Ho-hum. Just another Sunday and another shutout and series win for the Indians.
Miami pitching didn’t make it easy, but it was a good job this weekend by the Tribe not to look past Miami to the huge, Tiger-shaped white elephant that is this week’s showdown with Detroit.
The star of Sunday was Scott Kazmir, who is so much fun to watch when he’s going well because he generates plenty of swings and misses (seven strikeouts) and pounds the strike zone. Granted, we have to handicap that performance because it’s the Marlins, but still, he was excellent all game. His record is now 7-4 with an amazing 3.89 ERA, leading the Indians to their 15th shutout this season. Hard to believe.
I’m sure it’s been said, but at the beginning of the season I would never have expected Kazmir to make this many starts (20). I assumed he’d be ineffective or, much more likely, injured. But not only has he stayed healthy, he has been, if not always lights out like he was Sunday, certainly an effective, above average major league starter this year. Kudos to his hard work and the Indians for a reclamation project that actually worked.
Also, big credit to the defense, which got Kazmir out of the only jam he was in all day when he walked the first two hitters in the third inning, including the pitcher. Yan Gomes picked off Jeff Mathis at first on a failed bunt attempt, Michael Brantley made a nice running catch in left for the second out and then Jason Kipnis used a great leaping catch to snare the final out. Defense also helped out Chris Perez lock it down when Michael Bourn also made a fantastic diving catch in the ninth.
The Indians had just enough offense to get by, with solid performances from the bench bunch with Yan Gomes and Mark Reynolds producing several hits each, and the always steady Brantley knocking in the insurance run after another bench star, Mike Aviles, doubled in the eighth.
* I know every game is important, but I like how seriously Terry Francona is taking the big four-game series against Detroit and not pretending they are the same as four games in May, much as I at times could appreciate the steady approach of Eric Wedge and Manny Acta.
First, Francona gave the heart of the order, Nick Swisher, Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana, a day off together Sunday. And, as mentioned, the Indians depth still allowed them to field a major league lineup.
Second, in case you missed the news, the Indians pushed Ubaldo Jimenez’s next start back a couple days and plan to promote Danny Salazar to start Wednesday. That’s the kind of gutsy move I’m used to other teams making, and the biggest downside to the “games in April and August mean the same” approach Wedge and Acta employed. When you’re in a pennant race, you go for it. (See Nationals, Washington and Strasburg, Stephen). The only time I can ever remember the Indians going that route was in 1997 with Jaret Wright, and that turned out pretty well … at least that season.
Along those lines, if the bullpen starts to struggle again, I would give serious consideration to bringing Salazar up and using him as a secret weapon out of the pen down the stretch (ala Adam Wainwright in St. Louis years ago), especially as the Indians are worried about his innings this year.
* Depressed by small sample size: For a franchise that does everything the wrong way, it really irritates me that Marlins appear to have accumulated this much good, young starting pitching this quickly after yet another teardown of their roster. This is one of my least favorite professional franchises and thinking about the rotation they could be running out in three years irks me. My only solace is that the majority of their position players look like awkward, gangly teens who haven’t grown into their bodies yet and should still be in college … what’s that? Oh, that’s actually the case. Man I dislike that franchise and will be glad not to see them again for a few years.
* If you’re in town, I understand tickets are available for all four Tigers games. I’m always hesitant to tell people how to spend their money, but as many of my colleagues have pointed out, 24,000 turned out for a Browns practice. So to hell with it. Go. Buy tickets. Watch a fun team that’s playing great ball go toe-to-toe with their biggest rival. This is one thing even the great Indians teams of 90s never had, an honest to goodness pennant race. Go see it live and in person if you can.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mhutton722