CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians fell to the Boston Red Sox in Monday’s rainout makeup game, 3-2.
This column features my takeaways from Monday’s game. If you want more baseball coverage, you can follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
1. PAPI POWER
Indians starting pitcher Josh Tomlin was asked if he was happy that Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was retiring. He responded: “I am now. Yeah.”
It’s certainly not a shock that the righty felt that way after it was Ortiz’s two-run blast in the sixth inning which gave Boston a 2-1 lead on Cleveland. Tomlin was trying to throw an 85 MPH cutter in on Ortiz’s hands on the first pitch of the at-bat. It ended up deep in the right field seats.
“I got him out on fastballs away and I kind of thought he might be looking out there and trying to ambush a heater,” Tomlin said. “So, I just tried to get a cutter kind of in off the plate, get him conscious about that part of the plate, and I left it kind of in a good spot for him to hit a home run. And that’s what he did. He’s a good hitter and I made a mistake, and he took advantage of it.”
Two batters later, Jackie Bradley Jr. made it a 3-1 lead by clubbing a solo home run right field. The homers stung even more considering how well Tomlin pitched throughout most of Monday’s game and how magnificently Red Sox starter Drew Pomeranz was pitching against his former organization, making the two mistakes made by Tomlin the difference in the contest.
2. MULTI-RUN K.O. PUNCHES
As we’ve written about numbers times before, Josh Tomlin is going to give up homers. He refuses to give in and issue walks, typically making the opposition earn their way aboard. Not being a hard-thrower with raw stuff, that combination leads to a lot of round-trippers.
And you’ll live with that as long as the long balls are of the solo variety. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case lately. In his first 15 starts, Tomlin limited homers to solo shots 68.4 percent of the time (13 of 19). Since then, over the righty’s last seven outings, just 40 percent (4 of 10) have been of the one-run variety.
Despite pitching much better on Monday (7.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 3 K), the inability to limit the damage on the home runs has led to some of Tomlin’s recent struggles and Cleveland’s 2-5 record when he pitches over his last seven starts.
“I’m trying to avoid the crooked number as much as I can,” Tomlin said. “It just hasn’t really happened in the past three or four starts or however [long] it’s been. If I can limit the guys on base when those big guys come up in the lineup, it’s going to benefit me and the team in the long run if there are more solo shots.”
3. NICE TRY
Cleveland had a chance in the ninth, trailing 3-2 and facing one of the game’s best closers, Craig Kimbrel. The first two reached in the inning — Francisco Lindor opened with a leadoff double and Mike Napoli drew a walk — setting the stage for three opportunities to tie Monday’s game.
Kimbrel, entering Monday’s game, had experienced a few hiccups recently, owning a 7.45 ERA over his past 10 appearances, but that doesn’t really make life any easier on opposing hitters who have to choose between a 98 MPH fastball or a lethal wipeout slider.
“You’ve got to kind of pick one,” manager Terry Francona said. “He’s throwing 98. Not too sure you can hit the slider and the fastball.”
Even when it appeared the momentum had shifted in the Tribe’s favor, the Red Sox closer has the ability to pull the carpet out from under you.
With runners on first and second, Kimbrel struck out Carlos Santana with a 98 MPH fastball, whiffed the pinch-hitting Jason Kipnis with a 96 MPH heater, then got Abraham Almonte to pop out on 94.5 MPH fastball to neutralize the rally and end Monday’s game.
Who knows — perhaps the ninth inning was an October preview between two potential playoff squads. If the Indians had their choice, however, they’d probably prefer to avoid any need to rally against Kimbrel late in a ballgame.
4. TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE
The Indians entered Monday’s game with the American League’s lowest batting average (.162) and slugging percentage (.268) against curveballs of any variety this season (via Baseball Savant), so maybe that’s what made their match-up against Pomeranz, their former first-round pick, a difficult one.
The Sox lefty is throwing his curveball a career-high 39 percent of the time in 2016, and he’s had tremendous success with the knuckle-curve this season. Opposing hitters are batting just .212 against the pitch in 2016, featuring a slugging percentage of .264.
That might help explain why he’s throwing it so much. The lefty threw 40 knuckle-curves (39 percent) on Monday, getting swings and misses on 17.5 percent of the tosses.
“It seems like he controls his curveball pretty good, when you throw it for strikeout pitches or just throw it in there for strikes,” outfielder Rajai Davis said. “He has a fastball that that he’s able to locate. That makes it tough.”
Davis’ solo home run in the fourth and RBI double in the eighth proved to be the only offense Cleveland could muster off their former pitching prospect, who allowed just two runs on five hits in 7 2/3 innings.
Mike Napoli extended his hitting streak to a career-high 15 games with a double in the bottom of the fourth, but Jose Ramirez’s 18-game streak came to an end with Monday’s 0-for-4 performance.
Ramirez has been one of Cleveland’s most valuable players this season, and his success with runners in scoring position has been a big reason why. The switch-hitter entered Monday’s contest hitting .389 (37-for-95) with runners in position to score.
Surprisingly, he wasn’t able to do what he’s done for much of the 2016 campaign — contribute a clutch base hit — failing to drive in Davis from second in the bottom of the eighth, flying out to end the frame and the potential rally.