Regrettably, I did not have time to work up a proper Lazy Sunday for you all this week. I was busy building my backyard shrine to Jerry Sands. We have a popular pre-season playoff pick struggling despite a strong showing by their highly-regarded rotation (with one exception). The defense has been scuffling, and the lineup just isn’t producing, and it’s tough to pinpoint exactly why. The bullpen has been touched up a little, and it’s unclear who can be the 8th inning bridge to the young, talented closer. But enough about the 1-4 Washington Nationals, you’re here to read about the 2-3 Cleveland Indians.
Judging solely by the twitterverse, it may surprise some of you to learn that the Indians are 2-3 and not 2-30. Frustrating losses to the Tigers seem to be a foregone conclusion at this point, and yesterday’s was particularly galling. Corey Kluber deserved better than a no-decision, and the Indians were leading against the Tigers ace before the bullpen gave it back and then some. The Tribe battled back to tie it on the heroics of Little Jerry Sands, and then Cody Allen of all people got touched up in the 9th to finally put the game out of reach. Worst of all, the 9th inning saw Yan Gomes hit the deck in pain, with a sprained knee at least and an MRI today to determine if there’s any serious structural damage. Knees are important for catchers (#analysis!), and if Gomes misses an extended amount of time, the Indians lose their best right-handed hitter and a crucial defender behind the dish. All is not lost at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, but it’s also tough to imagine the first homestand going much worse.
I was in Woodbridge, VA on Thursday for a cold and wet MiLB opening day. The Indians new high-A affiliate, the Lynchburg Hillcats, were in town to take on the Potomac Nationals. Dylan Baker started on the mound for the Hillcats, and was backed by a stacked lineup featuring Clint Frazier, Mike Papi, Bradley Zimmer, Nellie Rodriguez, Eric Haase and more. Some quick-hit thoughts on the game:
·I’ve seen two of Dylan Baker’s starts as a professional, spanning 11 innings of work, and I’ve yet to see him allow a hit. He walked Jayson Werth in the first inning on Thursday, and didn’t allow another baserunner after that. Baker was sitting comfortably in the 94-96 MPH range with his fastball, touching 97. He was up in the zone in the 1st inning, but settled down and spotted the pith effectively in the zone after that. His slider was a little inconsistent but flashed plus, and he mixed in a few curveballs as well. He only threw a handful of changeups, but saved the best one for the rehabbing Werth’s 2nd AB. He had Werth way out front on a CH to run the count to 1-2, then came back with a 96 MPH fastball on the inside corner for a called strike 3. Baker struck out a career-high 9, and the 23-year old looks to be ready for AA Akron sooner rather than later.
· Clint Frazier is back to his toe-tapping ways, similar to his plate approach in high school. He played around with a leg kick last year, going with a big leg kick, small leg kick and finally settling back on the toe-tap as a timing mechanism. The bat speed is electric no matter how he triggers his swing, and the power potential is evident even when you’re watching him take swings in the cage. Frazier collected a pair of hits last night, both on line-drives up the middle. The first was a liner just to the right of the second baseman, and the second was a hard line drive to the right of the shortstop. Frazier still has a very aggressive approach, attacking the first pitch in 2 of his 5 AB, and got caught out on his front foot a couple of times. His 5th AB was his best of the night, as he was able to stay back on a pitch on the outer half and line a hard single through the 5.5 hole to the right of the shortstop. I think that having a consistent mechanical approach to hitting will help Frazier in 2015, as constant swing tinkering can make things tough on a young hitter. I still expect him to collect his fair share of strikeouts, especially in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League, but he’s going to hit some home runs as well. He’s a talented, confident young kid, and he’s going to be a big part of the Indians future.
· Eric Haase has long been a favorite of mine, and last night did nothing to change that. Haase was consistently popping sub-2.0 in his throws to 2B between innings, showing off a plus arm and excellent footwork. His receiving is still a little raw, as he was stabbing at breaking pitches a little more than I’d like, but that’s something that should improve with time. At the plate, Haase was 1-5, but the hit was a triple that he smoked into the gap and then flashed his above-average (especially for a catcher!) speed in legging out the three-bagger.
· Yesterday was the first time I’ve seen Bradley Zimmer live and in person, and he did not disappoint. Zimmer went 1-3 with two walks and a K, and I came away impressed with his size and swing mechanics. Zimmer starts with a slightly open stance and triggers with a short stride to close himself up and brings his hands quickly down through the zone. He has a little more leverage in the swing than I expected, and I can definitely see 20 HR in his bat once he adds a little more weight to his 6’4” frame. There’s no wasted movement in his swing, and he should be able to make consistent contact throughout his career. He’s a plus runner and a very good athlete, and really looks smooth out in CF.
· Mike Papi struck out once and drew three walks in 5 plate appearances last night. He wasn’t passive at the plate, he just didn’t get much worth swinging at. He has a compact swing that should generate plenty of contact, and I’m excited to see more of him in game action.
· Robbie Aviles pitched better than his score line would indicate (1 2/3 IP, 5 R (4 ER), 4 H, 3 K, BB). Only one of the hits he allowed was a hard-hit ball, and he was a victim of the BABIP gods on the other three. He was working mostly in the 90-92 MPH range and showing nice arm-side run on his 2-seamer. It was the first time I’d seen Aviles pitch, and he gets some deception with his cross-body delivery. He had a 2.55 ERA in 84 2/3 IP for Lake County last year, and is an intriguing potential bullpen arm.
· Nellie Rodriguez went 1-5 with a double down the LF line last night, and his swing looks a little shorter than the last time I saw him. The weather robbed us of an opportunity to see his raw power displayed in BP, but I should be able to see he and Frazier duel for BP supremacy next week in Frederick.
· The #MiLBProblems hashtag was in full effect last night. It was a chilly day that turned into a cold (~40 degrees) night, and there was a steady drizzle that fell throughout the game. That was miserable enough, but to make things worse, the power in the LF lights went out with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th inning. I’m told there was a 40 min delay, but I wasn’t going to stick around to see it. Even with the subpar weather, it was great to get back out to the fields and check out some of the Indians up-and-coming talent on opening day. I’ll be out in Frederick next week to see Lynchburg take on the Frederick Keys, and here’s hoping the sun will be out this time around