CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians fell in the second game of the short two-game series, losing to the Washington Nationals at Progressive Field, 4-1.
This column features my takeaways from Wednesday’s game. If you want more baseball coverage, you can follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
1. TROUBLES TURNING TWO
In a game where Stephen Strasburg was nearly untouchable, it may seem silly to focus on something that happened defensively for Cleveland in the top of the second inning. However, the play — or in this case, non play — was a continuation of a recent theme which has plagued the Indians in recent losses.
The double plays not turned just keep haunting the Tribe.
On Wednesday, the unsuccessful attempt with two on and no one out in the second inning led to some unfortunate circumstances for Indians starter Carlos Carrasco. It didn’t help that the Tribe’s right-handed hurler battled his command in the frame, walking the first two to start off the inning before a ground ball was hit to shortstop Francisco Lindor, who fired the ball to Jason Kipnis at second base.
In the transfer, Kipnis dropped the ball. And while Anthony Rendon was ruled out at the bag, Ryan Zimmerman reached first, and the Nationals’ turn at bat was extended far longer than it should.
Danny Espinosa struck out, which could have conceivable ended the frame and kept Carrasco unscathed, but the extra out allowed Ben Revere to walk on a 12-pitch at-bat and Trea Turner to drive a two-run single to left field, giving Washington the early 2-0 lead.
An unfortunate turn of events for sure, but the ramifications of the double play not turned went beyond just handing the Nats an extra out. Carrasco was forced to throw 19 extra pitches in the frame, something which may have extended his outing later as he settled into the game, and the two runs were all the support Strasburg would need to stymie the Indians’ bats on Wednesday afternoon.
“It was a combination of falling behind, we didn’t complete the double play, Revere had an unbelievable at-bat and I actually thought he had [Jayson] Werth struck out,” manager Terry Francona said. “So there’s a lot of combinations there, like 36, 37 pitches for an inning and fortunately he gave up two.”
Unconverted double play attempts also spelled doom for Cleveland twice in their three-game series sweep at the hands of the Orioles over the weekend, as Baltimore used two separate opportunities to turn the extra outs into at least one run.
2. BAD DAY TO PLAY FROM BEHIND
Of course, Strasburg didn’t really need much help, a pretty typical outing for the 14-1 hurler, who lowered his ERA to 2.68 with seven shutout innings of the Indians.
That fact pretty much stresses how important playing a clean game would be for the Tribe’s chances of grabbing the sweep on Wednesday, but Strasburg’s three-hit performance essentially took any of the drama out of it.
“You don’t ever want to think that during a game because you get a walk and somebody hits a bomb,” Francona said. “But I mean, he’s really good. He’s got a lot of weapons. He can throw the ball by you, a fastball on both sides of the plate. He has a slider, change. He’s got everything, and his fastball has a ton of ride or finish, however you want to put it. His delivery. It’s impressive.”
Of course, Cleveland’s starter is pretty impressive himself. In fact, the righty entered Wednesday’s start pitching about as well as anyone in baseball recently. But the early command issues and non-conversion of the double play didn’t help Carrasco. After the second inning hiccup, the righty still managed to retire the next 10 hitters he faced before Daniel Murphy took him deep for the left-handed hitter’s 20th home run of the season.
On most days, a six-inning, three-run performance might be good enough to win. But not when Strasburg is on his game.
3. TO THE LEFT, TO THE LEFT
Lefty reliever Kyle Crockett has quietly pitched really well since rejoining the Indians earlier this month. And despite allowing a double in Wednesday’s loss, the numbers overall since his return have actually been pretty impressive: 3 2/3 innings, one hit, zero runs, zero walks and three strikeouts.
But the numbers alone can be misleading. What’s more impressive is who the lefty has faced since his recall, being thrust into the team’s left-on-left role in their endless revolving door of southpaw relievers this season.
Here are some of the hitters he has matched up against since coming back up from Triple-A (the list sure isn’t bad):
- Eric Hosmer: 0-1, strikeout
- Jarrod Dyson: 0-1, groundout
- Chris Davis: 0-1, groundout
- Mark Trumbo: 0-1, groundout
- Pedro Alvarez: 0-1, groundout
- Bryce Harper: 0-2, groundout, strikeout
- Daniel Murphy, 1-2, double play, double
“When he’s confident and hitting his spots and working ahead, he can do it,” Francona said. “He doesn’t have the luxury of some guys who are maybe throwing 95. If he makes that mistake or doesn’t get it where he wants it and gives up some damage, but I think the game is maybe slowing down a little bit for him, holding runners and things like that. And when he makes his pitches, he’s fine.”
Certainly, Crockett is a long way away from being the team’s trusty left-on-left specialist. The 24-year-old has given the team brief glimmers of hope throughout his three sporadic years in the Majors, but issues with command and performance have also plagued the young southpaw on occasion.
But for now, as Cleveland attempts to bring in some outside help prior to the Aug. 1 deadline, an opportunity to log outs in the Tribe’s bullpen has presented itself to any left-hander who grabs it. And during his most recent stint, granted in the smallest of small sample sizes, this lefty is doing the job.
4. IS THIS THING ON?
It’s no secret how poorly the Indians’ catchers have swung the bats.
Yan Gomes, prior to his shoulder injury, was hitting just above .160 and trending in a worse direction. Chris Gimenez has done a fine job behind the plate, but offense has never been his calling card. And since returning from the disabled list following thumb surgery, Roberto Perez has yet to get any timing back, ending Wednesday’s game by hitting into a double play.
Overall, Tribe catching entered Wednesday with baseball’s lowest OPS from the position (.511), well below the second-worst team on the list, the Pittsburgh Pirates (.570). Only Tampa Bay catchers have logged fewer hits this season (58) than the Indians’ group (61).
Somehow, the Indians have not only survived without Michael Brantley for all but 11 games this season, but they’ve thrived offensively (sixth in baseball in runs entering Wednesday’s matchup) with the black hole of nonexistent offense from their backstops.
This is why the Indians continue to be linked to Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy prior to the trade deadline.
Lucroy is more than just a solid defensive catcher with plus pitch-framing skills, he’s the best two-way catcher on the market, slashing .301/.362/.486 (122 wRC+) this season with the Brewers, contributing 13 homers and 50 RBI.
On the surface, a move for Lucroy makes a ton of sense for Cleveland. But in the past, it was tough to see the Indians unseating Gomes as the no. 1 catcher, given how important his relationship with Tribe starting pitchers has become to their success.
But when he suffered the recent injury — Gomes is expected to miss roughly two months following a shoulder separation — many wondered if that could impact the Indians’ desire to add a catcher before the trade deadline. The club has publicly indicated otherwise, but seemingly endless reports have them considering it.
Regarding Lucroy rumors: If the deal in any way impacts the team’s ability to address their biggest weakness, the bullpen, then a move for the talented catcher doesn’t make a great deal of sense. But if Cleveland is able to address two problem areas — and reports have the Indians talking Lucroy and possibly left-handed reliever Will Smith with Milwaukee — then the deal begins to check quite a few boxes.
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The price will certainly be high. Every passing day the Indians’ catchers struggle at the plate, opposing teams feel like they hold more and more leverage over Cleveland. Many speculate that to pry Lucroy from the Brewers, knowing he is controllable for one more affordable season beyond 2016, it will take at least one top-level prospect and potentially more. And the more teams involved means the cost of doing business increases.
Will the Indians be comfortable parting with one of their possible young studs? In the past, that didn’t seem wise, especially given the number of other spots Cleveland’s front office could focus on improving. But the reality of a struggling position paired with the opportunity to upgrade another spot with just one deal starts to make a potential swap with Milwaukee a lot more appealing.