CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – Indians rookie center fielder Bradley Zimmer is fast, which is well known just 40 games into his big league career. That does not mean his quickness is not still catching people off guard.
When Statcast released their speed leaderboard earlier in the week, a measurement of the top-10 “effort plays” from players to deduce an average speed of feet per second, Zimmer clocked in as the third fastest player in baseball. He trails only Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton (30.1 f/s) and Twins center fielder Byron Buxton (29.9) at 29.8.
The number even caught Zimmer off-guard when asked if he knew.
“I did not,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. I’ll try to get number 1.
“Still got plenty of season left. I’ll try to get up on that leader board.”
The young outfielder changed the momentum of Thursday’s 5-1 series-clinching win over the Texas Rangers with a sprint to home on a passed ball that did not even leave the circle around home plate.
With Rangers pitcher Andrew Cashner covering home, catcher Robinson Chirinos’s flip was on time, but Zimmer turned in a perfectly executed slide around the tag. The play gave the Indians a 2-1 lead that they would only build upon.
“(Indians third base coach Mike Sarbaugh) was saying, ‘Make sure you’re alert on a ball in the dirt,’” Zimmer said. “I was ready. Runs are hard to come by sometimes. Any opportunity you can get to score is huge.
“I just as I was approaching knew it was going to be close. So my first thing was I tried to get my front foot to hit the base before anything. So I was just kind of reaching and then stuck my toe out and got in there just in time.”
Maybe more impressive than the slide was that the circumstance that allowed it to happen was Zimmer reaching on a play he made with his legs to begin with. On a full count, Zimmer bounced a ball to second baseman Rougned Odor, who was unable to beat the 24-year old with a throw.
Manager Terry Francona had talked earlier in the season about his team making plays on the base paths at a lesser extent compared to last season, and highlighted what his rookie was able to do Thursday.
“I don’t know how many guys are able to beat that ball out. I don’t know how many guys can score,” the skipper said. “When we lost Raj(ai Davis), we knew we were losing a bunch of speed. And with Zimmer up here, he’s given us that aspect that we were kind of missing for sure.”
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Francona has also spoken at length about the times that Zimmer has begun games on the bench, despite fans clamoring for the rookie to start every day. The manager says he wants to keep a flexible bench that he can use to leverage situations later in the game.
On Thursday, the man relegated to the pine early was Lonnie Chisenhall, who was indeed thrust into another pinch hit appearance. Again, he succeeded.
Chisenhall turned in his fourth extra-base hit in as many hits, a two-run double to give the Indians their four-run cushion.
The right fielder now has nine RBI in pinch hit situations, tops in the American League, and tied for first in all of baseball with the Nationals’ Adam Lind.
“That was kind of the idea,” Francona said. “Really, we wanted (Brandon) Guyer to get some at-bats with a quick turnaround. But it’s nice to have that bat and you can’t do it all the time.
“He’s always been ready which is good. But I think he’s in a pretty good place confidence wise.”
Corey Kluber continued his assault on opposing bats, or perhaps lack thereof, on Thursday, striking out 10 or more for the fourth consecutive outing. That streak is the highest in a single season for Indians pitchers, and tying Bob Feller’s multi-season streak in 1938 and 39.
Kluber’s 12 strikeouts also placed him in 10th place all-time in Indians lore, tying him with Luis Tiant at 1,041.
Ever humble and lacking irrational emotion, Kluber was appreciative yet dismissive about the honors.
“I had no idea. I think it’s like any other accomplishment. I think it’s cool to hear those kind of things,” he said. “I think that you take a moment to appreciate it and then move on, it’s probably something you’ll appreciate more down the road. But I think that accomplishments like that are nice but not why we play the game.”