May 13, 2013
Game 36/37: Split decision
The Indians came into yesterday's make-up doubleheader in excellent shape as far as the standings went, though the bullpen was another story. They had pulled off a series win in Detroit on Sunday despite not having Chris Perez available, and the rest of the bullpen had been used quite a bit. So with a doubleheader looming and Trevor Bauer going in the second game (who to this point you wouldn't expect to pitch much past the fifth inning), the Indians needed Justin Masterson to at the very least get the game through six innings. Well, Masterson did much more than the minimum expectations; he finished the game himself, and did it in spectacular fashion.
The New York Yankees since returning to relevance in the mid-1990s have always been an offensive juggernaut, whether with the Bernie Williams/Paul O'Neill group, the Jason Giambi/Hideki Matsui group, or the more recent Robinson Cano/Alex Rodriguez/Curtis Granderson group. Of course through most of those clubs the constants were Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. Well, the club that came into town yesterday had Robinson Cano, who is hitting as well as anyone in baseball, they had a healthy Travis Hafner, and a rejuvenated Vernon Wells. But they also had in the lineup many players that even regular followers of the minor leagues would have trouble recognizing. This is not meant to denigrate what Masterson did, as he held in check the players that would be regulars in a full-strength Yankee lineup. But I don't think Justin would have been able to go the full nine innings if the lineup had Curtis Granderson instead of Brennan Boesch, Alex Rodriguez instead of Chris Nelson, and Mark Teixeria instead of Corban Joseph.
All that being said, Masterson's stuff and command was in synch, and it was glorious to watch. The movement on his pitches was incredible, and the results bear that out; of the four hits he allowed on the day, only two of them left the infield. He struck out nine hitters, only the fourth Indians pitcher to hurl a shutout while striking out 9 or more batters since 1995 (the others being Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, and Bartolo Colon). He was the first Indians pitcher to throw a 1-0 shutout against the Yankees since Greg Swindell did it in 1988. And you can go on and on.
The Tribe bats didn't do much of anything either against Yankees starter David Phelps and the bullpen. The lone run of the game came in the first inning when Jason Kipnis took Phelps deep. That home run should have been a two-run homer, as replays clearly showed that Michael Bourn had stolen second safely earlier in Kipnis' at-bat. But the blown call ultimately didn't have any bearing on the outcome. The Indians did work five walks and four hits from Phelps in his 6.2 inning outing, but several rallies fizzled.
In the ninth inning, with a runner on base and two outs, Vernon Wells, who seemingly overnight has turned back the clock on his career, pinch-hit. Wells had 10 home runs on the season, and as well as Masterson had been pitching, one swing of the bat would have completely turned the game around. But Wells couldn't connect on a nasty Masterson slider, ending the game, and giving Masterson his second 1-0 shutout of the season.
In the second game, Trevor Bauer would make his third spot start of the season. Bauer, while one of the most talented arms in the minors, is far from a finished product. He was rushed to the majors last year and struggled despite his dominating minor-league numbers. And after watching his starts with the Indians, I can start to understand why. Bauer has excellent secondary stuff (slider, curve, and changeup), and he's gotten away with out-stuffing (if that's a word) minor-league hitters, but in the majors, you have to not only hit the strike zone, but also be able to hit various areas of the strike zone with different pitches. You saw some improvement in that yesterday afternoon, especially with his fastball, but still he was living up in the strike zone with breaking pitches, and although he got away with it against the AAA hitters in the Yankee lineup, he's not going to away with that against better offensive clubs. Bauer is still in the midst of a philosophical development, learning how to get major-league hitters out, and that, more than his mechanics, is what he needs to get ironed out. Spotting your fastball early in the game might be a very old strategy, but being old doesn't mean it's not still relevant. In some ways Bauer's development as a pitcher should mirror Ubaldo Jimenez's re-development (at least so far) into a competent starter; Jimenez has been successful over his past 3-4 starts by being able to throw his fastball for strikes early in the game. If Bauer can do that with regularity, that slow curve and wipeout slider will become even more effective weapons.
The final score belies the fact that it was a close game going into the seventh inning. Bauer had had a very quick sixth inning, and Terry Francona let him go out for the seventh even with his pitch count in the 90s. I think part of the reason why he did so was for Bauer's long-term development, and part of it was to set up the bullpen the rest of the way. However, things fell apart rather quickly. Bauer allowed two doubles, the second of which pushed the score to 2-0. That was it for Bauer. Nick Hagadone, who last weekend in Detroit had almost cost the Indians Saturday night's game, came int o limit the damage. But Hagadone walked left-hander Brett Gardner, and allowed a single to right-hander Jayson Nix (making the score 3-0). Still, with Robinson Cano, a left-hander, up next, Terry Francona left him in, and he struck out Cano. At this point, I thought Hagadone's day was over for sure with Vernon Wells next up, but Francona left him in, and the game quickly got out of hand. Wells singled, then Lyle Overbay (a left-hander) doubled, making the score 6-0. Finally Francona pulled Hagadone, bringing in Matt Albers, who had been ready three or four batters ago. But the horse was already out of the barn.
The Indians were blanked by former Tribe farmhand Vidal Nuno and the Yankee bullpen. The Indians drafted Nuno in the 48th Round of the 2009 draft out of an NAIA college (Baker University), and he made it to Lake County in 2010 before the Indians released him despite good peripherals. Adam actually mentioned Nuno a couple times in 2009-2010, but apparently the Indians didn't think his stuff would fly at higher levels. Nuno pitched in Independent baseball before signing with the Yankees at age 23. Now he's 25 years old, and his first start in the majors was a success. As mentioned in the brief recap, the Indians' hitters probably didn't have much to go on, and by the time they faced him for the second time it was already the fourth inning. The Indians had much better at-bats against him in the fourth and fifth innings, but couldn't get that big hit, and by the sixth inning he was gone.