CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians avoided the sweep in the four-game series, delivering a late knockout blow to the Minnesota Twins on Thursday afternoon, 9-2.
This column features my takeaways from Thursday’s game. If you want more baseball coverage, you can follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
1. Good things happen when Andrew Miller isn’t locked into one role, one inning, one spot.
And it may have surprised some to see the lanky lefty trot out of the bullpen with two down in the top of the sixth, but really, what better time to use the dominant southpaw reliever? Miller has already proven ready and willing to pitch in whatever spot he’s asked. So, with Byron Buxton heading to the dish and the top of the Twins’ order about to get their next turn, why not declare the situation the biggest of the game and swing open that bullpen door?
Let’s look at it this way: When the Indians acquired Miller from the New York Yankees in a deal involving two of the Tribe’s top prospects, the lefty, with all necessary respect due to Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen, immediately became Cleveland’s best reliever.
So, if we’re in agreement that Miller is the guy you want in the game’s biggest spot, what better time for him to enter than with Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer and Max Kepler — guys who have crushed the Indians all series long — set to stroll to the dish?
The part that didn’t surprise? Miller’s performance. He punched out Buxton to end the sixth, then picked up a pair of strikeouts in the top of the seventh. And because the Tribe’s offense eventually spread the game out and gave Cleveland plenty of breathing room, saving the talented southpaw for the ninth would have been pointless — especially if never given a chance to finally take down Minnesota because the alternative to Miller gave up runs earlier in the ballgame.
Sure, you certainly don’t want to make Miller’s early appearance a habit each and every night. But what an incredible weapon to have if you need it.
2. Miller steals the shows, but the four outs Dan Otero recorded were just about as crucial.
The veteran righty came on in relief of rookie starter Mike Clevinger, took care of a jam in the fifth by retiring a pair with two runners on, then came back out to begin the sixth and set down the next two batters, setting the stage for Miller’s big entrance.
“I thought Otero, who probably was pitching on fumes today, got huge outs and allowed us to get where we can get our bullpen in some semblance of order as opposed to just trying to fill innings,” manager Terry Francona said. “That’s a hard way to go about it.
Of course, Otero has been doing this all season long for Cleveland. Outside of a few minor blips on the radar, the right-handed hurler has been a godsend in the Indians bullpen, picking up the slack where others have faltered, earning more opportunities to enter in higher leverage spots.
Otero has responded with a 1.60 ERA and 2.58 FIP in 45 innings of work.
3. Clevinger’s outing wasn’t pretty, but Cleveland was more than willing to accept his 4 1/3-inning effort.
In fact, pitching into the fifth was more than Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer could accomplish in their outings this series.
And while there was quite a bit of traffic on the bases, Clevinger, who joined the rotation after Salazar’s trip to the disabled list, limited the damage to two runs and was able to give the Indians just enough to keep it manageable for the heavily taxed bullpen.
“I was trying to be consistent and trying to stay low,” Clevinger said. “I wish I could have helped the bullpen a little bit more but they came in and did more than their job.”
After giving up 35 runs in the first three games of the series, Thursday’s hurlers managed to hold the Twins to just a pair.
4. Rajai Davis may be 35 years old, but he still runs the bases with the energy and speed of a 23-year-old.
And he basically stole a run for Cleveland in the bottom of the seventh. It all started with a harmless single, but Davis then took second and third with steals and aggressively scored on a wild pitch by Michael Tonkin.
His two steals in the frame ties him for the league lead in stolen bases with 27. He also ranks seventh in baseball in baserunning runs above average, a statistic featured at Fangraphs.com, which helps puts a value on offense created by smart, aggressive or speedy baserunners.
And the deeper the season progresses and the closer to October the Indians get, the more valuable the sort of chaos Davis can create becomes.
“I think that’s my number one thing of enjoyment, getting on the bases and causing havoc,” he said. “It’s fun to me. It’s exciting.”
Of course, Davis had already created some excitement earlier in the game with this incredible double play.
5. Every starting infielder for the Indians, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, homered in Thursday’s game, a pretty rare feat in Cleveland’s franchise history.
In fact, that was only the second time all four starting infielders homered in the same game for the Indians. The only other time it occurred was June 18, 1941, when third baseman Ken Keltner, shortstop Lou Boudreau, second baseman Ray Mack and first baseman Hal Trosky each clubbed round-trippers against the Philadelphia Athletics (h/t STATS LLC).
For Kipnis, specifically, his 18th home run of the campaign is a single-season career high.
6. There’s no doubt how brutal the first three games of the season were for Cleveland.
They were slaughtered, tattooed, bruised, beat up and toasted in the opening three matchups, and the timing couldn’t be any worse with the Detroit Tigers charging hard at the Tribe’s division lead.
On one hand, we’ve seen way too much of the Indians’ starting pitching to believe they’ve turned into pumpkins. Salazar was limited by his elbow issue. Maybe that helps explain away his recent struggles. Bauer has run into some inconsistencies lately, so maybe even a rough outing doesn’t shock you. But Carrasco’s clunker was totally unexpected and way outside the realm of a normal effort by the talented hurler.
On the other hand, Detroit had shaved 5.5 games off the division lead over the past two weeks entering Thursday’s slate of games, so on some level, a sense of concern is completely understandable and warranted.
For that reason, avoiding the sweep to the last-place Twins and pushing the lead back to 3.0 games in the AL Central on Thursday — Detroit fell to the Chicago White Sox — was good for everyone’s mental health.
“We’ve got them in our rearview,” Davis said of Detroit. “But we’ve got to focus on what we need to do to win, and that’s going out there and pitching well, playing good defense, scoring more runs than the other guys.”
7. A tip of the cap to Carlos Carrasco, who officially passed his citizenship test this week.
Carrasco had been studying for the exam earlier this homestand and got plenty of help from his teammates in the clubhouse throughout the week leading up to the big day.