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Indians Indians Archive 23 Days in April
Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

2013 04 tribe road tripOne down, five to go; maybe we’ll get a bonus month of baseball in October, if the stars align themselves properly this summer and somehow the Indians meet a fate unknown in these parts since 1948.  The best thing about the month of April is that it isn’t March, so the games actually count and if a player is wearing a number in the 80s, it’s because he wants to.  If you’ve been paying attention to Indians baseball the last two seasons, when they were under the charge of Manny Acta, you might recall that they sat in the top spot of the American League’s Central Division on May Day in 2011 and 2012, territory they’ve been unable to claim in the early days of the Terry Francona era.

The Tribe left Arizona with certain concerns, but first and foremost were the four giant question marks that would be starting on the mound on the days that Justin Masterson did not.  The suspension(s) of Carlos Carrasco and the alarming news of Scott Kazmir's soreness in the Opening Series did not inspire confidence on that front either.  Sure, Michael Bourn didn’t hit very well in the desert and Chris Perez didn’t do much in the way of pitching, but Bourn was sure to come around and Perez saved 39 games that counted a year ago after missing about as much of the exhibition season as he did this spring.  The venue would be different on Day 1 in 2013, but the team in the other dugout remained the same, and we all hoped Masterson would turn in a similar Opening Day performance against the Blue Jays.

The Great Indoors

Opening the season north of the border meant opening up inside, and staying inside the entire first week in following up the 3-game set in Toronto with 3 more in Saint Pete with the Rays.  The trip would be bookended with Masterson starts, and you had to hope for some good bounces in between because rain would not be the saving grace that it was for Spahn and Sain’s club, once upon a time.  Masterson didn’t quite give an encore performance to the tune of his 10 whiffed batters in 8 innings a year ago, but he did just fine in striking out five thru six innings, allowing just a single run on three hits, before turning it over to his bullpen.  Joe Smith and Vinnie Pestano each pitched perfect innings and Perez decided to excite us on JP Arencibia’s two-out double, but struck out Colby Rasmus on 3 pitches to exorcise the ghosts of Opening Day 2012.

Santana and PerezAdventures in starting pitching wasn’t expected to begin on the first day with Masterson, but the same couldn’t be said for Ubaldo Jimenez, who had another rough spring after leading the American League in losses a season ago.  Jimenez went out and did exactly what Masterson did the day before, surrendering a run on three hits through six innings, and he even struck out 6 Blue Jays, one more than the club’s ace did the day before.  However, he left the game tied at 1, and hit the showers destined for a No Decision, which is obviously better than a loss in the box score.  The offense found themselves eventually, but the bullpen struggled.  When I say “bullpen”, I’m speaking of Chris Perez in this case, who was asked to close out a 1-run game, but he earned himself a blown save in this one.  Of course, it was Jose Bautista, so it should be taken with a grain of salt, especially on April 3rd.  Mark Reynolds finally put the game out of its misery with a towering shot to left field in the 11th, then Joe Smith closed it out to give the Tribe a 2-0 record, just 160 games shy of pissing off the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

After a little taste of perfection, the rain began to fall on the young 2013 season just in time for a Brett Myers start.  The Spring Training version of Myers was struggling to get through 5 innings and allowing a lot of hits and runs; somehow the Spring Training Brett Myers got through customs and showed up in Toronto, just in time to keep the brown paper bags off the heads of some baseball-loving Canadians.  Seven runs on seven hits will inspire confidence in a team that is expected to contend, especially when four of those hits go over the fence.  Down 6-3, the Tribe’s bats appeared to be up to the task, chipping away at Mark Buerhle with doubles by Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall for 3 runs, which tied the game 6, but Steve Delabar relieved the reputable Indians-killer and stopped the bleeding.

Arencibia ended any joy that may have existed on Lake Erie’s southern shores by putting the third pitch he saw from Myers into the seats to put Toronto back on top for good.  Cody Allen and Matt Albers were both less than perfect, and the Blue Jays cracked double digits in the run category for their first victory of the season.  All in all, things were on the up and up after a series victory.  Perez wasn’t perfect, but he was effective and Bourn’s small sample size spelled a .357 batting average, which was all good, all around.  However the doom and gloom awaited them at the doomiest and gloomiest venue in all of North American sport.

TropicanaAny and all excitement about the 2013 offense died on the rug in West Florida during that first weekend in April.  First it was Matt Moore, who held all Indians not named Michael Bourn (2-for-4 with a double) hitless for 6 innings, then a Joe Maddon’s bullpen on unknowns faced the minimum in the sixth, seventh, and eighth for a 4-0 Tampa victory over Zach McAllister and the Tribe.  On Saturday, the Tribe’s effort to stay over .500 failed in the much-hyped Indians debut of Trevor Bauer.  Bauer had some control problems, walking seven, but the run-support wasn’t there on a day the Indians bats turned Alex Cobb into Robert Feller.

The bright spot of the day, a nice outfield assist from Ryan Raburn to Lou Marson, to limit Tampa to 1 run in the home-half of the first inning, turned out to be a sore spot for the Indians, not to mention Lou Marson’s neck, on the first Saturday of the season.  The nightmare of using your catcher as the Designated Hitter came to light when Santana, who was 1-for-3 on the day, had to sub for Marson defensively, causing the Indians to forfeit the privilege of the DH and putting the bat in Bauer’s hands.  The young prospect from UCLA struck out on 3 pitches, but he wasn’t the only one that Cobb put down on strikes.  You could find a notch in the strikeout column of the first five Tribe hitters on the lineup card that day.

It was mostly cheers and few jeers on the final day of the all-domed road trip; with Masterson back on the bump.  Masterson gave up two hits in 7 innings, while striking out 8, to elevate his record to 2-0 while his ERA descended to 0.69 on the season.  Finally, the Indians were able pound out some offense on a day highlighted by five home runs, including two off the bat of Mark Reynolds, his 3rd and 4th in six games.  It’s also worth mentioning that they tapped the reigning American League Cy Young winner, David Price, for 8 runs in five innings en route to a 13-0 win.  Paired with the Opening Day win over the reigning National League winner, R.A. Dickey, the Indians defeated both of the 2012 Cy Young winners in just under a week.

 Pinstripes and Sox

CluDo you remember how the Indians had their rear ends handed to them by the fictional Yankees on Opening Day in Major League?  Forget that, do you remember almost every game that the Indians have played against the New York Yankees in real life since 1978?  The Indians have been shellacked by the Yankees, time and time again over the years, but these 2013 Yankees were supposed to stink.  I mean, their Opening Day roster featured Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner, two guys the Indians didn’t even want!

Well, the Ubaldo Jimenez that we all expected to see in Toronto waited to show the type of stuff that netted him 17 losses a year ago to a capacity crowd of 41,567 in the home opener.  Things started out pretty well for Jimenez, getting Brett Gardner to ground out on the third pitch of the game, but then he had to face Robinson Cano, and Kevin Youklis, and Travis Hafner, who all scored on Hafner’s blast to deep center field.  The Indians neutralized the damage with three of their own against Hiroki Kiroda, but there was no protecting this club from Ubaldo Jimenez on this day.  Seven runs given up by Jimenez, paired with the 4 given up by Mat Albers and Rich Hill spelled an 11-6 defeat for Terry Francona and Nick Swisher in their Cleveland debuts, and it was on to the next day.

It was apparent, with Carlos Carrasco getting the ball for the second game against the Yankees, that Brett Myers was on a very short leash, but Carrasco’s debut was somewhat short-lived.  To be fair, he was having a rough go of things when Kevin Youklis came to the plate after Robinson Cano’s two-run shot made it 7-0 in favor of the visitors, which gives us a good excuse to re-visit that Opening Day game against the Yankees and Clu Haywood on the silver screen.

“Lets’s see how he reacts.”

-Lou Brown (James Gammon)

CookieNow, it honestly looked like the ball slipped out of his hand.  He looked upset that he threw the pitch in a way that it hit Youklis in the back, but what’s important is that it upset plate umpire Jordan Baker enough to dismiss Carrasco from the game.  The league decided to sit him a few more games after the fact, but that’s not important right now.  Anyways, enter Brett Myers, stage left.  Myers line was similar to Carrasco; 7 runs, all earned, but he retired 16 batters to Carrasco’s 11, and the bullpen got the day off.  Yankees 14, Indians 1; at least they got that 1. 

Now, a win-loss record of 3-5 on April 9th is far from the end of the world; the Pirates were also 3-5 and are now 15-11, which is good for first place in the National League Central Division.  However, there is no catchy way to say “Masterson and four days of rain” that will ever be as catchy as the rhyme regarding Warren Spahn, Johnny Sain, and the prayers for rain, but it was on our minds.

And rain, it did.  It rained on Wednesday, and when Wednesday’s game was banged, it seemed inevitable that Thursday’s game would be as well.  Who needed those games against the Yankees anyways?  Another team that wears pinstripes at their home digs was due in town for a weekend series, and the rain had fallen enough to get us back to Masterson in the rotation.  Masterson was, of course, brilliant, but who wants to be bored with the details of a 7 strikeout, complete game shutout when you can talk about a mostly inept Cleveland offense?  Michael Brantley’s 2nd inning double off White Sox starter Jose Quintana was all the Indians had in them for 8 innings on a cold Friday night that only brought 11,864 in “paid attendance”.  After staying belly-up against Matt Thornton, Robin Ventura offered the hungry Indians a vulernable Jesse Crain.

Swisher walk-offAfter Drew Stubbs struck out to start the inning, I have to admit that I wondered how long this one was going to go.  I began to worry that Atlanta got every last bit of value out of Bourn, then he went the other way with a double.  And, then I’m listening to Tom Hamilton try to hide his disdain for Asdrubal Cabrera, and I honestly think that Hammy wants good things for Cabrera more than Asdrubal himself does, but Cabrera gets Bourn to third base on a groundout.  That brought up Jason Kipnis, more overdue than those Newsweeks I checked out of the library in 1996, but Crain walked him to pitch to Nick Swisher with the winning run 90 feet away.  Well, I already said Masty threw a complete game, so you know what happens next…

Swisher and Bourn, also known as $96 million over 4 years, were the big splash of the off-season that the Tribe’s front office needed to hang their collective hat on, but on this cold Friday night, the heroics were the expectation.  And there it was; Swisher roped one down the right field line, and the Indians finally won at Progressive Field.  The rest of the weekend played out pretty well, with McAllister getting the win the next day, locking up the series win on Saturday.  Jake Peavy poked at the local on Twitter over the weekend (because the south side of Chicago is always tropical, I’m sure), then nibbled at the Tribe hitters for 7 innings to knock the broom out of the hands of the 11,000 plus that showed up, holding out hope for a weekend sweep of the White Sox.

Unfortunately, those Sox were able to put the Indians under .500, with an emotionally charged Sox team of a different color coming to town in the wake of a local tragedy that earned global attention.  If you had trouble finding parking on that Tuesday night, you may have missed the next chapter in the Ublado Experience, a bit so bad that Saturday Night Live would have put in that 12:52 AM slot, where comedy goes to die.  The thing is, he wasn’t a flaming bag of dog poo right out of the gate.  The first inning was 15 pitches and 3 groundout; you know the Red Sox are going work the pitch counts and Jimenez had two strikes on all of them, but there would be no encore in the 2nd inning.

Double, Walk, Strikeout (thanks for playing, Daniel Nava), Walk, Walk, Sac-fly, Single, Walk, Walk.

BaldoThat’s four runs on two hits, and we’re holding out hope that Cody Allen doesn’t let the three Ubaldo left him make it worse.  Well, Allen and Mike Napoli see to it that whatever is in the best interest of Jimenez’s line score come to be, when Napoli doubles, clearing the bases and making it 7-0.  All of this happens before Nick Swisher even takes his warm-up cuts from the on-deck circle in the bottom of the 2nd inning.  The whole series felt that way, like they were playing from 7 runs down all week, even though Francona’s former club only took the final two games by a count of 6-3.

An Hour Behind Us

By 2013 standards, there probably isn’t a better cure for a slump than playing the Houston Astros, the newest member of the American League, and the 5-9 Tribe had three games with them at the most perfect time.  I had the opportunity to attend this game at Minute Maid Park, and since I don’t have anything nice to say about the game, I am obligated to share a wonderful experience at The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation in Houston’s Warehouse District.  They had shuttle service to the ballpark and their Queso Flameado was so delicious that we ordered three of them and nothing else, and I would probably indulge frequently, even if I were lactose intolerant.  Lonnie Chisenhall hit a home run with a runner on base, but so did Houston’s JD Martinez.  The difference was, Rick Ankiel was on deck when Martinez hit his, so Ankiel added a solo shot, and that was the difference in a 3-2 victory for the team in the orange sherbet colored jerseys.  I don’t generally pay attention to such aesthetic details, but I only remember to make a point of it in light of my father’s colorful text message about the history of the Astros ugly threads.

Kazmir in HoustonThen, they played ugly baseball for a few days.  It’s good that we can completely forget Scott Kazmir’s ugly debut, giving up six runs before he could record the second out in the fourth inning, because Phillip Humber spotted the Tribe eight before Jose Altuve even picked up a bat, and the Tribe was up 14-0 in the middle of two.  Bryan Shaw, who’s been quietly awesome, settled things down with an inning or so of scoreless work to protect the 17-6 lead he inherited.  The series finale took a little more work, and they had to wait for a boring-old Mark Reynolds home run to give them a 5-4 lead, to earn a series win, but squeaking out two of three for a team that is almost famously terrible already was hardly a satisfying thing.

On the subject of things that will ultimately not be satisfying, the Indians left Houston for the south side of Chicago.  They did so with a 2-game winning streak in their back pocket; when you’re 7-10, consecutive wins, even as few as two, become motivation for excitement…but not really.  With Masterson going against Dylan Axelrod, that’s one we all figure they had to get, or it might be a while, and they did get it.  They didn’t get anything on Tuesday, but that’s the Chicago weather for you, and I forgot to check to see if Jake Peavy had any thoughts on that matter.  They played ball on Wednesday, where Jose Quintana was the only thing that stood between the Cleveland baseball club and their first four-game winning streak since June 22nd of last year.  I’m not making that date up; that’s a lot of baseball between then and now.

EarvinAfter a scheduled off-day on Thursday, the Indians continued their journey through the Central Time Zone with a wrap-around Friday-to-Monday series in Kansas City.  Now, they played all four games, but Friday’s washout meant they’d be playing two on Sunday, but they’d have to get through Saturday before the automatic win in the matinee on Sunday, the win that looked automatic on paper anyway.  Earvin Santana was going for the Royals on Saturday, and the Indians managed six hits off of him through seven, but failed to score a run, until they nearly stole one in the ninth.  It was a 3-2 loss, but no need to feel ashamed after one like that.

Whatever “it” is, Justin Masterson doesn’t always have “it”.  Game 1 was a 9-0 defeat, next question.

When you’re a desperate Indians fan, you look for anything that you can quickly diagnose as a turning point.  The walk-off win in the very first game at Jacobs Field in 1994 that acted as a spring-board for the whole turn-around of the franchise for a half of a decade comes to mind.  A moment that sticks out to me, the turning point that made them legitimate competitors in 2007 came in a five-run ninth against Detroit on June 1, for a 12-11 win.  I thought they had one a year ago, trying to stay in the hunt as the trade deadline approached last summer, but it was a false-positive, as we now know.  Even the most resilient fans cannot live on a string of false-positives, so maybe it’s good that we’re still keeping hope at an arm’s distance, but for all we know right now, Game 2 of that double-header may be that moment.

Crazy talk, I know.

KluberIn the little bit of April that remained, the Indians decided losing wasn’t for them.  It was Corey Kluber, not Masterson or anyone else guaranteed a spot in the rotation in early March, that did his job on the bump in Game 2.  Of course, the work is slightly less strenuous when the bats are giving you a 6-0 lead that keeps you out of panic mode when the Royals string together a few hits to score a pair of runs.  It’s true that 10-3 wins are fairly boring, but you tend to miss them when they aren’t happening.  Of course, you’d probably settle for 9-0 and a Ubaldo Jimenez start that doesn’t include any thought of “The Experience”.  I don’t think it’s the real Ubaldo Jimenez, but I’d trade Drew Pomeranz and Alex White again for some consistency behind Masterson in the rotation, if that consistency is of the 7 shutout inning variety, as it was for the Tribe’s #2 man on Monday.

Roy Halladay is a Cy Young Award winner, just as David Price and RA Dickey are, and the Indians took care of business against both of them.  We can forget about the loss to Peavy because he was a jerk about our city, and see the Indians as team that feeds on the arrogance (I’m joking, I’d really have no idea who’s humble or who’s arrogant) that these award winners carry.  I have to admit that I didn’t see any of this game live, but I did my share of scoreboard watching here in the desert.  Most 14-2 games don’t really tell the whole tale, just that teams might be really on or really off on any given night, but this told the tale of many things that the Tribe needs to be.

I’d be lying if I said that a nice victory, the third straight from an 11-13 team on the last day of the month really makes it easy to want to recap that month, but there was honestly more to Tuesday’s big win than Roy Halladay being off, even though he was.  You have to get good outings from your #4, Zach McAllister gave them that (7 IP, 2 R, 5 H, 1 BB, 4 K), with the exception of two meaningless solo home runs on a night when the corner of Ontario and Carnegie had become a launching pad for baseballs.  Nick Hagadone got himself into a jam, albeit a non-threatening one, considering the 14-2 score, but he was able to pitch around 2 no-out walks in the eighth.  Matt Albers even worked a scoreless inning, because it’s important that there are arms not named Smith, Pestano, and Perez that you can rely on; that bullpen has to be deep.

RaburnYou’ve got Ryan Raburn still raking, as if it’s February 23rd and he is still looking at the best of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and Louisville Bats pitching staffs.  Michael Brantley hit his first home run, but that’s not what he’s there to do.  Carlos Santana is hitting .389, fitting into the mold of what Terry Francona wants out of his leaders on the field in a system where the catcher is so vital to everything they do.  Mark Reynolds was supposed to be Mr. Strikeout, but the guy is hitting .301 with 8 home runs; how much are we supposed to care about those 22 whiffs?  Let us not forget Jason Giambi, a guy I thought had zero chance to be on a Major League roster, being a leader in the clubhouse and demonstrating exactly what Terry Francona is all about, diving head-first into a base with a 12-run lead.

There’s more to 11-13 than a fourth place team that can’t play .500 baseball, just the same way there was more to that 30-15 team that convinced some that they were the best in baseball.  As we flip our calendars to May, we aren’t appreciating the quality of the small sample, but its small quantity.  There’s a lot of questions that remain unanswered, and I think the first one is, “Can we really say the Indians don’t have a chance this year?”

It is early, we shall see.

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