This road trip the Indians are currently on has proven to be a fulfilling one. The Tribe is 6-1 thus far after last night’s 4-3 victory in Oakland, as they’ve awakened their offense, settled down their closer, and continued to get solid starts all in that short span. For the second straight night, it was Jack Hannahan turning in a multi-RBI effort, with the Tribe’s plate discipline remaining an asset in these hard fought victories the past two nights.
What a treat! It’s my weekend at WFNY, and Ublado Jimenez pitched last night. Now, if you guys have read this or follow me on a regular basis, you know that I’m far from Ubaldo’s biggest fan. In fact, my Twitter profile lists me as a “Ubaldo Trade Skeptic”. Anyway, back to the action on the field where Ubaldo earned his second straight win by pitching good enough against an admittedly weak Athletics lineup. The eye-popping portion of Jimenez’s statline is, of course his five walks over six innings. Worse than that, however, and the root of my frustration in watching him pitch, was the startling number of hitters that he started with a 2-0 count. Six, yes SIX, of the first nine hitters last night saw two outside the strike zone from Ubaldo to begin their at-bat. Against a better offense with an element of patience, Ubaldo will get eaten alive with that type of output. Jimenez has avoided being hit hard at all in the ’12 campaign, but his pitch count has been driven up early in his last two starts, and that’s only going to continue as AL hitters get the book on him. Ubaldo’s stuff is undeniably tough to hit. He made one mistake on a hanging breaking ball to Josh Reddick in the third inning that he deposited in the right field seats. That happens, and I’m not holding it against him. No, it’s far more frustrating to me when you consistently work from behind in the count and give guys a free pass on base. Are we sure Tim Belcher didn’t step down from his pitching coach role primarily because he couldn’t stand Ubaldo’s lack of first pitch strikes? I’m not ruling it out.
Ok, that’s enough about Ubaldo. The real hero in this game was Jack Hannahan… again. As Jon so eloquently put it yesterday, it’s hard to believe that what Jack is doing is sustainable. What I’m seriously doubting is the part where Hannahan is second on the team with a .321 average and the team leader in RBI with 11. However, I do feel that Hannahan can continue to play a role on this team throughout the season, even when Lonnie Chisenhall (he of the .344 average and .989 OPS at Columbus) comes up sooner rather than later. He puts up good at-bats, hits left-handed pitching well for a southpaw, his leadership role on this team is clear, and his defense is always a plus. Yes, I’m aware of the four errors, but I’m calling that a fluke for now. Hannahan swinging a hot April bat, much like last year, probably won’t last all season, nor will it keep Chiz down. It may, however, solidify Jack’s role on this team.
There’s been a change with the Indians’ approach at the plate this season. It centers around patient hitting, and it’s manifesting itself with less strikeouts and more walks, even with solid contact on their outs. It downright floored me when I heard the stat yesterday that the Tribe was striking out the second LEAST in the AL. This coming from a offense by whose obituary from last year I would write “Relies too much on homers, strikes out too much”. In addition to Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner’s patient approach, others have taken up the strategy, including Shelley Duncan, who is tied for the team lead in walks with Santana at 12. Cleveland allowed Oakland starter Graham Godfrey to work himself into trouble, as Graham as hit two batters and walked five, including three in the second to load the bases, permitting the Indians to score on a Hannahan sac fly without generating a single hit.
The bullpen’s starting to calm down a bit, with Tony Sipp allowing the lone run out of the pen last night in three innings of work between the top four out of the pen. Home plate umpire Derryl Cousins did have an inconsistent strike zone with Joe Smith and Chris Perez feeling the pain of that. Smith slung in a sidearmed slider right at the knees to Jonny Gomes which was called a ball to load the bases. Smith did get out of the jam. As for Chris Perez, he got burned twice against Yoenis Cespedes (2 RBI, 3 hits) then still got him with a blazing heater. Perez looks sharp right now, and though I don’t believe he’s the best man for the job (Pestano, in my opinion), with his fastball back in the 92-94 range, he’s back to getting the job done without requiring diehards to ingest a bottle of Maalox in the middle of the ninth to get through the ordeal.
One more note, and it’s about Carlos Santana, the catcher. He threw out another runner last night, his third in four attempts this season. In one season, Santana appears to have come a long way behind the plate, and that’s a very good thing. Carlos’s value as a franchise type player is behind the plate, and the attention to improving his craft behind the plate has not gone unnoticed. It’s just one element of why I think Carlos is in for an All-Star type season.
The Tribe and A’s meet up tonight for game two of the series at 9:05 PM. Jeanmar Gomez for the Indians will take on Brandon McCarthy for Athletics.
(Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)