CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – Terry Francona made a roster move that failed, and the Indians will now play in an elimination game of their own.
It was not the move that everyone had been doubting.
When Francona chose to ride with Giovanny Urshela at third base in the American League, he chose to go with defense. The 25-year old the manager had called an ‘elite defender’ over and over again this season had done nothing but back up his gaffer time after time.
Until Game 4 of the ALDS.
The third baseman made a critical error in the 2nd inning Monday, taking a 102.6 mph line drive off of the leg. Urshela never made contact with his glove and hobbled to retrieve the ball. Castro would advance to second on a Roberto Perez passed ball before being doubled home by Todd Frazier.
Between the error, Frazier’s double landing on the chalk in left, and a questionable check-swing call, the Yankees wound up knocking starter Trevor Bauer out of the game with a 4-run 2nd.
It did not get any better for Urshela.
Down 4-0 with the bases loaded in the 4th, the embattled third baseman’s throw sailed high, bringing Carlos Santana off of first base and allowing a fifth run to score. Urshela said that he and Jose Ramirez had a miscommunication on a potential throw to second to end the inning, forcing a rushed throw to first.
“The first ball was a hooking live drive that attacked his shin,” Francona said postgame. “The next one, you know, he looked at second, but Jose was playing so far in the hole and he just didn’t move his feet. He threw it high. Very unlike him.”
The Indians continued to beat themselves with an error by Danny Salazar leading to the sixth run of the game.
“You know, the whole night, we made it hard on ourselves to win,” Francona added. “We kept trying, but we kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We can’t not finish plays or, you know, not make plays. It just makes it really difficult.”
There was no reason to believe that Urshela would have what amounted to a defensive meltdown, relatively speaking. There was not a ton of reason to believe that Yandy Diaz’s offensive output would have been more worthwhile to the AL Central champions than what Urshela would do defensively.
There was, however, the potential for blowback if Urshela did not hold up to his considerably high standards. His career wRC+ indicate that he creates 43% less than the average hitter, and his 2017 mark says that output is less than 57%.
Francona was essentially conceding his 9th spot in the order for the sake of ‘elite’ defense at the hot corner, and rightfully so. What Urshela had provided at the position had backed up his manager’s words, and the alternatives were underwhelming.
Jason Kipnis at second, Jose Ramirez’s own elite defense wasted at third and the equally anemic bat of rookie Greg Allen in center? Erik Gonzalez at third? An outfield with Lonnie Chisenhall, Austin Jackson and Jay Bruce – or Michael Brantley, dependent on Edwin Encarnacion’s availability?
It looks like Francona may have to make that decision, because Urshela went from giving the team nothing on offense to being a detriment. The margin for error for the young defensive whiz was slim, and now the Indians’ margin for error is zero.
The potential exists that the two-time World Series winner will do nothing at all. Always steadfast in his convictions, Francona does what he thinks is right and stays loyal.
Has Urshela earned enough trust to run things back with the season on the line? Probably not. Will he get that opportunity? Probably.