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A play-by-play guy trying to survive in a mid-major world

Archive for the month “August, 2009”

Neil Walker is going home

“Neil, you need to lock it in because you’re going to Pittsburgh.”

Indians 3B Neil Walker let the words out of Manager Frank Kremblas mouth sink in and after a second or two did he realize his life long dream is a reality.  Walker is joining the Pirates as a September call-up.  He smiled and said thanks as each one of his teammates walked up to congratulate him. One of the first players to offer a hand was Brian Bixler.

“I’ve waited a loooooong time for this.  This has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember.  I’m going to play for my hometown team.”   

A once in a lifetime moment and he can share it with his family.  Neil’s parents are in Indy to cheer on their son and their son-in-law Don Kelly.  For Walker to share this with his parents, sister, nephew, and Kelly is icing on the cake.  Now he needs to make his debut sometime before September 10th.  If he debuts before the 10th he’ll be the same age (23) as when his dad Tom Walker made his Major League debut.  Not a bad little story developing in Pittsburgh.

Walker joins Daniel McCutchen and Virgil Vasquez as September call-ups.  Expect more, but I didn’t notice anyone else packing a bag in the Tribe clubhouse.  

Speaking of McCutchen, how about his ML debut this afternoon?  The 13 game winner for the Indians pitched 6 solid innings allowing 3 runs while striking out 5 Cincinnati Reds.  He didn’t figure in the decision, but he more than held his own.  McCutchen even singled home a run in his first at-bat.  Great start to his Major League career. 

The Indians lost tonight to Toledo 3-2 and if anyone in Pittsburgh is paying attention the Indians need some arms.  With the departure of McCutchen, Vasquez, and Brad Lincoln, the Indians are missing three of their five starters.  Ty Taubenheim, Eric Hacker, and Jeremy Powell (5IP, ER, tonight vs. TOL) are the only starters on the team.  Due to only five available arms in the bullpen the Indians have called on 1B/OF Larry Broadway (2IP, 0R this season) and UTIL Chris Barnwell (2IP, ER this season) to pitch out of the ‘pen.  Tonight Barnwell pitched a scoreless 9th in a 3-2 game!  He didn’t come into a blowout, but an actual situation where a zero was needed and the position player delivered.  The Indians are carrying 8 pitchers as they prepare for the final 8 games of the 2009 season. 

       

 

Daniel McCutchen has done enough…UPDATE

Later tonight the Indians were planning on sending RHP Daniel McCutchen to the mound for the final time this season.  The 26 year-old was looking to match a career high with his 14th win and push the Tribe above .500 for the first time all year.  However, McCutchen will miss today’s start and make his Major League debut tomorrow for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Bucs have a double-header tomorrow and it’s McCutchen who starting one of the games at Cincinnati.  He was planning on pitching today and on Tuesday flying off off to Durham and the Team USA complex.  McCutchen was going to be a starting pitcher for the United States in the World Cup.  The plans have obviously changed and now it’s RHP Brad Lincoln taking McCutchen’s spot on the team.  A few things come into play with the move.  First of all, McCutchen was going to be the Indians fantasy football commissioner.  Instead he becomes the 3rd commish lost this season.  (Tom Gorzelanny was in line, but was traded.  Then it was Mike Koplove, but he was traded.  My guess is Corey Hamman takes over for McCutchen.)  Second, when he gets to Pittsburgh are the Pirates going to have to add an “A” to Andrew McCutchen’s jersey?    Finally, the smile I saw on his face this morning in the hotel lobby isn’t going anywhere.  It’s a life long dream realized for Daniel and I wish he all the best.  Good luck ‘Cutch and keep the ball down against the Reds.

Saturday night the Indians pounded the Mud Hens 12-0 and guaranteed themselves a winning month for the first time since May 2007.  Think about the talent that has come through the Victory Field clubhouse the past couple of years without finishing a full month above .500.

Lincoln was the winner last night and may take home IL pitcher of the week honors.  The 24 year-old went 2-0 pitching 11 shutout innings allowing only 5 hits and striking out 11.  If he is selected he will be the third Indians player in the past four weeks to take home the honor.  It might be his new haircut…Lincoln shaved his head before this week.  I’m talking razor shave, not a buzz cut and he is maintaining the clean look.

I think coming back from my injury I had a lot of time to think and when I was hurt I had a lot of time to watch baseball.  I think it put a lot of things into perspective for me.  I really wanted to make a conscience effort when I came back to play this game as hard as I can and prepare myself as well as I could on a daily basis.  This whole month of August has been great.  It’s probably the best I’ve felt in my pro career and I’m hoping this will catapult me to the next level and continue to play this game the way I know how.

That quote is from 3B Neil Walker after he smacked two home runs and drove in a season high 5 runners.  Walker was batting .151 with a home run and 3 runs batted in the first 13 games back from the disabled list.  On July 30th he was schedule to get the afternoon off, but a late scratch put him in the line-up and his season has not been the same since.  On that afternoon in Norfolk he went 3-5 with two home runs and 4 RBI.  On more than a few occasions he’s mention to me that this hot stretch may have never started without that unexpected start.  Since July 30th the 23 year-old is hitting .375 with 6 home runs and an astonishing 34 runs batted in.  Only Phillies 1B Ryan Howard has as many RBI since July 30th.  That’s the list…Howard and Walker. 

Walker will not turn 24 until September 10th and one current member of the Indians who has spent a majority of his time in the PCL tells me that Walker is a much better player than current Pirates 3B Andy LaRoche.  The problem for Neil is making each at-bat and game count and moving pasts the belief that you are going to be given anything in this game.  Walker is starting to realize that hitting .250 with 12 home runs and 80 RBI’s doesn’t get you to Pittsburgh.  It puts you right back in Indianapolis.

Walker isn’t the only player on a roll this month, OF Brian Myrow is hitting .357 with 6 home runs and 24 runs batted in.  It’s doubtful that Myrow gets called up by the Pirates (I’d rather have him pinch-hitting than Bixler or Cruz), but this month is setting up a return to the game next year.  Myrow will turn 33 in early September and he realizes that he is entering the twilight of his career.  Myrow has been a difference maker for the Tribe on and off the field.  Take a look at his numbers since joining the team in late June.  Myrow is hitting .392 after the 4th inning.  Not to mention he is second in the league in on-base-percentage.  There was a time a month ago when Myrow wondered aloud if this would be his last season.  Since that time he’s proven to himself and other teams that there is still a little something left in the tank.

With the change in starters RHP Ty Taubenheim will go for the Indians tonight against LHP Dontrelle Willis.  The “D-Train” has been on the Detroit Tigers DL since June 15th with recurring anxiety disorder.  Willis has ZERO control right now and is walking everybody.  The game plan tonight is to take pitches. 

RHP Jorge Julio has signed a Minor League deal and is with the Indianapolis Indians.  Julio appeared in 15 games earlier this season with the Brewers and then surfaced in Durham.  He appeared in 19 games with the Bulls having last pitched way back on August 2nd.

3:30 UPDATE:

McCutchen is still in Toledo and will be driving to Cincinnati later this afternoon.  His parents will make the long drive from Texas and the Indians will be watching his debut in the clubhouse tomorrow afternoon.  Pitching coach Ray Searage stressed he needed to keep the ball down because he was playing in Great American Smallpark.  The two of them shared a hug and Searage simply told McCutchen he deserved this chance. 

RHP Jeff Karstens, who will pitch at least one rehab inning tonight for the Indians, joked that McCutchen’s lucky he isn’t facing California.  He was referring to the Little League team that hits home runs like the ’27 Yankees.  Myrow told McCutchen he was making his debut against the Louisville Bats.  Which isn’t a bad thing since he has faced most of the Reds multiple times this year. 

Lincoln is excited about the chance to pitch in the World Cup.  He thanks McCutchen for getting called up and although he isn’t thrilled about the flight across the Atlantic he is excited about touring Europe.  He isn’t sure what he role will be, but he hopes to be a starter.  Lincoln finishes up his ’09 season on a really good note with 4 consecutive wins and 11 straight scoreless innings. 

The day Jeremy Powell almost fired a manager

It is hard to believe the 2009 season is nearing its end.  The Indians will try and snap a three game losing streak tonight vs. Columbus.  the Tribe has not had a winning season since 2006 and currently sits four games under .500.  After tonight the Indians have only 14 games remaining.  Former Indianapolis Indians and two-time World Series Champion George Foster was at Victory Field over the weekend. 

New Image.JPGThis was moments after the 60 year blazed his ceremonial first pitch over the heart of the plate.  He looks like he could still swat the ball a mile over the fence.  Foster signed autographs and was representing the Foster Safe Youth Network and the Boys and Girls Club of Indianapolis.  The Reds were well represented with 1977 MVP signing for the fans and Eric Davis working for the Louisville Bats. 

Indians RHP Jeremy Powell is 33 years old and is pitching in the United States for the first time since 2001.  Following the ’01 campaign JP went to Japan and forged a very successful 7 year career pitching for several teams.  Powell made his Major League debut on July 28, 1998 for the Montreal Expos.  At the time of his promotion he was pitching for their Double-A affiliate in Harrisburg.  His manager was current Louisville Bats skipper Rick Sweet.

Rick Sweet…”I remember calling JP into my office and talking to him about playing afternoon baseball.”  Then I told him “wouldn’t it be something pitching at Wrigley Field.  Well, guess what…you are.  Pack your bags JP you’re going to the Big Leagues.”  

After the meeting JP was walking back into the clubhouse and Sweet gets his players attention and tells them they are looking at tomorrow’s starter for the Montreal Expos.  Sweet then pushes JP into the middle of the clubhouse where his teammates go nuts.  The next day, Sweet called around to different bars and restaurants to see if anyone had WGN.  He found a place in Harrisburg and told his team it was mandatory to attend and watch JP face the Cubs.  Sweet bought his team lunch and they watched the 23-year old give up one run in 6 innings of work.  The sad news is Powell lost, but he had no idea his team cancelled batting practice to watch him make his Major League debut.  After the game Powell was sent back to Double-A, but would return to make five more starts for the Expos.

It was a gesture that to this day resonates with Powell.  Little did Jeremy know it almost cost Sweet his job.  Word got back to the Expos minor league coordinators that Sweet cancelled batting practice and they wanted him fired. Sweet stood his ground and told them he would do it all over again and if they don’t like it, tough.  While his job teetered on the brink his team responded by turning around their season and winning the Eastern League Championship.  Sweet tells the story like it happened yesterday. 

1B/OF Larry Broadway (pictured with George Foster) made his second appearance as a pitcher on Friday night.  A year ago the left-hander made five appearances for the Columbus Clippers compiling a 2.70 ERA.  Although he allowed two inherited runners to score on Friday, he has not allowed a run in two innings.  Broadway throws submarine style and “features” a sinker, slider, and splitter.  The numbers don’t lie and I can’t be the only one who wonders how Broadway would do if he was a left-handed specialist.

Are you ready for the 2010 baseball season?  Here is a link to the Tribe’s Early Bird schedule.  2007 team MVP Brian Bixler gets the honor of cover boy this year.     

        

The West is slipping away

For one day the Indianapolis Indians were a .500 baseball team.  After Saturday night’s win at Columbus the Tribe was an even 60-60 with 23 games remaining on the schedule.  A loss on Sunday cooled the celebration and last nights loss at Louisville has put the Indians squarely behind the 8-ball.  The Indians have 21 games remaining and are 11 games behind Louisville and 7.5 games behind Durham in the wild card race.  I think the teams goal should be to finish with a winning record and a second place finish.  No shame in that when you consider 22 players have at one time season worn and Indians uniform AND a Major League uniform. 

The Indians loss last night was their 6th in 7 games at Louisville Slugger Field.  It was their fourth straight one run loss at LSF with all 7 games decided by three runs or less.  The news from last night could have been worse.  CF Jose Tabata left in the middle of the game after stealing 2nd base.  He has a history of hamstring problems and after sliding into 2nd immediately grabbed the back of his right leg.  At the time you feared the worst, but in the end it was nothing more than a cramp and he was removed for precautionary reasons.  The 21 year-old Tabata is not in the line-up today, but is available off the bench. 

The Washington Nationals inked their #1 overall pick Steven Strasburg to a four year $15.67 million deal.  The common phrase around the clubhouse was “good for him.”  The players understand the business side of the game and want to see each draft pick get as much money as they can.  The Indians players are quick to point out that Strasburgh has a ton to prove and better be the real deal for that kind of money.  Strasburgh becomes the 7th highest paid member of the Washington Nationals and would be the 2nd or 3rd highest paid player on the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Last year the Pirates signed 3B Pedro Alveraz to a 4 year $6.35 million deal.  He is currently the 6th highest paid player on the Pirates roster. 

Pittsburgh’s 2004 first round pick Neil Walker was ready to sign the day he was drafted.  The Pirates and Walker we close to finalizing a deal before the draft, but Walker was hearing the Orioles may take him so he and the Pirates had to wait it out.  Once Pittsburgh made Walker their pick he agreed to the terms and went right to work.  Five years later Walker is still looking to make his Major League debut.  He is hitting .364 this month with 2 home runs and 16 runs batted in and may be in line for a September call-up.  For now he’ll play Guitar Hero and wait for the call.  Walker is on the left while Ty Taubenheim nails 98% of the notes.

IMG_1586.jpgFinally, who was that wearing the Reds uniform last night in the Louisville dugout?  It was none other than #44 Eric Davis.  Davis is an instructor in the Reds system and was working with their outfielders.  You would never have guessed looking at him that he was 47 years old.  He is lean and looks like he could still buggy whip that bat for a home run.  Jeff Branson said “E D” was the best teammate.  He was as nice as can be and more than a few of the Indians players were wide eyed as Davis approached the batting cage.  Davis wore an Indianapolis Indians uniform for only 19 games back in 1983.  The 21 year-old batted .299 with 7 home runs, 19 runs batted in, and 9 stolen bases.  His debut with Cincinnati was a year later.          

Still searching for .500…UPDATE…a blowout and more moves

The Indians lost at Columbus last night dropping their record to 58-60.  It was the 8th time the Indians failed to win a game that would give them a .500 record.  It’s hard to believe, but the Indians are 0-8 in games in which they could reach the .500 mark.  Thursday night, RHP Eric Hacker (4.1IP, 9H, 7ER, 4K) and the Indians were done in by a 5 run 5th inning.  The International League pitcher of the week must be thrilled this is his last start at Huntington Park.  In two starts vs. the Clippers, Hacker is 0-1 giving up 11 runs over just 7.1 innings of work.  During his six starts between meltdowns in Columbus, Hacker was 3-2 with a 2.36 (10 runs over 38IP) earned run average. 

A 2nd inning single extended Brian Bixler’s hitting streak to 15 games.  Currently, it’s the longest streak in the league and fifth longest this season.  During the streak Bix is hitting .373 (25-67) with 3 home runs and 11 runs batted in.  One weakness in Brian’s game is he does not like to talk about himself.  Since he won’t talk to me about the streak I’ll talk to his hitting coach.  Jeff Branson says when Bix makes contact he is driving the ball to all fields.  He is still striking out (20 times during the streak), but is hitting .532 when he puts the ball in play.  The struggle for Branson and Bixler is improving his contact rate.  Since July 1st Bixler is hitting .335 and the average jumps to .461 when he puts the ball in play.

We almost had a George Brett incident last night.  3B Neil Walker crushed a pitch down the left field off Clippers lefty Zach Jackson.  It was ruled a home run by umpire Justin Vogel and he did a great job of getting down the line because the ball was so far and so high he really had a tough call.  Columbus skipper Torey Lovullo argued it was foul and as the umps came together to discuss the call, Walker could feel his anger build.  As Walker approached the dugout steps he could see Vogel tell Lovullo it was fair and thus prevented a scene at home plate. 

RHP Brad Lincoln will be the Indians starting pitcher tonight.  The 24 year-old is looking to bounce back after two sub-par outings.  Lincoln has given up 9 runs in his last two starts and has not lasted longer than 4 innings.  The former first round pick has pitched 115.1 innings this season (75 in AA, 40.1 in AAA) after pitching a total of 127.1 his first two years of pro ball.  Lincoln had Tommy John surgery at the end of 2006 costing him all of 2007.  There is no doubt he is 100% healthy, but now may be the time to limit his innings.  Lincoln should make four more starts this season and he may not pitch past the 5th inning in any of them. 

The Tribe made a few roster moves yesterday.  LHP Corey Hamman is back with the team after a two month stint in double-A.  He will become the Indians left-handed specialist out of the bullpen.  RHP Jon Meloan is expected to join the team sometime today.  The Pirates claimed him on waivers the other day and optioned him to the Tribe yesterday.  Meloan will pitch out of the bullpen and this will be the thrid IL team he will suit up for this year.  Meloan opened the season with Columbus and most recently was with Durham.  RHP Ty Taubenheim is back in the Indians rotation.  He replaces LHP Phil Dumatrait and will start on Sunday.  Dumatrait’s ML rehab assignment is not officially over since he is still with the Indians, but he is not expected to make another start for the Tribe.

First pitch tonight is set for 7:05 with pre-game coverage beginning at 6:40.  I hope you tune and have a safe weekend. 

3:30 UPDATE:

In the immortal words of the late great Jack Buck…”I can’t believe what I just saw!”  The Pirates and Cubs are currently underway at Wrigley Field and it’s safe to say the game is effectively over.  The game was turned off the clubhouse TV after the 2nd inning with the Cubs leading 14-0!  Charlie Morton gave up 10 runs in his inning of work and the Bucs had to call on their bullpen in the 2nd inning.  So you can expect the Indians to lose a pitcher or two tonight so the Pirates can have SOMEONE ready for tomorrow’s game. 

Maybe it’s Jon Meloan, who has officially joined the Indians.  The righty threw a bullpen session under the watchful eye of pitching coach Ray Searage.  I’ve only had the chance of introducing myself to Jon.  He was really keeping to himself as he joins his third different clubhouse this season.  Imagine being the new kid in school three times in one year?  That’s what Meloan has been through. 

12:00 AM UPDATE:

The Tribe clobbered Columbus tonight 14-5 and it felt more like 30 to nothing.  SS Chris Barnwell, 1B Jeff Clement, RF Tagg Bozied, and C Erik Kratz all had three hits with all nine of the Indians starters touching home plate.  Clement clubbed his 7th home run in just 14 games and drove in 4 runs.  His 1st inning home run was AT LEAST 420 feet and was still going up when it hit the batters eye in straight away centerfield.  Kratz had his 9th three hit game of the season and drove in a season high 4 runs.  His three-run 5th inning home run pushed an 8-2 lead to 11-2. 

CF Jose Tabata went 0-6, but returned to the line-up after missing the past three games with a left wrist injury.  Tabata has been battling the injury throughout the season with the recent inflammation causing him the most discomfort. 

Brian Bixler and RHP Denny Bautista are on their way to Chicago to join the Pirates.  Bixler leaves the Indians with a 15 game hit streak and is recalled by the Bucs for the second time this season.  Bautista will be joining the Pirates for the first time this season after making 35 appearances for them last season.  The hard throwing right-hander was 2-3 with a 5.09 ERA with the Indians.  The last of his 35 appearances was Thursday night when he pitched 2 scoreless innings of relief.  Phil Dumatrait has been moved to the Indians bullpen and will help replace Bautista, while Larry Broadway (currently on the DL) will likely be activated to replace Bixler. 

COL 003.jpgThe picture is of wrestler Jim ‘Hacksaw’ Duggan.  He threw out the first pitch and signed autographs from the 1st inning through the 8th inning.  The Indians players were loving Duggan by yelling “Hey Yo” at him whenever he looked their way.  It’s a shame that Hacksaw wasn’t signing when Gwinnett visited.  Remember their current radio announcer was the voice of the WWF and WCW.

Tomorrow the Indians will try for the 9th time to reach .500.  RHP Daniel McCutchen will be searching for win #12 and the Indians will try to reach .500.                      

Tweet Ups, ties, and reaching .500

For the 7th time this season the Indianapolis Indians will attempt to reach the .500 mark.  The Tribe and Buffalo Bisons are the teams in the IL who have not been .500 at some point this season.  Since the All-Star break only the Gwinnett Braves (17-8) have a better record than the Indians.  Since July 16th the Tribe is 16-9 and with a win tonight will improve to 58-58 giving them a .500 record for the first time since May of ’08.  LHP Phil Dumatrait will make his second and likely final rehab start for the Indians tonight.  Dumatrait has been on the Pittsburgh Pirates DL this entire season, but appears healthy enough to rejoin the big club.

Do you recognize the guy with Rowdie?

DSCF5134.JPGI’ll give you a hint…he writes for Sports Illustraded and is on NBC’s Football Night in America.  Need one more…he says my Cleveland Browns are the WORST team in the NFL.  SI NFL writer Peter King stopped by Victory Field last night.  Via Twitter, Peter had what is called a “Tweet Up” last night.  About 75 fans sat in Peter’s section and talked football for the length of the game.  This is the third straight year Peter has weaved an Indians visit with his annual visit to Colts camp.  Everyone who was a part of the night said that Peter was as down to earth as you can imagine and he answered questions from the potential NFL lockout to who should be Peyton Manning’s back-up.  For those of you who read his Monday Morning QB column (a must read for any sports fan, especially a NFL fan) you may believe he has an obsession with Brett Farve.  Moments before Peter was presented with is official Indians jersey, the front office wondered if they should have put his name and a number of the jersey.  My suggestion was #4 in honor of the oft-retired one, but the decision to leave the back plan was the right one.  Peter King is a stand up guy and made the night very special for a lot of NFL and Indians fans. 

On a side note…if anyone sees a red sunglass case with prescription Ray-Ban’s inside to please give Victory Field and call and let us know.  Peter could use them, thanks.

Pitchers vs. Relievers:

Pitching coach Ray Searage decided it was time to let his pitchers have some fun at the plate.  The starters and relievers faced off in an unusual game of baseball.  Each batter was given two swings to put the ball in play.  Once the ball was in play they had to run straight across the diamond to second base.  The other team could field the ball and throw you out at second base. 

PIT 001.jpgThe starters included RHP Virgil Vasquez (red hat foreground), RHP and IL pitcher of the week Eric Hacker (hatless in front of Virgil), LHP Phil Dumatrait (who was only allowed to sacrifice), RHP Brad Lincoln (who let some steam out after his poor outing on Sunday), stretch coach Bar Malik (in the batting cage), and physical trainer intern Brandon Platt.

The relievers included RHP Jason Davis (pirates shirt), RHP Jeremy Powell (glasses on next to Davis), RHP Steve Jackson (red hat foreground), RHP Ty Taubenheim, RHP Denny Bautista, RHP Juan Mateo, and RHP Jean Machi

PIT 003.jpgIt was a four inning game and included three home runs.  Virgil Vasquez and Brad Lincoln each went deep for the starters while Jean Machi hit a clutch solo shot in the top of the 4th to help the relievers erase a three run deficit and tie the game at 6.  The winners would not have to shag in batting practice.  It was a worthy prize with yesterday’s hot humid temps expected to reach 88 degrees.  With the game tied at six the starters came to the plate in the bottom of the 4th and left the winning run at third base.  Ray Searage was the pitcher, judge, and juror when it came to the rules.  Not everyone was thrilled with his adlibbing, but in the end it was up to the hitters and they didn’t come through.  Everyone would be on the field for batting practice thanks to a 6-6 tie.

News and Notes:

Brian Bixler extended his hitting streak last night to 12 games.  Bix has raised his average 15 points during the streak and is now hitting .275 with 9 home runs and .348 on-base percentage.  The 9 home runs match a career high for the 26 year-old from Sandusky, Ohio. 

3B Neil Walker was not in the starting line-up last night.  He will sit every 5 or 6 games to give his left knee a rest.  Walker did a sit down interview with me back in May and based on the things he told me then, I was not surprised to read his comments in this article.  This part in Colin Dunlap’s article jumped out to me…

“The sheer truth is that I’m a young guy, and I feel like I can play at the major league level,” Walker said before pausing. “And if Pittsburgh isn’t the place I make it, I’m confident there is somewhere that I will make it. I just really don’t know what the future is for me with this organization.”

Walker cited himself and Indianapolis teammate Brian Bixler, a shortstop taken in the same 2004 draft who has been enormously unsuccessful in stints with the Pirates, as prospects taken by previous general manager Dave Littlefield who have not been treated the same as those acquired by current general manager Neal Huntington.

“Treated differently?” Walker replied to a question on that topic. “I don’t know if ‘differently’ would be the right word, but you can tell who the old guys are and who the new guys are. I just look at it like this: In any situation, in any business, new bosses come in and want their guys and are more comfortable with people they see as their guys. That’s the situation I feel like I’m in. I’m not one of their guys. Bixler and I are not their guys, and it isn’t hard to tell we aren’t their guys.”

This is an important month for Walker in regards to his future.  If he continues to swing (.393, HR, 12RBI, 8 August games) a hot bat then he will force the Pirates to give him a September call-up.  I have never heard Bixler say that he is currently catching a tough break (.331, 9HR, 25RBI since July 1st), but based on how close the two of them are, I wouldn’t dispute the claim.  Dunlap did the right thing with interviewing Walker instead of Bixler.  Bix would never publically say something like this, while Walker is as honest of a quote as you can find.

Robinzon Diaz started in place of Walker at 3B last night.  It was the first time in his professional career he was 3B and first time he was an infielder since 2001.  In ’01 Diaz played 1B for Toronto in the Domincian Summer League.  Between 2002 and up to last night Diaz has only been used as a catcher or DH.               

Well deserved

So much for having Indians closer Chris Bootcheck on tonight’s pre-game show.  The right-hander is heading to the Pirates bullpen.  Last night “Booter” converted his 16th consecutive by working a perfect 9th inning.  What has been so enjoyable about the ’09 season is the Pirates promoting players who deserve a promotion.  In the past a great month or hot stretch has not guaranteed you anything, but this year has been different.  Sure, Brian Bixler (.290, 8HR, 23RBI since June 19) is putting up big numbers as of late and Daniel McCutchen has won 6 of his last 8 starts, but they are the exception rather than the norm.  Bootcheck on the other had has been pitching with an eye towards Pittsburgh since the end of May.  Since June 1st the 30 year-old is a perfect 13 for 13 in save opportunities with a 2.36 earned run average. 

Thumbnail image for Chris Bootcheck (3).JPGAs a player you always want the opportunity to pitch in the bigs and for Bootcheck it’s a chance to return after pitching for the Angels for parts of ’03, ’05, ’06, ’07, and ’08 .  Pirates.com writer Jen Langosch reports LHP Donnie Veal will be added to the DL to make room for Bootcheck.

When Bootcheck makes his Pirates debut he will become the 20th player this season to wear both an Indianapolis Indians uniform and a Major League uniform. 

Speaking of uni’s, the Tribe will be wearing pink jersey’s tonight to raise money for the Young Survival Coalition.  The jerseys will be auctioned off during tonight’s game to aid the organization whose aim is to help young women diagnosed with breast cancer. 

The Indians are currently auctioning off the Pirates jersey’s they wore back on July 25th.  How about this collector’s item?    

 

Lets recap

Tuesday July 28th (Indians 7 Norfolk 6):  The team flies a private charter from Indianapolis to Norfolk, Virginia.  Harbor Park is sits along the Elizabeth River and you can count on the wind whipping in off the water or gusting out to right field.  On this night it was whipping in with a game time temperature of 92 degrees, the hottest for the Indians this season.  RHP Brad Lincoln (7IP, 2ER) was the winner with All-Star C Erik Kratz hitting the first of what would turn out to be 13 home runs the Indiansn would hit on the road trip.  A picture of Harbor Park…

DUR 036.jpgWednesday July 29th (Norfolk 6 Indians 5):  The day begins with the Pirates trading SS Jack Wilson and RHP Ian Snell to the Seattle Mariners for five players.  Snell was sleeping when the trade went down and was awaken by his phone ringing.  On the other end was Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington telling him he was a part of a deal to Seattle.  Snell told me once he heard the word “trade” he started to jump up an down knowing he was getting the fresh start he desired. 

RHP Eric Hacker (6IP, 2ER) looked to be a sure winner until the bullpen gave three runs back in the 7th and 8th innings.  Norfolk was a walk-off winner when Jeff Fioretino’s fourth hit of the game scored Justin Turner from third base.  This would not be the last time the Indians would lose a late inning lead.


DUR 011.jpgThursday July 30 (Indians 11 Norfolk 3):
  SS Brian Bixler (3-5, 3R), 3B Neil Walker (3-5, 2HR, 4RBI), and 2B Shelby Ford (5-5, 2R, HR) paced an Indians attack that scored double-digit runs for the first time in 21 games.  RHP Daniel McCutchen won for the 10th time pitching 7 shutout innings.  The afternoon game provided the players with an opportunity to enjoy Norfolk, but for one player his trip was coming to an end.  Shortly after the game the players heard a rumor the Pirates were making a deal with the Cubs.  Shortly before 7:00 it was official LHP Tom Gorzelanny and Pirates reliever John Grabow were joining the Cubs.

Within 24 hours the Indians lost two-fifth’s of their starting rotation.  Gorzelanny’s success with the Indians (2.48 ERA in 15 starts) left some players on the team wondering why the Pirates would give up on the 27 year-old.  The Indians loss would soon become the Cubs gain. 

DUR 026.jpgFriday July 31 (Norfolk 10 Indians 9):  One of the wilder games this season.  1B Jeff Clement arrived as a part of the Snell trade and immediately made an impact.  He yanked a ball out of the yard in his very first at-bat as an Indian.  Clement would then lead off the 4th with an opposite field shot giving the left-hander two home runs in his first two at-bats.  After five innings the Tribe trailed 4-2.  The Indians would send 12 batters to the plate in the 6th inning scoring a season best 7 runs on 9 hits.  When the dust settle the Indians had a 9-4 lead and it was off to Durham.  Unfortunately nobody told the Tides the game was over.  Norfolk answered with a FIVE run 7th to tie the game at 9.  Indians reliever Denny Bautista retired the fist two batters of the inning, but the next 7 would reach base and the Indians lead was gone.  The collapse was complete when OF Joey Gathright singled home the winning run in the bottom of the 8th inning.  The Indians scored 32 runs in the series and only won twice.

Saturday August 1 (Durham 2 Indians 0):  RHP Jose Ascanio made his Indians debut a memorable one.  Ascanio was a part of the Pirates/Cubs deal and showed off his blazing fastball.  He was the tough luck loser pitching 6.2 innings and striking out 9.  Highly touted prospect Jose Tabata made his debut with the Tribe.  The 20 year-old outfielder was 3-3 with two walks.  The offense had 9 hits, but none of the nine came with runners in scoring position.  Add it all up and Indians left 13 men on base and were shutout after scoring 20 runs the previous two games.  After the game RHP Steven Jackson was recalled by Pittsburgh and RHP Virgil Vasquez (2-5, 6.09 ERA 7 starts with PIT/5-2, 4.18 ERA 14 starts with INDY) was optioned back to the Tribe.  Here is the seating area at Durham Bulls Athletic Park:

DUR 025.jpgSunday August 2 (Indians 4 Durham 4):  Bixler, OF Brian Myrow, and Clement all hit solo home runs in the Indians win.  Neil Walker stepped up with three hits and 2 runs batted in.  For the trip Walker went 13-32 (.406) with 11 runs batted in.  RHP Mike Koplove, RHP Jason Davis, and RHP Chris Bootcheck pitched the final three innings to preserve the one run game.  Ian Snell (6IP, 2ER, 4K) made his Seattle Mariners debut pitching to a no-decision at Texas.   


DUR 032.jpgMonday August 3 (Indians 6 Durham 2):
  This was the first game in the season series between the Bulls and Indians that was decided by more than two runs.  Durham scored a run in the 1st and 2nd innings, but would not touch home plate again versus starter Eric Hacker (6IP, 2ER, 7K), Koplove, Davis, and Bootcheck.  Bixler smashed a home run for the second consecutive night and his 8th in less than a month.  Chris Barnwell hit a solo home run in the 6th that cleared the ‘bull’.  Here is ‘The Bull’…

DUR 028.jpgMike Koplove pitched a scoreless 7th for the Tribe and after the game was traded to Seattle becoming the third pitcher traded in less than a week.

Tuesday August 4 (Durham 7 Indians 6):  This was a classic example of not counting your chicken’s before they’ve hatched.  The Indians were three outs away from winning for the 13th time in their past 19 games and giving Daniel McCutchen (6.1IP, 3ER, 7K) his 11th win on the season.  The Indians bullpen was short handed and it caught up to them tonight.  Durham scored 4 runs in the 9th to win by one.  The winning run scored when the Tribe failed to turn an inning ending double play.  Prior to this trip, the Indians were 20-2 when leading after six innings.  The Indians had the lead after six innings in 7 of the 8 games, but only won four times.  In Cincinnati Tom Gorzelanny made his Cubs debut a winning one.  Gorzo pitched 7.1 innings giving up only 1 run and striking out 6.  Great job Tommy. 

NEWS AND NOTES:

The Indians return home Thursday night to face the Charlotte Knight’s.  The Indians will play 20 of their final 33 games at home. 

**Chris Barnwell is riding a season high 8 game hit streak

**Brian Bixler has hit safely in 7 straight and 11 of his past 12 games.  Bix has 15 hits over his last 12 games.

**Chris Bootcheck has converted 15 consecutive saves

**Brian Myrow has hit safely in 8 of his last 9 games.  13 hits over that stretch.

 

 

Power surge, some DYK…and another trade!?

Indianapolis is 12-6 since the All-Star break winning number 12 Monday night at Durham.  The Tribe took a page from Durham’s offense blasting three home runs in their 6-2 win giving them 13 home runs on this 8 game road trip.  1B Jeff Clement has three, OF/INF Brian Bixler has two (8 HR’s in his last 27 games), OF Brian Myrow has two, OF/INF Chris Barnwell has two (zero home runs first 64 games played), and 3B Neil Walker has a pair.  Catcher’s Robinzon Diaz and Erik Kratz have each hit solo shots on the trip.  Indy has cleared the fence in 6 of their 7 games on this South Division swing.

Even with all the power the most important at bat last night never left the infield.  With two outs and nobody on LF Tagg Bozied stepped to the plate.  Bull’s starter Andy Sonnanstine needed only three pitches to retire the first two men and quickly got ahead of Tagg oh and 2.  Bozied proceeds to put together the at-bat of the night…

Ball in the dirt, foul, foul, foul, foul, ball, foul, ball in the dirt, foul, foul, and on the 13th pitch of the at-bat he hits a Phil Mickelson flop shot over the mound and it drops in front of the charging 2B for a single.  The ball never left the infield and it changed the game.  Walker singled sharply to right Tagg was digging for third and would have been out by 10 feet if not for a poor throw.  He then scored on a single by Robinzon Diaz and the Indians were on the board and the momentum had shifted. 

“Basically, I used 22 inches of my bat and it is covered with ball marks.  It was ugly but everything was near the zone and I couldn’t make solid contact.  Then of course, I blasted it over the pitchers head for a 70 foot single.”

Tagg’s buddy CF Chris Barnwell almost made a spectacular catch up against the wall.  Durham RF Matt Joyce hit a deep drive to the left of center and Barnwell immediately jumped on his horse.  He raced back and jumped at the wall…and…

DUR 008.jpgHe missed the ball and slammed hard into a rotating billboard.  RHP Chris Bootcheck said you could hear the air come out of Barney as his body crashed into the wall.  The police tape was added today and the good news is Chris will be ok and took some of the wall with him. 

Monday night RHP Chris Bootcheck nailed down his 19th save of the season.  The all-star has converted his last 15 saves and I want to take a deeper look into his numbers.  For the season “Booter” is 3-2 with a 3.46 ERA in 39 games.  The LaPorte, IN native has 53 strike outs and only 7 walks in 41.2 innings of work.  Chris has converted 19 of 22 save opportunities and in save opps he has a 2.43 ERA with 30 strikeouts over 22.2 innings and holding opponents to a .222 batting average.  In non-save situations his ERA jumps to 4.74 and opposing batters are hitting .294.  Why? 

The former 1st round pick of the Angels spent parts of the previous three seasons in the halo’s bullpen.  Their dominant closer was Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez (ML record 69 saves in ’08) and nobody is better when it’s closing time than K-Rod.  However, Bootcheck noticed when it was not a save situation, the games best closer would get rocked and didn’t appear to have his normal edge.  This is Booter’s first year as a closer at any level (3 saves previous 8 years) and he notices his approach is different when the game is not on the line.  His adrenaline level feels the same, but instead of putting away hitters, he works on different pitches and that puts him in a different state of mind.  Bootcheck has not blown a save since May 12th and even though he has slammed the door shut each of the past two nights, he’ll be in tonight if the game is on the line.

RHP Mike Koplove has been busy since the All-Star break.  The 32 year-old pitched a scoreless 7th inning last night and has appeared in 9 of the Indians 18 games since the break.  “Kop” says his right wing feels fine, but there is no denying the work is starting to catch up with him.  Koplove has given up 4 runs in his last four games after giving up on 4 runs in his first 18 games with the Tribe.  Manager Frank Kremblas has called on Koplove (13IP last 9 games) because of his ability of clean up other people’s messes.  One of Koplove’s former managers called him toilet paper because he cleans up others…well, you get the idea.  Since joining the team on June 5th he has inherited 19 runners on base and allowed only five of them to score.  Did you know, 11 of the 19 inherited runners were in scoring position and only TWO of them touched home plate.  Plus, he has inherited 8 runners in scoring position with less than two outs and only ONE of them has scored.  That’s why he has pitched in 9 of the Indians last 18 games.  The Indians are 17-5 when Koplove pitches and 8-1 since the All-Star break. 

The Indians will return home Thursday night and there is a real good chance you’ll see a great game.  An incredible 79 of the Indians 109 games this season have been decided by three runs or less.  Too bad they are 35-44 in those games.  I don’t have to sell you on Victory Field, but 43 of the team’s 52 home games have been decided by three runs or less including all 8 games on their last homestand.  Only 9 games the Indians have played at home this year have been decided by MORE than three runs.  You’ll pay for the whole seat, but you’ll only need THE EDGE!  (Best when using your movie trailer voice) 

I’ll be keeping an eye on tonight’s Cubs/Reds game.  LHP Tom Gorzelanny will make his Cubs debut and according to reports will make at least three starts for the Northsider’s.  The 27 year-old made 15 starts for the Indians going 4-3 with a 2.48 ERA.  Good luck tonight Tommy and enjoy the pennant race.  The Cubs are 56-48 entering play tonight making this only the 5th time in 76 career games (65 starts) that Gorzelanny will pitch with his team having a record above .500.  The last time Gorzelanny started a game with his team’s record was better than .500 was back on April 2, 2008…the second Pirates game of the season.

Some DYK: 

Gorzelanny was on the Indians opening day roster and a lot has changed since April 9th.  Here is a look at the Indians players at the start of the season…

RHP Jimmy Barthmaier…DL April 11, released May 18, and resigned to a Minor lg. deal

RHP Denny Bautista

RHP Chris Bootcheck

LHP Dave Davidson…designated for assignment on April 15

RHP Jason Davis

LHP Tom Gorzelanny…traded to Cubs on June 30

LHP Corey Hamman…sent to Double-A Altoona on June 5 

RHP Daniel McCutchen

RHP Evan Meek…promoted to Pittsburgh on April 25

RHP Jeremy Powell

RHP Brian Slocum…released on July 16

RHP Virgil Vasquezoptioned back to Indy after 7 starts in Pittsburgh

 

C Robinzon Diaz

C Erik Kratz

 

SS Brian Bixler

1B Jason Delaney…sent to Double-A Altoona on April 21, Eastern League All-Star

INF Anderson Machado…sent to Double-A then traded to Chicago White Sox

1B Steve Pearce…promoted to Pittsburgh on two occasions, most recent July 22

2B Andy Phillips…traded to White Sox April 17 and now playing in Japan

3B Neil Walker

 

OF Larry Broadway

OF Garrett Jones…promoted to Pittsburgh on June 30 and now a ‘burgh Legend

OF Andrew McCutchen…appearing nightly on SportsCenter, promoted June 3

OF Jeff Salazar…promoted July 1

 

The names in bold are still with the team.  Bixler, Diaz, and Vasquez have been with the Pirates at some point this season.  Walker and Broadway have missed time on the disabled list.  Only Kratz, McCutchen, Powell, Bootcheck, Davis, and Bautista have been on the active roster the ENTIRE season.

 

Did you know?  19 players have worn an Indians uniform and a Major League uniform at some point this season.  The position players are…Bixler (8 games PIT), INF Luis Cruz (PIT), Robinzon Diaz (31 games PIT), C Ryan Doumit (rehab PIT), Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen, OF Lastings Milledge (WAS, PIT), Steve Pearce, Jeff Salazar, and SS Jack Wilson (rehab PIT, SEA). 

 

The pitchers are…Jose Ascanio (CHC), David Davidson (FLA), Tom Gorzelanny (PIT, CHC), Steven Jackson (PIT), Evan Meek (PIT), Charlie Morton (PIT), Ian Snell (PIT, SEA), Virgil Vasquez (PIT), and Donnie Veal (rehab PIT). 

 

Time to go check out some batting practice.  I’ll leave you with a view from the booth.

 


DUR.jpg
4:00 UPDATE:

 

RHP Mike Koplove has been traded to the Seattle Mariners today for SS Deybis Benitez.  Benitez is a 22 year old who was playing in Class-A ball.  I guess while scouting Snell the Mariners liked what they saw from Koplove.  He first heard about the deal last night after the game and is now on his way to Triple-A Tacoma.  The good news for Mike is Seattle wants him and that likely means he will get a chance to pitch in the Major Leagues.  Even with all the success he had with the Indians it was a long shot for him to get a call from the Pirates.

Ten minutes after I took the picture from the radio booth a heavy rain (nothing like back home) fall entered the Durham area and look who helped pull the tarp. 

DUR 010.jpgThat’s Indians UTIL Hector Gimenez lending a hand.  He played for the Bull’s a season ago and decided to help out.  Hopefully that is the last of the rain and same for those of you back in Indiana.   

Indy visits Durham

This is one of my favorite ball parks and the Durham Bulls always have a good team which makes for exciting games.

DUR 007.jpgHit the bull and you win a steak, hit the grass and you win a salad.  It only applies to the home team and when they hit a home run the bull’s eyes turn red and smoke comes out of his snout.  Before I talk about the new faces on the team, Pat Lackey (WHYGAVS) was at last night’s game and has his own recap along with some great pictures and video.

The new faces on the team include 1B Jeff Clement, RHP Jose Ascanio, and OF Jose TabataClement was the 3rd overall selection in the 2005 by the Seattle Mariners.  He has proved in his career that he can hit minor league pitching and the Pirates are hoping that he adjusts to a new position and proves he can hit Major League pitching.  Clement was a catcher coming up through the Seattle system until some knee issues moved him to first base.  The knees are getting better and he expressed the desire to be a full-time catcher in the big leagues.  For now Clement will be the Indians 1B and it doesn’t appear catching is in his immediate future.  He is not allowed to even catch a bullpen session and from what I understand he shouldn’t unpack his catching gear any time soon.  The good news is he can unpack his bats and what a debut he made on Friday night. 

DUR 006.jpgClement homered in each of his first two at-bats. I wish we could find out how many, if anyone in the 100+ year of Indians baseball has ever hit a home run in his first two at-bats.  It was an awesome debut and opened the eyes of his new teammates. 

RHP Jose Ascanio joins the Indians after Thursday’s trade between the Pirates and Chicago Cubs.  Ascanio (pronounced eh-SCANN-eee-oh) made his debut last night pitching 6.2 innings giving up two runs and striking out 9 Durham Bulls.  Here is what a few people had to say about Ascanio’s debut…

Bulls OF Jon Weber“I don’t know what the Cubs are thinking giving up on an arm like that.  He is one of the top 3 pitchers we have faced this season.”

Indians hitting coach Jeff Branson:  “I don’t know if we’ve seen a guy in this league with that kind of fastball and change-up.  I’d agree he is one of the top 3 guys in this league.” 

C Erik Kratz“You saw it and he was good as he looked.  The separation in his fastball and change-up were a huge key tonight.  His fastball is different from Snell’s and (Charlie) Morton’s because it sinks so much.  The other two throw harder with some extra run on the fastball, but Jose’s heater is 94 with sink.”   

My initial reaction was Ascanio has the best fastball I’ve seen from an Indians pitcher this season.  I felt that way because his pitch moves so much and Kratz told me there were times when he expected it to sink and it would stay straight blowing guys away.  After talking with Kratz and pitching coach Ray Searage I have to change my opinion.  RHP Charlie Morton has the best fastball and Ian Snell has the ability to throw harder more consistently than we saw from Ascanio tonight.  Ascanio worked at 93-94 miles per hour and touched 96 one time.  His change-up was off the charts and was a good 10 miles per hour different from the fastball and he throws it from the same arm angle.  It was a debut I’ll remember and the feeling around the clubhouse is Ascanio will be with the Pirates sooner than later.


 

DUR 004.jpgOF Jose Tabata collected three hits last night in his Triple-A debut.  Not bad for someone who will turn 21 on August 12!  Tabata hit over 300 in Double-A and showed a good eye last night mixing in a couple of walks.  What I noticed about him was the ability to lay off borderline pitches and when he did get a strike he put a solid compact swing on the ball.  It’s only one game, but he looks like he is the real deal and it’s hard to believe he is only 20 years old.  He is very soft spoken and is excited to be at Triple-A.  He was all smiles last night after going 3-3 in his debut.  Tabata will play centerfield and rightfield for the Indians.  Tribe trainer Jose Ministral is like a father figure to Tabata.  The two of them became very close during spring training.  Tabata is young, he needs direction, and someone he can trust…Ministral is that guy. 

Give it up for SS/2B/CF Brian Bixler for his month of July.  The 26 year old hit .343 and set career bests for a single month with 6 home runs and 20 runs batted in.  Bix has been working really hard with Branson and the Indians hitting coach is thrilled with the numbers.  It’s very unusual when you have a career month in July.  The dog days have arrived and Bixler did all the hitting while playing in CF for the first time in his career.  In July he played 5 games at 2B, 14 games at SS, 10 in CF, and only committed three errors.  Brian would never say anything, but his teammates expressed disappointment when both of Pittsburgh’s middle infielders were traded and Bix never got a phone call.  Brian Bixler left no doubt he was the Indians hitter of the month for July.

How about Andrew McCutchen’s historic Saturday night?  Two things from his THREE HOME RUN night.  The first is, I love his reaction after the second home run when he give a slow-mo low five to Luis Cruz.  I have seen that face so many times…it’s ‘Cutch’s way of staying humble, but he knows he just punished the baseball.  The second is just before the curtain call its 1B Steve Pearce who pushes ‘Cutch out of the dugout.  So many of us in Indy are rooting for McCutchen and he is fast becoming the most popular player on the Pirates.  Remember all the negative reactions when the Pirates traded Nate McLouth?  Well, McCutchen has helped them move on and he is now the face of the franchise…at the age of 22.     

                        

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