Is this thing on?

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

Archive for the month “May, 2011”

Stealing a Win and a Pitcher

Saturday night the Indianapolis Indians entered the top of the 4th inning trailing the Pawtucket Red Sox 7-0.  LHP Justin Wilson was seeking his 4th consecutive win, but after 40 pitches the 23-year-old had allowed three home runs and the rout was on.  It did not look good as the Indians were looking for their 3rd straight win and the 5th win on the 8 game road trip.  Wilson walked off the diamond after the 2nd inning, right past his teammates, and into the clubhouse to figure out what just happened.  His night was done, but there was still a lot of baseball to be played. 

C Dusty Brown gave the Tribe a pulse in the 4th inning with a 2-out 2 run home run.  “It didn’t feel like a big swing at the time, but we had to get something going and maybe it was a spark.”  The blast cut the deficit to 5 and the focus shifted to the bullpen.  RHP Chris Leroux replaced Wilson and turned in one of the best outings of his career.  Leroux put four zeroes on the board giving the Indians chance.  Manager Dean Treanor summed up the performance.  “An absolute lifesaver.  If Leroux gives up one run we are done, but he took over and owned this game.”  The 4 innings for Leroux were the most for him since September of 2006.  “I was a starter back then.  I didn’t think of it as 4 innings, but go as long as I could and keep them off the board.”

The Indians offense started to chip away in the 6th inning.  The Tribe scored two runs and SS Josh Harrison could have called it a night.  It was only the 6th inning and he was 3-3 with 2 runs and momentum squarely in the Indianapolis dugout.  “I was getting some good pitches and my swing felt great.  Once you get three hits you start to get greedy.  I had no idea the night would end the way it did.” 

Entering the 8th inning the Indians trailed 7-4.  The odds of a comeback are still very slim, but the Pawtucket skipper gave the Indians a shot.  The first three batters reached based and Harrison’s double (4th hit) brought the Indians to within one run and a throwing error allowed Harrison to advance to third base.  During this onslaught the Paw Sox bullpen was quiet and the wheels were falling off.  2B Brian Friday hit a ball to third and the throw home beat Harrison, but the catcher could not hold onto the ball and the Indians had erased a 7 run deficit.

After another scoreless inning by Tribe bullpen and the Indians had a chance to win the game.  The Indians were facing the same reliever who gave up the lead and immediately went to work.  Back-to-back hits by Alex Presley and Andy Marte put two on with one out.  The Paw Sox botched a double-play ball and with two on and two outs Josh Harrison stepped to the plate.  “What more do you want?  We had come all the way back and I was ready to win the game.”  He wouldn’t need to…the Paw Sox reliever missed on a pitch that got away from the catcher and Alex Presley dashed home to give the Indians an improbable lead.  Harrison would still leave his mark, doubling home Matt Hague to give the Indians a 9-7 lead and finish the game a perfect 5-5.  The first time in his career he had five hits in a game. 

“I’ve never had a five hit game, but I’ve been a part of a comeback like this.  We did this a few times last year in Altoona and the dugout never gave up.  You can lose some focus and go through the motions when you get behind early, but Brownies home run was the spark and man this is a great comeback.” 

High-Fives after the stunning victory

The Indians have won the past two nights by scoring the winning runs in the 9th inning.  The team knows they have stolen two games away from Pawtucket and will go for the sweep Sunday night at 6:05 

THE UNKNOWN CLOSER:

RHP Cesar Valdez closed out the wild come from behind win on Saturday night.  It was a night off for the Indians regular closer RHP Tim Wood who nailed down the save in the first two games of the series.  The 28-year-old has been at his best against Pawtucket.  On Thursday Wood’s fastball topped out at 96 and his slider was unhittable at 91 miles per hour.  Thursday he pitched a perfect inning striking out the last two batters of the night.  On Friday Andy Marte blasted a 9th inning go ahead grand slam and Wood was quickly summoned to warm up.  Working on back-to-back days he struck out the side allowing only two batters to foul off a pitch.  The first batter looked at a 96 miles per hour fastball for strike three.  The next batter missed a 91 mph slider and the last batter of the game was a day late on a 96 mph heater.  Good morning, good afternoon, and good night…ball game.

Tim Wood photo by Bill Gentry

Wood rise to Indians closer has been a surprise to his manager and he is proving to be a steal for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  “Wood has been unbelievable for us.  Are you kidding me with a 96 mph heater and a 91 mph slider?  He has been great for this team.”  Dean has all the confidence in the world in Wood and the right-hander has not let his manager down.

How exactly did he get to Indianapolis?  Tim Wood signed this winter with the Washington Nationals with the hope of making their opening day roster.  “They promised me a shot at the big league club, but that didn’t happen and I was a part of the third cuts.  Which was fine because they told me that I needed to get in some innings.  So for the last three weeks of spring I gave up one run in 6 minor league innings.  I had a good spring and was waiting for the season to start-up.”  The Nationals had other ideas.  “They told me that I was going to begin the season in Double-A.  I couldn’t believe it, but I didn’t say anything at the time because it wasn’t the place.  I called my agent and told him that I felt like I was better than Double-A and we decided to ask for my release.” 

The Nationals did not give Wood his release and he was prepping for a trip to the Eastern League.  “My agent then called the GM (Mike Rizzo) and they have a great relationship and after their talk I was given my release.  My first phone call was to Scott Mitchell.”  Mitchell is the Pirates Assistant Pitching Coordinator and knows Wood from their days in the Marlins system.  The Pirates signed Wood at the end of spring training and he only made the Indians roster because of a late spring injury to Tyler Yates.  Dean Treanor explains “Woody was going to start in extended spring, but we were going to find a spot for him as quickly as we could.  He was not going to be there long, but unfortunately Yates went down and Wood was added at the last-minute.”

Tim Wood’s dream was not to pitch in the bigs, but to catch a pass in the NFL.  After high school, Tim Wood accepted a scholarship to play football at Northern Arizona University.  Before leaving for school the Montreal Expos selected him in the 21st round and asked him to try out pitching.  “I never pitched before so I went to a junior college and didn’t do too bad.  I was 89-91 mph on a really good day.  At the time I was a draft and follow and when the Expos became the Marlins I was drafted again by the Marlins, but basically it was the same group that selected me the first time.”

As you can expect injuries started to pile up for the first time pitcher as he had shoulder issues and underwent Tommy John surgery.  “The Tommy John was the turning point in my career.  I can back throwing harder than I ever had before.  All of a sudden I was in the mid-90’s and I started to really become a pitcher.”  The former football player carries an aggresive mentality on the mound.  “What I like is the one-on-one battle with the batters.  I take it personally when I’m on the mound and I want to prove I’m better than the hitter.  I loved football because of the contact and hitting people and in a way throwing a baseball allows me to let out my aggresive energy” 

Tim Wood made his big league debut in 2009.  He had to wait 16 days before finally getting into a game.  “I was called up for three days and didn’t get in and the second time I was called up I waited 13 days.  Then I finally got in.”  His debut was June 25 vs. Baltimore and he pitched 2 scoreless innings.  It’s a rather incredible story to come from a football back ground to the Major Leagues.  Tim Wood was right, he is better than Double-A and he is proving to be one of the best in Triple-A.

The Nationals loss has become the Indians gain and perhaps at some point this summer he will pay off for the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

For the first time in Woods career his is closing out games.  His numbers in save situations this season:

10 saves/11 save opportunities: 11IP/ER/11K/0BB/opponents batting average .105

The Indians will try to sweep away the Pawtucket Red Sox tonight.  Pre-game coverage begins at 5:45 with the first pitch at 6:05.  Hope you can join us on 1260 am or Indyindians.com

Enjoying Pawtucket

After a rare day off the Indians went back to work on Thursday and defeated the Pawtucket Red Sox 4-3.  LHP Rudy Owens won his second consecutive start allowing 3 runs over 6 innings.  The 23-year-old was picked up by RF John Bowker (2H 2RBI) and the rest of the Indians 10 hit attack.  It was the Indians 3rd win on the 8 game road trip and their 10th in the past 14 games.  Bowker thought the key to Thursday was the day off on Wednesday.  “It is nice to just get away and act like a normal person.  we play everyday and you need a day to get away from the diamond.”  Most of the players took the day off to visit nearby Providence and a few took the train into Boston.  Bowker stayed closer to Pawtucket and visited Providence.  “It’s a nice city and at first a few of us were worried about spending the day here, but it turned out to be a great place for an off day.”

The Tribe will play 19 games over the next 19 days and their next day off will be June 15.

I decided to take the train from Providence to Boston.  $15 round trip and the train ride was a little more than an hour into Boston’s South Station.  Former Indians media relations intern and current director of communications for the Horizon League Bill Potter gave me some pointers.  Bill graduated from Boston College and gave me some beantown pointers.

Without boring you with too much detail I spent time in Boston Common, Granary burial ground, and of course Fenway Park. 

The State House

 

Samuel Adams at Granary burial ground

 

Fenway Park

Solid day and although I would have rather spent the time with my family back in Indy, it was worth the trip to Boston.

INJURY UPDATES:

The day off not only allowed the players to get away from the game, but it allowed several players to heal.  Monday a groin injury to SS/2B Chase d’Arnaud landed him on the Indians disabled list.  “I was playing with some discomfort for a few games and (on a stolen base Sunday in Scranton) I felt like I aggravated it on Sunday.  I’m hoping we caught it early enough that I don’t miss a lot of time.”  A similar injury kept Josh Harrison on the DL for 10 days.

Brian Friday returned to the Indians lineup on  Thursday night.  A back injury kept him off the card for 10 days and he was glad to return.  “I’ve felt like I been close, but you can’t have something weird happen to set you back.  One year I was playing with a tight back and it locked up on a check swing.  You have to be 100% sure you can play before taking the field.” 

C Jason Jaramillo has been playing through a minor injury.  JJ was hit on the arm by a foul ball two weeks ago in Durham.  Jaramillo is getting better and playing through some discomfort appearing in 6 of the past 13 games.  Of course his injury is nothing compared to the apparent season ending injury San Francisco Giants C Buster Posey suffered.  You can find the clip anywhere online and it will show Posey suffering a broken leg on a collision at home plate.  While others debate the collision and the significance of the injury, Jaramillo knows it is all a part of the game.  “It is a scary play because you don’t know what is happening behind you.  You can’t see the runner and you’re not sure if he is going to slam into you or slide for a corner of the plate.  I’ve learned over the years that you can’t go to your knees until the last-minute.  You are vulnerable there and watch some older guys who will set up in front of the plate and apply a swipe tag.”

Over the years I can only remember a handful of collisions.  Most of the time the catcher gets the ball while either standing or squatting and gets blasted in the chest or the shoulder.  It is the rare instance when the game becomes physical and every catcher knows it’s part of the game.

OF Corey Wimberly has been on the DL since May 14th.  He is getting closer to 100%, but the muscle pull in his leg has slowed him down and only in the past two days has he started to run.  The tough part about injuries is often the timing.  Wimberly was starting to see playing time (due to an injury to Gorkys Hernandez) hitting in 5 straight games and 10 of his previous 11.  He was starting to find a fit at the top of the Indians order and then…pop…he is taken out of a game on May 13th and has not played since.

NEWS AND NOTES:   

The Indians are 16-9 at McCoy Field since 2005.  Three of the previous four seasons the Paw Sox won the 4th and final game of the series to avoid a home sweep.  The Indians had the Paw Sox number a year ago winning 7 of 8 games including a sweep at Victory Field.

Get ready for the Memorial Day weekend by checking out the Indians.  First pitch tonight on Sportsradio 1260 am will be at 7:05.  LHP Brian Burres is on the mound for the Indians while Pawtucket is expected to send Bobby Jenks to the mound for an inning and then turn it over to the regular starter.  Jenks will likely pitch tonight and on Sunday as he rehabs for Boston.

99 Game to Play

The Indianapolis Indians wake up on Monday morning feeling great about the way they are playing baseball.  The clubhouse is confident and the coaching staff can see the players buying what they are selling.  The tough thing for the Tribe is looking at the IL West Division standings.  After 45 games the Indians are 20-25 and sitting 10.5 games behind the division leading Columbus Clippers.  OF Andrew Lambo sums it up, “They just don’t lose, it’s kind of frustrating.  We just need to play them again and get some wins like we did last week.”  More and more it is looking like the Indians turned their season around back on May 13th.  Friday the 13th was game one of an 8 game homestand and the first of four games with the Clippers.  RHP Brad Lincoln shut down the best offense in the league and the Indians beat Columbus for the first time since August of 2010. 

“We finally proved to them and ourselves that we can beat them.”  INF Chase d’Arnaud continued, “We lost some close games to them and probably gave some away, but we are a better team than the last time we played them.”  Since the Tribe’s 9-4 win over Columbus they have won 8 of their last 10 games and more importantly their 13-8 record is the 2nd best May record in the league.  OF Alex Presley  likes where the team is right now.  “We are playing better and putting it all together during this stretch.  We are pitching, hitting, and catching the ball and it’s paid off.  Too bad we started 1-30.”  That last line was obviously a joke, but it tells you a couple of things.  The Indians are playing better, but it’s tough to dig yourself out a deep hole. 

The Indians are currently 5 games under .500 for the first time since they were 5-10.  It begs the question what has been the difference? 

You have to score runs to win baseball games (deep, I know…paid really well to give you kind of knowledge), just asked Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher and 2005 Indianapolis Indian Paul Maholm.  The Indians offense is scoring roughly one more run per game than they did in April, but the key has been the pitching.  LHP Brian Burres (2-2, 2.88 ERA/1.20 WHIP), RHP Brad Lincoln (4-0, 1.80/1.12), LHP Justin Wilson (3-2, 3.00/1.33) have been rock solid for the Indians this month.   LHP Rudy Owens is the pitcher right now lacking support, but it has only affected his won-loss record.  The 23-year-old Owens is 1-1 with a 3.80 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP.  At the beginning of the season the pitching staff was supposed to be the strength of this team.  Clearly at the start of the year it was a major problem and the overmatched offense could not put up the runs to off-set the bad pitching.  The pitching is there and that reflects in the team’s record.

Starting pitchers are a lot like quarterbacks.  We praise them in victories and pound them during losses.  When often times its other players that determine the outcome for a starting pitcher.  Four relievers LHP Justin Thomas, LHP Tony Watson, RHP Cesar Valdez, and RHP Tim Wood have been busy this month.  They have combined this month for 34 appearances, a 2.06 ERA, and a perfect 6-6 in saves.  At least one of the four relievers have been used in 19 of 21 May games.  Cesar Valdez has pitched in 10 games this month and Sunday was the third straight game he pitched in.  Valdez has pitched in 4 of the Indians last five games and if manager Dean Treanor may make it four straight games.  “I know it was his third straight day, but he told me his was good to go.  I trust him when he tells me that and if the situation calls from him again, I’ll use him again.  He’s been so reliable and has always been there when we’ve needed him.” 

The Indians 3.48 May ERA is the 2nd best in the league and they are allowing (H+BB+HB) the 2nd fewest base runners this month.  It has been a great month for the Indians and the turn around is reflected in the improved record.

So the Indians have the best record this month in their division and are one of the hottest teams in the league, but still are 10.5 games behind Columbus.  There are 99 games remaining in the season and anything can happen between now and the first days of September.  Can the Indians catch Columbus?  Sure, but let’s rewind to the 2009 season and look at the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees.  The Yankees that year started 20-4 (Columbus this year started 19-5) and the start propelled them to a North Division title.  During the 2009 season SWB suffered a 5 game losing streak on three different occasions and they never had a division lead of less than 4 games.  You may have read that and thought, who cares, but I find it crazy a fast start can allow a team to have a 5 game losing streak three times and NEVER be threatened in the standings.  Let’s hope teh Clippers don’t repeat the feat.  The Indians and Clippers will meet 10 more times with only 2 games at Victory Field. 

NEWS AND NOTES:

A slight adjustment helped OF Alex Presley snap out of a season worst oh-for-14 skid.  “I needed to make an adjustment and it took a few at-bats for it to take place.  Brano (hitting coach Jeff Branson) and I are working on seeing the ball better and deeper so that I’m more solid and compact at impact.”  Presley is 2nd in the league hitting .335 and his three hits Sunday give him a league best 58 hits.  “I know the numbers are there now, but you still have to make adjustments.  This isn’t easy and I don’t want to give away any at-bats.”  Since opening day the lefty has gone back-to-back days without a hit only twice this season. 

INF Chase d’Arnaud is having a big turnaround this month.  In May he is hitting .329 and has the 3rd best slugging percentage (.456) on the team this month.  He has hits in 17 of 20 games this month (he’s played in 21, but was a PR and didn’t bat) and more importantly he’s playing defense. 

Do you see him more as a SS or a 2B?”  That question has been asked quite a bit over the past month by my Twitter followers.  I would really like to answer them, but I’m far from an expert.  d’Arnaud has been working hard at SS and he still has room to improve.  Sunday he made an incredible play deep in the hole at short.  Chase went deep in the hole and made a back-handed stop…he jumped in the air and flung the ball across his body…the throw was accurate and 1B Matt Hague dug out a short hop to complete a play that leaves you with no doubt the kid can play at short.  Upon further review it looked like he made the play tougher than it was by jumping and throwing across his body.  It looked like the type of play where you see a SS make the back-handed stop, plant, and throw on to first base.  “You are right, that is a play where you like to see the stop, plant and strong throw.  He is working on that type of play.”  Manager Dean Treanor continued, “He is getting better, but I’ll tell you what.  That takes an incredible amount of athleticism and his arm is extremely accurate.”

I still don’t have an answer, but he gets to just about every ball hit to him whether he is playing at second or short.

RHP Evan Meek completed his rehab assignment and has been added to the Pittsburgh Pirates roster.  To make room for Meek the Bucs are sending LHP Daniel Moskos back to Indy.  Moskos opened the season with the Tribe pitching in 8 games to a 1.69 ERA.  With Pittsburgh he appeared in 5 games including his Major League debut.  He allowed one run in 4.2 innings.  Moskos is a great guy and I’m looking forward to him sharing some stories from his first stint in the bigs. 

The parent club is off today giving Pirates fans the perfect opportunity to listen to their Triple-A affiliate.  Lincoln is on the mound tonight seeking his 5th straight win and the Indians are looking for their 10th win in their last 12 games.  You can hear the Indians tonight beginning at 6:15 with the first pitch from Scranton at 6:35.  Find the Tribe on wnde.com, indyindians.com, or on 1260 am in Indianapolis on the iheartradio app.

Eat Your Wheaties

Harmon Killebrew at Victory Field

Tuesday’s lunch was greeted with the news of Hall of Fame baseball player Harmon Killebrew passing away at the age of 74.  The slugger known as “Killer” hit 573 home runs during his 22-year-career and entered the hallowed halls of Cooperstown in 1984.  Killebrew made his Major League debut with the Washington Senators in 1954 at the age of 18.  He would play for the Senators for parts of seven seasons and then move to the Minnesota Twins.  He was a Twin from 1961 to 1974 winning the 1969 AL MVP award and making .  Of course you either know all of that information or you could just look it up.  What you might not know is he played for the Indianapolis Indians and after 38 games was sent down…yes, down to AA?  Killebrew to Double-A…say it ain’t so?

Who better to ask about the great Harmon Killebrew than Indians President Max Schumacher?  In 1958 Max was the Indians Ticket Manager and spending his 2nd year in the front office.  “I had a lot of different roles and one of the things I handled was the mail.  It would be delivered to the players or if it accumulated over a period of time we would hand it to them as they entered the stadium.”  At Bush Stadium the players entered through a door that led them by the inside ticket windows.  When the players walked by, the staff would over the stacks of mail.  “Most of the time it was envelopes, but sometime it was large cases.  Harmon Killebrew used to get large cases of Wheaties from General Mills.”  Killebrew was in Indianapolis at the age of 22 and because he was a young prospect with Major League time he had a contract with General Mills.   “After a few times Harmon asked me if I wanted some Wheaties.  He told me he had all he could take and asked if I wanted some Wheaties.  I was more than happy to accept his offer.  I was trying to get by on a small salary and now I had my breakfasts covered for a week.”

In 1958 the Washington Senators did not have a Triple-A franchise and in May of that year wanted to option Killebrew to the minors.  Max explains the Indians at that time needed a third baseman and through a connection Owen Bush took the young Killebrew.  “He did not play very well in the early going, but I could see that he was improving.  At the time I would keep hand written stats and over his last 10 or 12 games his numbers were getting better, it just was not happening quick enough for Mr. Bush.” 

Look how the times have changed in professional baseball.  A 22-year-old Harmon Killebrew, who up to this point in his career had played in 113 Major League games, was not cutting it at Triple-A.  Owen Bush could see that Killebrew was getting better, but he didn’t want to wait for it to happen.  It was time for Killebrew to leave Indianapolis.  In 38 games with the Indians he would bat .215 (26-121) with 8 extra-base hits, 14 runs, and 10 runs batted in.  Since the Senators did not have a Triple-A team Killebrew was swapped for Stan Roseboro (who hit .257 with 17 extra-base hits and 21 RBI in 63 games) and sent down to Double-A Chattanooga.  It was a demotion in levels, but only because it was the highest minor league level in the Senators system.  Killebrew would hit .308 and 17 home runs the rest of the season in Double-A.  The young Killebrew would not play for the Indians again.

Throughout the years when league owners would get together they always wanted to finish  a meetings on a light and friendly note.  unfortunately for Owen Bush that meant he was usually kidded about cutting a 22 year-old who would eventually turn things around.  How quickly did Harmon Killebrew bounce back from his demotion?  The very next year he led the AL with 42 home runs.  He would go on to lead the league in home runs 5 more times and make 13 All-Star teams.  

Today his picture hangs in the rafters along the third base concourse as a part of the Indians Heritage Series. 

NEWS AND NOTES:

The Indians will begin a four game series tonight with the Buffalo Bisons.  LHP Justin Wilson gets the ball tonight followed by starts from RHP Brad Lincoln, RHP Sean Gallagher, and LHP Rudy Owens.  Hope you can join the Tribe on the radio beginning at 6:45 or tune in on your iheartradio app and find 1260 AM in Indianapolis.

Post Navigation

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.