Sunday, April 24, 2011

Testing time

The Indians Sunday concluded a dreary road trip to Kansas City and Minnesota. They lost four of the six games they played on the trip, including both of the games they played against the Twins. They started the trip down one starting pitcher, and they may return home down a second starting pitcher.

With Mitch Talbot already on the disabled list with a sore elbow, the last thing the Indians need is for another starter to go on the DL, but Carlos Carrasco could be headed there, with a similar injury, no less. Carrasco was removed from Sunday's game with "tightness" in his elbow. He will be examined by Tribe doctors on Monday's off day.

Whether or not Carrasco joins Talbot on the DL remains to be seen, but it's obvious that the next couple of weeks is going to be a good test for the resiliancy and depth of the Indians' roster. If Carrasco is placed on the DL, a potential replacement would be former No.1 pick Alex White, who is off to a strong start at Columbus, where he has a 2.00 ERA in his first three starts.

Another area of potential concern is second base, where veteran Orlando Cabrera made a critical error in the seventh inning Sunday that led to a two-run Minnesota rally. Cabrera is a gamer, but as the season unfolds, we're beginning to see a lack of range in him that could be a potential problem as it relates to the Indians' infield defense, on which the Indians' starting rotation is so dependent.

The Indians come home now to play six games with Central Division rivals Kansas City and Detroit before leaving on another west coast trip. The next two weeks should be very interesting.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Talking the talk

Grady Sizemore is back. That's great news for the Indians. It's good news for the reporters covering the team because it makes the Indians better, more interesting, and more exciting. It does not, however, make them any more quotable.

Grady is a great guy. He's just not a great quote. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that. It's just the way it is. Some players are great quotes, some are not. Grady is not.

Part of a professional athlete's job is to talk to the media. It's a way for the players to talk to the fans. The media is the conduit. So players are encouraged, if not required by their organizations to talk the media. They are not required to give the media dazzling quotes.

Some players love this part of their job. They enjoy talking about themselves, about their jobs, about the games, about the sport in general. Some players hate this part of their job. They don't like talking to reporters about anything, and when they do they talk, but they don't really say much.

Fortunately, every team has one or two "go-to" guys. These are players who members of the media know they can count on, win or lose, great game or ugly game, to be available after the game, and to say something of substance in such a way that it's colorful enough to use in the reporters' story.

Some players are intentionally not very quotable. They know if they talk in cliches and in short, sometimes just one word answers, the media will eventually leave them along, because it's waste of everyone's time. Other players are unintentionally boring quotes. I would put Sizemore into the latter category. He's always very polite, very accomodating. Usually very accesible. He honestly does try. But he doesn't seem to have the personality for it. He just doesn't enjoy talking about himself. That in itself is pretty rare in the world of professional sports, where out-of-control egos is frequently the norm.

Sunday, Sizemore himself was the story. As if playing in his first game back with the Indians after spending almost a year rehabbing from major knee surgery wasn't enough, Sizemore also hit a home run in his first game back.

He was clearly the story of the day. He just didn't say much on either of those two subjects - his return or his home run - that was very interesting. Reporters tried repeatedly to get Sizemore to say something colorful or interesting about his return. He answered all our questions, but without really saying anything colorful or interesting.

So Grady's back. Hopefully he'll continue to do great things for the Indians. He's a fun player to watch. He's a good guy off the field. He just isn't very quotable.

Generally speaking I'd rather cover a good player who's not very quotable than a bad player who is very quotable. In professional sports, winning is what matters most. If a player consistently helps his team win games, it doesn't really matter whether or not he's good at talking about it afterwards.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Getting good, and getting lucky

Here's how good things are going for the Indians right now. The day after they leave Seattle, Mariners ace Felix Hernandez is scheduled to start. The day before the Indians get to Anaheim, Angels ace Jerad Weaver pitched. So in their six-game west coast trip against two different teams, the Indians, through sheer chance, miss both of those two teams' best starting pitchers, one of them the reigning Cy Young Award winner.

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, but so far this season the Indians have been lucky AND good. Lucky in that they don't have to face Hernandez or Weaver on their trip. Meanwhile, their 7-2 start (all those losses coming in a row and all the wins coming in a row) is not a fluke. They deserve to be 7-2, with a seven-game winning streak, because they are playing very good baseball.

Their defense so far has been sensational. The hitting has been great - only a couple guys not hitting, and one of them is Shin-Soo Choo, their best hitter, so you know he'll start to hit soon. Their starting pitching, after the first two games of the season, has been way better than expected, and their bullpen has been bullish, when needed.

Overlooked somewhat during the winning streak has been the great work by the Indians' three most important relievers: Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, and Tony Sipp. Those three relievers have made a combined 15 appearances. In those 15 appearances, the two Perezes and Sipp have pitched 16 scoreless innings, allowing just four hits.

In other words, when the Indians take a lead into the late innings, they don't blow it. The two Perezes and Sipp have made sure of that. Obviously the bullpen perfection by those three relievers won't go on all season. Each of them will have some bad games now and then. But if the Indians are going to sustain the momentum they have built up over the first 10 days of the season, their bullpen, especially the back of the bullpen, will have to carry a big part of the load.

So far, the two Perezes and Sipp have been equal to the task.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

4-2? Who knew?

Two games into the 2011 season the Indians' record was 0-2, and they were looking at a schedule for the remainder of the homestand that included one more game with the White Sox, who had scored 23 runs in the first two games against the Indians, and then three games with the Red Sox, picked by many to win the American League pennant.

But the Indians went 4-0 in those games, and a homestand that started out looking like it would be a nightmare turned out to be anything but. In fact, Indians officials couldn't have drawn up a more encouraging four-game sequence to end the homestand.

In those four games the Indians pitched well, they got some timely hitting, they were fundamentally sound, and they caught the ball. True, it's only four games, but as former Indians manager Mike Hargrove liked to say, it sure beats the alternative.

Probably the most encourging part of that encouraging finish to the homestand was the work of the pitching staff. Starters Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, Mitch Talbot, and Fausto Carmona all pitched well, and, in the case of Masterson, Tomlin, and Carmona - really well. Also, the bullpen came up big, getting big outs at important times during the games.

The starting rotation was the biggest question mark coming into the season. but in the season-opening homestand, the Indians got good work from their starting pitcher in four of the six games. The Indians will gladly take that percentage for the rest of the season, because when you get good starting pitching it gives your hitters a chance to win it, and it keeps your bullpen from being overworked.

Again, it's just one week's worth of games. But the early returns on the pitching staff, and on the team overall, are very encouraging. That's especially so given the fact that the Indians played two quality opponents, and won four of six games under less than ideal weather conditions.

After Thursday's win Manager Manny Acta was clearly very happy about how his team played during the homestand. Acta desperately wants the Indians to show some progress in the early weeks of the season, and in their first six games they did. Acta himself had a very good homestand. Most of his moves worked out, his lineups worked, his pinch hitting calls and pitching changes were right on, and his gamble on a suicide squeeze in the eighth inning Thursday won the game for the Indians.

All in all, the Indians couldn't have been happier with how the first week of the season went. Now, let's see if they can do on the road.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

So far, so so-so

The Indians' season-opening series with the White Sox confirmed what I am expecting to see from the Indians all season: pretty good offense, very questionable starting pitching. Fausto Carmona and Carlos Carrasco, who are supposedly the numbers 1 and 2 starters in the rotation, were hammered for a combined 17 runs in nine innings. Needless to say, that isn't going to cut it if the Indians hope to imnprove in 2011. No.3 starter Justin Masterson pitched very good in the third game of the series.

I'll give Carmona and Carrasco a pass on their two starts. The emotional Carmona tends to be high strung in certain situations, and with this being his first career opening day start, I'm sure his adrenaline was in overdrive that day. He should be much more calm and under control in his next start, Thursday vs. the Red Sox.

This is the first time in his career Carrasco has been in the starting rotation of a big league team. I'm sure he was a little jittery as well in his first start, although after the first two bumpy innings he was pretty good after that.

The offense was very encouraging in the three games, particuarly Travis Hafner, who hit the ball hard, and pulled it, several times in the series. Carlos Santana hit well in the series, as did Orlando Cabrera and Jack Hannahan. Ironically, the Indians' best hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, didn't hit at all. The Indians scored 20 runs in the three games, and I'm sure if you asked Manager Manny Acta if he would take 20 runs per every three games for the rest of the season he would sign up for that in a heartbeat.

He would not, however, sign up for 17 runs given up by his top two starting pitchers.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Very classy

I give the Indians and the Feller family a lot of credit for the Bob Feller memorial service held Thursday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights. It was very well done, with just the right balance of everything. There were great stories, funny stories, poignant stories, told by the speakers. The pace of it was great. The musical choices were great. It's the first time I've ever heard "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" played in church, and it sounded great.

The most emotional moment was when Bill Tunnell, representing the USS Alabama, the battleship on which Bob Feller served, presented a flag from the ship to Annie Feller.

Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, gave a terrific talk. Jeff knew Feller very well, and some of the stories he told were priceless.

To me the only disappointment was that there weren't more Indians players in attendance. I presume the ballclub made it optional for the players to attend, and only four did: Travis Hafner, Justin Masterson, Shin-Soo Choo, and Chris Perez. If I was running the Indians I would have made attendance mandatory for all the players. Bob Feller is the greatest Indian of them all, and all the currrent Indians players should have been there. The team's workout that day was later in the afternoon. That wasn't an issue, obviously, because four players found a way to attend.

I think it looked bad to have such a meager turnout from the players. Bob Feller deserved better than that.

But everything else about the service was first class in every way.