CLEVELAND - Two games into the 2020 season and the verdict is out on just how good this Cleveland Indians team is going to be.
They can pitch, we know that much, but the hitting over the course of the first two games has left a lot to be desired.
After scoring two runs against the Kansas City Royals on Friday, they did the same on Saturday, squandering a chance at a win in the 9th inning as they fell to Kansas City 3-2 to drop to 1-1 on the young season.
The Indians got a taste of the new rules of extra innings as they watched the Royals play it perfectly, using a bunt and a fly ball to center to score a run to take a 3-2 lead.
The Indians had the same chances, but with Greg Allen starting the inning on second, Bradley Zimmer was hit by a pitch, but then Cesar Hernandez, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor all struck out to end the game.
The Indians managed just four hits against Royals rookie hurler Brady Singer and four Royals relief pitchers.
Singer was impressive, as he used a nasty slider to strike out seven Indians over five innings in his Major League debut.
Mike Clevinger made two mistakes, both homers in the first inning to Jorge Soler and Salvador Perez to give the Royals a quick 2-0 edge.
It appeared that Clevinger had struck out Soler on a check swing with two strikes, but the umpire saw it differently giving him new life, which he took advantage of to quickly make it 1-0 Royals.
“It’s very frustrating, in my opinion he swung, they are human back there too, and they are going to go back and look at the tape and see what they did wrong, but it’s real easy to let that steamroll other innings, but it’s a quick life and really it wasn’t that terrible of a pitch, he muscled that thing out,” Clevinger said.
After that he settled in, going seven innings, allowing two runs on four hits with no walks and six K’s in his 2020 debut.
Here’s some observations from Saturday’s 3-2 setback as the Indians prepare for Sunday’s 1:10pm rubber match at Progressive Field.
Singer Solid in Debut
You have to give credit to Royals rookie pitcher Brady Singer, who didn’t seem intimidated at all making his Major League debut at Progressive Field.
Singer threw 78 pitches, 48 strikes in five innings of work, and his slider simply kept the Indians off track all day, and they chased quite a few pitches out of the zone.
“He’s got velocity which we knew, we had a tough time laying off all their pitchers today, we’ve got to be more disciplined,” Tribe manager Terry Francona said.
“Other than the first inning when it looked like he had Soler struck out on the check swing and then he threw a 3-2 breaking ball that he hit, and then Salvador hit a fastball, other than that he was tremendous, he gave up back-to-back homeruns and then nothing, he was really good,” Francona said.
Singer was the Royals first pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, and he was dominant in college in his last two seasons pitching at Florida.
He will be one to watch in the Royals rotation for a long time to come, and his debut was a success in the Kansas City 3-2 win.
What Was the Thinking?
The new extra innings rule was in effect on Saturday as the Royals got a runner on second to start the 10th, and took advantage of it with a bunt and a sac fly to take a 3-2 lead.
The Indians were afford the same privilege, but were not able to get the tying run across, as Zimmer was hit by a pitch, but then three straight strikeouts by Royals thrower Greg Holland closed out the Royals win.
So why didn’t Zimmer bunt Allen, who started the inning at second base, over to third to give the Indians the same chance that the Royals had?
“They were extremely aggressive with what they were running with their bunt play, we were one hit away from winning the game was our thinking,” Francona said.
“We were okay starting out to bunt, but if you are bunting to an out, that first basemen was so far in, that’s really difficult to convert on.”
The situation did line up for the Indians, as after Zimmer got hit by Holland, they had first and second with no outs, but then three straight K’s ended the game.
“I don’t know about pressing, I just think we chased a lot of balls out of the zone today, that’s a hard way to hit, the strike to ball change up gave us a really difficult time,” Francona said.
The Indians overall struck out 15 times in the one-run loss, to just seven times for the Royals, who made much better contact than they did against Shane Bieber and three Tribe relief pitchers on Friday night in the opener.
Karinchak Impressive in Debut
Indians fireballer reliever James Karinchak was very good in his first outing of 2020, throwing two innings and while he was on the mound when the Royals scored the winning run, he wasn’t charged with an earned run.
“I thought he was tremendous, he was pumping strikes, to me that’s probably the best guy to pitch when there’s a guy on second, he just left a ball up to (Maikel) Franco for the sac fly, but he was really good though,” Francona said.
Overall Karinchak threw 28 pitches in two innings, 10 in the ninth inning when he threw nine strikes, and 18 in the 10th inning, 12 of which were strikes.
Karinchak summons his inner “Major League” when he comes to the mound, as the song “Wild Thing” plays as his warmup music, and he wears the number 99, the same number that Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) wore in the famous movie.
Are You Kidding Me?
While Francisco Lindor has gotten off to a tough start at the plate in the first two games of 2020, one thing that he’s not lacking in is his ability to make outstanding plays from the shortstop position.
Saturday he pulled in the front runner for what has to be the early “play of the year” against Royals catcher Salvador Perez to end the Kansas City 6th inning.
Perez hit a bouncer that got past Jose Ramirez at third, but Lindor was able to pick up the ball and threw a great throw to first that Carlos Santana scooped up for the final out of the frame.
You could hear Tom Hamilton’s excitement of the call in the empty stadium, and it was well deserved as Lindor made an amazing play that will get quite a bit of air time on the sports highlights for MLB.
Clevinger Settles In
Following allowing back-to-back homers for the first time in his career, Mike Clevinger threw more like the Cy Young candidate that Indians fans have come to love the last few seasons.
He never allowed more than one base runner on after the first inning, and ended the night going seven strong innings, allowing two runs on four hits with no walks and six K’s.
“I think I put too much emphasis on pitching up in the zone, and got away from my bread and butter which is down and away, once I got there and started moving them off the plate a little bit it felt back up to where it was really me,” Clevinger said.
Clevinger threw 90 pitches, 60 strikes. He had four 1-2-3 innings and retired the last 10 batters he faced.
Over the last three innings of work Clevinger needed just 34 pitches to wrap up his first 2020 start.
“Other than the first inning when it looked like he had Soler struck out on the check swing and then he threw a 3-2 breaking ball that he hit, and then Salvador (Perez) hit a fastball, other than that he was tremendous, he gave up back-to-back homeruns and then nothing, he was really good,” Francona said.
He seemed to go to his slider often, though the first Royals run the homer by Soler was an 81-MPH slider that he left up.
The homer by Perez two pitches later was a four-seam fastball that registered 95 miles per hour that the catcher clearly didn’t miss on, hitting it a projected 434 feet to the middle of one of the Progressive signs in the bleachers.
All in all it was a successful first two games for the Indians starters, but with the offense struggling it was a good thing they threw the ball well, or the team could be sitting at 0-2 entering play Sunday.