The Oakland Athletics always seem to have great pitching. When I saw that the Indians would face Tommy Milone during this four game series, I was a bit concerned. Prior to tonight, he was 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 11 innings pitched against the Indians. While he’s definitely not untouchable, I guess my mind is still programmed to 2012, when pretty much every left-handed pitcher looked like the long lost twin of Sandy Koufax. The Indians certainly did not really have an offensive outburst against Milone, but thanks to the stellar performance of Zach McAllister, their one unearned run was enough to get them the W.
For as much as the Indians’ pitching staff has made me nervous so far this season (and still does make me nervous, to a certain extent) you have to give them props for their performances recently. The starting staff has really stepped it up as the Indians have won 8 of their last 9; even their one loss in that span (credited to Corey Kluber) wasn’t necessarily the fault of the starter. Kluber kept it close enough to win, but it was just an off day by the offense. (Also, excuse me while I go knock on every piece of wood in my house). What this shows though, is what we all were saying before the season – if this team gets good performances from their starters, they can do great things.
There are times so far in this young season that the starters have been downright dominant. Tonight was already the fifth time this season that the Indians have shut out their opponent, and the second time that they won a game 1-0 (they did this previously on Friday, April 12 against the White Sox). Do you know when the Indians earned their first shutout last season? On April 29 against the Angels. Their fifth shutout came on June 22, and they got their first (and only) 1-0 victory on July 13. The Indians only had six total shutouts in all of 2012 and they’re just one away from tying that figure in the first week of May. We all, unfortunately, remember the epic collapse last summer. However, early in the 2012 season it seemed like the Tribe was firing on all cylinders when it came to both pitching an offense. Far from perfect, but enough to keep them in contention into the summer. They’ve been better than that in many ways so far in 2013; you have to hope that it’s a sign of things to come and not just a fluke.
While I really like Zach McAllister, I’ve always been a bit skeptic of his abilities. I thought that he’d obviously work fine as a fourth or fifth starter, but I never expected him to completely dazzle me. Tonight, he dazzled me. In 7.2 innings pitched, he allowed 0 ER on just 5 hits, walking one and striking out four. After he handed the ball over to the bullpen, Rich Hill and Chris Perez maintained the shutout and helped the Indians get the win. Perez earned his fourth save and lowered his ERA to 0.82. With Vinny Pestano’s cranky elbow, it’s good to see that the bullpen can still maintain the score in close games without the 7-8-9 trio of Joe Smith, Pestano and Perez.
Even though Milone effectively shut down the offense, the Indians still managed to make the most of their minimal opportunities. When Carlos Santana made it to second after errors by Oakland first baseman Brandon Moss and second baseman Eric Sogard in the bottom of the fifth, it set the stage for a Mike Aviles single and a long sacrifice fly by Yan Gomes. They only got five hits, and struck out five times, but it was all they needed with McAllister on the mound. An amazing side note about Milone – he didn’t walk anyone tonight. While pitchers often have nights with great control, Milone has only walked six people all year, in 39 innings pitched (over seven games).
And speaking of Yan Gomes, he made a spectacular throw to nail a running Yoenis Cespedes (who himself is a fun player to watch) as he tried to steal second in the ninth inning. The A’s only hits all night were singles; however, you still don’t want to let the tying run get to second with fewer than two outs. When Gomes nailed Cespedes, he really minimized the damage from his one-out single. I have nothing against Lou Marson, but I’m really loving Yan Gomes. I hate the idea of him spending much of his time on the bench; it’s probably ultimately better for him to get regular playing time in Columbus. I still love to watch him play with the Indians though.
For the last two games of the series, the Indians will face two solid pitchers in A.J. Griffin and familiar face Bartolo Colon. Colon is 3-1 with a 3.62 ERA and 1.04 WHIP so far this year, despite the fact that one day soon he’ll be large enough to have his own gravitational pull. I guess if you’re still pitching well at Colon’s age (39) your physique doesn’t really matter – whatever works, works. Griffin will match up against Justin Masterson, while Colon will face Scott Kazmir. If we get a pitcher’s duel from Colon and Kazmir, we can party like it’s 2005.