April 3, 2013
Chapter 2: Swing hard in case you hit it
This game is all about tradeoffs. Sometimes you get lucky enough to have a player or two that excels in all situations, but most of the time you're having to weigh a player's strengths and weaknesses. Hence you end platoon players because of how they hit against left-handed pitchers, you pull a player in the late innings because he's not a good defender, or you pinch run for a player because he's slow. Tradeoffs can happen with certain situations in an inning; if you're looking for guaranteed contact, then Mark Reynolds isn't your guy. But if you're looking for instant runs, then he's exactly what you're looking for.
More about Reynolds a little later. The outcome of one is important, but what happened earlier last night could mean that the outcome of many games will be better than last year. For Ubaldo Jimenez was making his 2013 debut, and with it the regular season debut of his simplified mechanics. If you haven't had a chance to read through the Sports on Earth article on Ubaldo from earlier today, please take the time to do so now. Don't worry, you can come back here after you're finished.
You're back? Great! One of the disadvantages of being a fan is that you're always missing information. Last year it was fairly obvious that Ubaldo Jimenez's mechanics were out of kilter, but it was hard to explain why (a) they got out of kilter and (b) why they haven't been corrected. Now we know that the original cause of the 2011-present mess was an infected blister, and that Jimenez desperately tried to correct them, watching hours upon hours of before-and-after video, but couldn't fix it, at least while the season was going on.
After Terry Francona hired Mickey Callaway as his pitching coach, the two traveled to the Dominican Republic to visit with Jimenez, not really to fix his mechanics (though they have since been simplified) but to start to build back Jimenez's confidence as a pitcher. If that meeting in the Dominican Republic leads to an old/new Ubaldo Jimenez, then the hiring of Francona was worth it right there. For a pre-2011 Jimenez turns this club from an interesting but ultimately flawed club into a club that has the ability to make the playoffs.
Let me put that previous statement into numbers. Ubaldo Jimenez averaged 5.6 WAR between 2008-2010. In 2012, Jimenez was below replacement (-.7) despite throwing 176.2 innings. Even if Ubaldo is a 4 win pitcher, that represents an improvement of 5 wins from last year. The rotation is this club's largest flaw, but the potential is there for it to be a strength, with Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez the driving force behind it.
If tonight was any indication, then at the very least Ubaldo is on the right track. Against what on paper is one of the better lineups in the American League, Jimenez not only was effective, but by his standards in control. He did walk two batters, but never got into an extended funk or any difficult jams. He allowed one run; it came on a home run by the most unlikely of home run hitters, Maicer Izturis, who had fewer home runs in his 10-year career (35) than Edwin Encarnacion had last year. Jimenez missed inside with a fastball, and Izturis turned on it. Besides the home run, the Toronto lineup only managed only two singles off of Jimenez.
The Indians had their troubles against Toronto starter Brandon Morrow. Morrow is the lone holdover from last year's rotation, and he has the stuff to win a Cy Young; in an injury-shortened 2012 he posted a 2.96 ERA and allowed just 7.1 Hits/9. He was throwing the fastball in the 95-97 mph range, and the Indians for the most part couldn't make contact. He struck out 8 Indians in 6 innings, though he also allowed 8 base runners (6 hits, 2 walks). Unlike Toronto, the Indians had numerous opportunities to score runs against Morrow, but they kept striking out.
The Indians scored first in the third inning when Michael Brantley put the ball in play and found a hole in the left side of the infield. That was one of Brantley's four hits on the night, all singles. The Indians took the lead in the eighth inning when an attempting double play went wrong; with runners on first and second, Carlos Santana hit a grounder to third baseman Maicer Izturis, who stepped on the bag for the first out but threw wildly to first in an attempt to turn two. Brantley scored
from second all the way from first, and the Indians seemed poised to win again.
Pestano did his job in the eighth, retiring Toronto in order. But Chris Perez gave Jose Bautista missed inside to him in the ninth, and the Blue Jay outfielder lined a home run over the left field fence. Perez got out of the inning with the score still tied, and the game went into extra innings.
In the eleventh inning, Toronto brought in Sergio Santos, who like most relievers can throw the ball in the mid-to-upper-90s. Unfortunately for Santos, Mark Reynolds caught up to a shoulder-high fastball and hit a no-doubt home run. This lead the Indians wouldn't relinquish. Joe Smith retired the side in order to record his first major-league save.