

CLEVELAND — It was his turn first, and Ohio University basketball coach Jim Christian fired a strike.

Next up was Ohio football coach Frank Solich, and his pitch floated into the first-base batter’s box.

Solich still got a nice ovation from the Progressive Field crowd before Thursday’s game between the Cleveland Indians and Oakland Athletics, but he admitted he’d hoped for better.

“I was practicing this week,” Solich said. “I called our director of football operations Jason Grooms and made him go out and throw a few with me.”

Solich grew up in Cleveland and graduated from Holy Name High School in Parma Heights. He said having the chance to throw out the first pitch in his hometown was “a thrill. It’s always nice to be back in Cleveland. I’ve had a lot of fun.”

Christian said he didn’t make any practice tosses this week.

“But when you get out there, you want to throw a strike,” Christian said. “All eyes are on you.”

The Ohio coaches served as co-guests of honor before the Indians won their 10th game in 11 tries on Thursday. Both wore new Indians hats with their traditional green garb. They were in town for the Ohio Athletics Bobcat Caravan event Thursday night at the Barley House in Cleveland.

Indians win a series, which is something

The Indians won a series over the weekend, after losing the first game. Winning two-of-three in Houston isn’t cause for fireworks, but it’s a step toward recovering from a staggering start. At 7-10, the Indians aren’t even in last place in their division. Staggered starts are magnified in April, but the losses count just as much in April as they do in September so they can’t be ignored either. Winning a series is a step toward stopping the stagger and starting to walk.

The starting rotation remains in constant flux. Brett Myers went on the DL the day after Scott Kazmir came off. Instead of bringing up Trevor Bauer or Carlos Carrasco (and his eight-game suspension), the Indians moved Corey Kluber into the rotation. The rotation has been a jumbled mess since Kazmir got hurt before the season, and it’s not getting any less jumbled. That has no doubt affected continuity, as closer Chris Perez said he can’t recall a time this season when the starters lined up and went one through five.

One would hope there’s a reason for the starters performance. Indians pitchers have a 5.84 ERA this season, which ranks 30th in baseball. They’ve pitched 28 1/3 innings, which ranks 28th. They’ve given up 58 earned runs,which ranks 27th, and 27 home runs (29th).  Add in all those games when the Indians scored three runs or less and it’s not tough to see why they started 7-10.

The fact that Kazmir had a 14-run lead in the second inning on Friday night and did not get the win kind of sums up the way things are going.

Longtime reader (and friend) Mark Leonard wrote and suggested a good solution for Carrasco’s suspension: Time it with the All-Star Break. Call Carrasco up four games before the break, let the four pitchers in line start those games, then let Carrasco sit the four games after the break. It would leave the Indians with 24 players, but that happens at times. The main advantage is that this approach reduces the effect on the starting staff, because it will have the three days of the break to rest. As Leonard wrote, all eight games “are covered comfortably and sanely.”

Monday is Terry Francona’s birthday. With 17 games in Cleveland, he has the longest tenure of any manager or coach in pro sports in the city.

Mark Reynolds is having a month. His seven home runs and 18 RBI put him first and fourth in the American League, respectively of course. Reynolds describes himself as a notoriously slow starter, and entering this season he’d hit .216 in March and April in his career. He also had the fewest home runs (21) in that time. But in 2008 and 2010 had seven home runs in April. In those seasons he finished with 28 and 32 home runs. Reynolds is on a one-year contract with the Indians, and will make himself some money if this continues.

Francona stands by Jimenez, whose long-term trend is worrying

Terry Francona has gotten an earful … well an eyeful … from Indians fans, most of them upset, disappointed and frustrated at Ubaldo Jimenez’s pitching.

Or lack thereof.

This season he’s started 0-2, with an 11.25 ERA.

“It’s only been a few starts,” Francona said. “If we lost our patience with everybody after a few starts we wouldn’t have a team. I get the mail and everything. ‘Send him down, do this.’

“Our job is to make guys better. Not every time they struggle get rid of them.”

Jimenez’s struggles go back much longer than this season, though. In his last 17 starts, Jimenez is 1-12 with a 7.27 ERA.

“I understand,” Francona said. “But what’s important … last year, it’s over. You can’t pitch for last year. It won’t work. It just makes it harder. We need to separate that first of all.

“We need to figure out what did he do good, what didn’t he do good. Build on what he did well and fix what he didn’t do well.”

Last year was last year, Francona said.

“Nobody’s good enough to go back and fix last year,” he said.

The Indians believe Jimenez’s problem is his delivery, aka mechanics.

When Jimenez is slow to the plate and lands his left foot properly, he keeps the ball low and moving.

But when he speeds up, he opens up his left side and his left foot lands more toward first base. When that happens Jimenez’s pitches flatten out, and left-handers get a good swing at him, Francona said.

That doesn’t explain last year, but Francona’s not trying to explain last year.

That being said, Jimenez’s trend the last few years is not good.

Since starting the 2010 season 15-1, Jimenez has gone 23-39 with an ERA of 4.94.

His ERAs have gone from 3.80 in ‘10 to 4.68 in ‘11 (combined Colorado and Cleveland) to 5.40 in ‘12 to 11.25 in three starts this season.

His wins have dropped from 19 to 10 to nine to (this season) zero.

Not what the Indians envisioned when they traded two first-round picks to acquire him.

Jimenez is the living embodiment of the rule that states: If you want to make a move with a guy, who takes his place?

With Cleveland, it could be Trevor Bauer or Korey Kluber or David Huff or Carlos Carrasco (and his eight-game suspension), but Francona isn’t ready to make that move.

“You start getting rid of pitching, you might come up in June, July, August, (and) not have any,” Francona said. “There’s a lot of factors. There’s young guys in triple-A and even in double-A maturing and developing so when they get here they can win and not get up here and get beat up.”

Scott Kazmir is due to come off the disabled list and start on Saturday. If he proves he can handle a spot, the Indians might be able to replace a struggling Jimenez with a young pitcher.

If they ever want to.
But Carrasco’s suspension complicates things. He’s throwing mid-90s, but the day he comes up his suspension starts and it has to finish in one stretch. The Indians would be playing with a roster of 24 for eight games, and juggling starters.

For Francona, it’s not about Carrasco or a suspension. It’s about trying to straighten out Jimenez, who will start by throwing twice between starts as opposed to once.

“You’re going to have challenges throughout the season,” Francona said. “We knew that coming in. We prefer to tackle them, as opposed to running away from them.”