CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Time to panic? No, net yet.
At least not according to Cleveland Indians general manager Chris Antonetti.
The Tribe’s GM witnessed his club suffer through a sub par April, which featured inconsistent hitting and pitching, lackluster defense, and culminated in a six-game losing streak to end the first month of the 2014 campaign.
The team’s record entering Friday’s contest with the Chicago White Sox: 11-17.
Despite a recent stretch of baseball that sent Tribetown into a worried frenzy, Antonetti is remaining faithful in the club he helped build.
“I believe in this group of guys,” Antonetti said. “I believe in the coaching staff. Teams are going to go through stretches where they don’t play great. We happened to come off a stretch, and a really tough road trip where we lost six in a row. But prior to that, we were at home and coming off three out of four (wins) against a very good Kansas City team. There are going to be ebbs and flows to a season. Hopefully, we can turn it around quickly.”
But when does a rough stretch turn into something much more dangerous? When does it become a trend?
“There’s not a certain time where you can pinpoint it, but there is obviously urgency,” Antonetti said. “We want to try to turn things around as quickly as possible… but regardless of what the immediate results are, we need to play better as a team in all facets. I’m confident that we’ll do that.”
Still, the Indians’ GM understands the frustration that comes with a slow start.
“Within each game, and after each game, we’re all emotional,” Antonetti said. “We try not to make decisions based on that emotion and recognize that it is a long year.”
It starts with defense
26 errors this season rank the Tribe third worst in baseball. In advanced metrics, the Indians rank third worst in UZR (-13).
Whatever your flavor of choice, it isn’t tasting good.
Unfortunately, the more errors the club makes, the more they seem to breed other miscues. The viral outbreak has impacted nearly every elements of the team’s defense, notably Nick Swisher at first (four errors), and catcher Yan Gomes behind the plate (seven errors).
“I think we’re a better defensive team then we’ve played so far,” Antonetti said. “I’m confident that we’ll improve… I think team-wide, we haven’t played up to our abilities. I know the guys are working hard at it. They were out here again early today working. We’ll continue to work to get better.”
The Indians are a team built to win games by playing fundamental baseball. It comes as no surprise that a lack of victories have followed a failure to do so consistently thus far.
What about the bats?
Defense hasn’t been the only issue holding Cleveland back at times.
During the club’s 0-6 trip to California, the Indians collectively hit .184 to drop their team average to .232, sixth worst in baseball. Driving in runs with guys in scoring position has been a real issue for the Tribe, hitting .220 thus far.
“We’ve had a handful of guys that have to perform to their capabilities, but it’s a group of guys that we believe in, have had success in the past,” Antonetti said. “I’m confident that when we look back, we’ll look at this as a tough stretch than anything that was indicative of how they performed for the course of the season.”
One of the biggest storylines offensively has been shocking struggles of Carlos Santana offensively. Despite swinging the bat better at the end of the west coast trip, the switch-hitter was locked in a horrific slump that had many calling for Terry Francona to shake up the batting order.
Instead, Francona has remained patient, a stance Antonetti believes in.
“Carlos is such a good hitter,” Antonetti said. “He commands the strike zone so well and he has a track record of hitting, so we know he’s going to hit. I think that’s why Tito continues to be patient and continues to keep him in the middle of the order, because he is that type of hitter. I think we’ve seen the benefit of that over the last couple of days.”
Antonetti draws similarities between Santana’s offensive woes, and the ones Jason Kipnis experienced in April of last season. A vocal group of media and fans suggested that a slow start should warrant a lower spot in the batting order – or maybe – even a trip back to Columbus for Kipnis.
Again, instead of pushing the panic button, Francona remained faithful to Kipnis, and the Tribe’s second baseman responded by earning a spot on the American League All-Star team.
“I think Tito’s patience paid off last year and I think we saw that rewarded in not only how Kip played shortly there after, but the season he put together,” Antonetti said. “For the right guys that have track records, that you believe in, that patience can pay off.”
Many were expecting Santana’s issues to come with the glove, not the bat this season. After transferring from full-time catcher to a regular third-baseman, many questioned if that may be impacting his offense early this season.
“We’re asking a lot of him, defensively, to play multiple positions and then hit in the middle of the order,” Antonetti admitted. “We think he’s capable of it and we’ve seen signs of it over the last few days.”
After hitting his third homer in four games, Friday, the Tribe hopes the darker days of production are behind Santana. If so, things may start to pick up offensively for Cleveland.
They’ll need it. Kipnis was placed on the 15-day disabled list prior to Friday’s game with a right oblique strain.
On The Carrasco Decision
The Indians were no doubt disappointed to make the call to remove Carlos Carrasco – a pitcher the organization has given every chance to be successful – from the club’s rotation. With the kind of stuff and ability Carrasco possesses, the bullpen was not where the Tribe envisioned him having his impact, yet this is where Carrasco’s performance has led them.
After winning the fifth starter job in Spring Training, Carrasco went 0-3 with a 6.95 ERA in four starts.
In the end, that just wasn’t good enough.
“We weren’t getting the consistency in that spot in the rotation that we were looking for,” Antonetti said. “For the moment, we’ve decided to allow Carlos the opportunity to pitch in the bullpen and we think it’s a role in which he’ll thrive.”
In the meantime, the Tribe’s GM would not confirm if Carrasco’s trip to the pen is a permanent one.
“We won’t close any doors,” Antonetti said. “For right now, we’ll give someone else that opportunity. We’re counting on Carlos to fill an important role in our bullpen.”
Which brings the team to it’s next decision: who takes Carrasco’s slot? The Tribe will need an additional starter on Tuesday.
“We have a few good candidates in Columbus that are certainly deserving of it and we’ll work through that decision shortly,” Antonetti said.
He mentioned Trevor Bauer (3-0, 1.40), Josh Tomlin (2-1, 2.06), and T.J. House (1-1, 1.59) by name as three internal candidates to consider.
“I would expect that whoever gets this opportunity will get more than just one start,” Antonetti added.
Of the three, Bauer is likely the favorite, after impressing in his spot starter earlier this month in Cleveland. He seems to have found some consistency in his delivery, which has enabled him to get more comfortable, and get better results.
His top of the rotation arm may provide the impact the Indians need.
Regardless, with so many pitching well at the Triple-A level, a move was necessary. Unfortunately, Carrasco’s performance did not leave many other alternatives.
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