Cleveland (92.3 the Fan) – “He came as advertised,” manager Terry Francona said post game, putting things about as accurately as possible.
Just about every statistic, traditional or new-school, turned out to be the case for Houston Astros ace Dallas Keuchel on Tuesday.
The lefty entered the day having surrendered three earned runs over four starts, two of which coming on solo home runs. On Tuesday, the Indians almost doubled Keuchel’s runs allowed, with two runs coming on two solo home runs.
The former Cy Young winner brought the most notable part of his game to the park as well, boasting the top groundball percentage on the year (70%) and since 2014 (61.2%). The Indians grounded out 15 times over Keuchel’s complete game, including three inning-ending double plays.
“I mean, for the amount of hits we had, I thought we actually had pretty good at-bats,” Francona said. “But as you can see, he’s always one pitch away from a double play. He’s a really good pitcher. That’s the understatement of the day. He’s a good pitcher that’s on a roll, and that makes it even tougher.”
Aside from Austin Jackson’s first home run in the 3rd inning, the Tribe did not post another fly ball until Jason Kipnis was robbed by Josh Reddick of a solo shot of his own in the 5th. Michael Brantley elevated a ball on a solo homer to lead off the 9th, but it was one of just five balls hit on the fly.
Aggression was key for the Tribe, with 14 at-bats ending after 2 pitches, and another 6 ending after 3. No home at-bat lasted longer than 2 pitches between the start of the 3rd and end of the 4th.
“We were trying to get a pitch up and be ready to hit it,” Francona added. “Because he was living down in the zone so much that if you take, and I know we’re down in the score, but if you take, it might be the best pitch you get. And that’s why he’s good.”
Kipnis admitted to an aggressive approach, but said that moderation was perhaps more important.
“I mean it’s already a victory for him then if all you’re doing is thinking about elevating throughout the game,” the second baseman said. “That’s where you fight and that’s where you pick your spots, kind of have the right approach with him. He was tough today and he’s been looking like he’s tough all year. We got what he’s been doing.”
Keuchel’s opposite number, Tribe righty Josh Tomlin, has been much maligned through the early part of the season. The 32-year old built on a strong outing a week ago by allowing three runs over six innings, scattering eight hits and striking out a season-high tying six.
The righty did not allow a hit through the first two innings, and escaped a jam in the third unscathed despite runners on the corner and one out.
Tomlin ran up his pitch count on what had been an otherwise quick outing when he allowed four straight hits in the top of the 5th, ending with a 2 RBI single by Reddick. He then retired the next four, and allowed one more hit before being lifted after six.
“You never want to put up a crooked number in any game in one particular inning, especially in four batters, which is what I think it was,” Tomlin said. “At that point, you just try to hone it back in and do as much as you can and go as long as you can in the game, and keep them in the game as long as you can. With that lineup, there’s definitely potential of coming back with two runs at any point in the game.”
Tomlin is known for the amount of fly balls, and subsequent home runs, that he allows, but Tuesday was not the day for that. Despite virtually no wind and a semi-warm day, the right-hander stayed away from the big fly, or flies in general. The Astros flew out three times, popped out once, and Nori Aoki’s 5th inning double was the only hit elevated over 19 degrees.
With back-to-back starts of six innings and three earned, Tomlin has re-routed momentum in his favor.
“Every outing, there’s something to build on, whether it’s good or bad,” he said. “The main thing for me is just staying off the middle of the plate. The demise in the first two starts was balls were leaking back over the middle of the plate. Now that you’ve ironed that out, now it’s just trying to go out there and compete and trying to stay in there as long as you can to give your team a chance to win.”
Tomlin stayed mostly out of the middle of the zone, and worked mostly low, something that will remain key for the mainly fly-ball pitcher. The Astros remained patience, as the low-ball approach does not appear as heavily in their results.