Tribe Plays the Bullpen Game and Loses Six-Game Winning Streak; Astros 6, Indians 2
Bob Toth | On 05, Sep 2016
September seems like a bad time to have rotation problems and the hole in the Cleveland Indians pitching staff could not be plugged effectively in a bullpen game as the Tribe labored through Labor Day in a 6-2 loss to the Houston Astros on Monday night.
Josh Tomlin’s turn in the rotation was skipped in favor of Mike Clevinger, who was expected to work at most a few innings after making five shorter appearances over the last two and a half weeks. The team would then turn the game over to the bullpen, deeper now with the expansion of the roster on September 1.
If it seemed a bad way to approach a game that you wanted to win, you might be right.
Any plans for a three- to four-inning type of an outing for Clevinger went out the window in the first, when he needed more than 20 pitches to get three outs and, in the process, let the Astros strike first. After striking out George Springer, he walked rookie Alex Bregman. The AL’s leading hitter, Jose Altuve, jumped on the second pitch from Clevinger and doubled, driving in Bregman before the All-Star was thrown out at third trying to advance. Carlos Correa struck out, but he drew eight pitches and fouled off several, helping to shorten Clevinger’s outing.
Cleveland stranded a pair in the bottom of the first against Mike Fiers before the Astros threatened again in the second. Yulieski Gurriel doubled and Teoscar Hernandez drew a two-out walk as Indians manager Terry Francona brought in Jeff Manship. The right-hander got a force out to end the inning.
The Indians loaded the bases in the bottom half, but would leave them that way after singles from Lonnie Chisenhall and Tyler Naquin and a walk from Carlos Santana. Jason Kipnis lined out sharply to left to end the threat. The missed opportunity came back to haunt the Tribe the very next inning as Manship walked Springer before Bregman sent his seventh homer of the season into the bleachers in left to give the Astros a 3-0 lead.
Francisco Lindor led off the bottom half of the third with a double off of the wall in right. He was originally ruled out on the field, but Francona challenged the call successfully as Lindor swam his way around the tag and kept a foot on the base. The overturned ruling would factor in the Indians scoring as Mike Napoli flied to center before Jose Ramirez came through again in the clutch with an RBI-single to the gap in left center to make it a 3-1 game.
Napoli ended his long homer drought in the fifth, taking Fiers high off of the left field foul pole for a solo home run, just one play after Lindor grounded into a double play to erase Kipnis’ leadoff single. Despite using the bullpen all game, the Indians had the game within just one run.
That all changed in the seventh when Houston blew the game open. Springer reached on an infield single, lining the ball off of reliever Dan Otero. Bregman struck out for the first out as Francona brought on Bryan Shaw. A solid first pitch single to right by Altuve put runners on the corners and Correa walked to load the bases. Gurriel lifted a fly to center, caught by Rajai Davis who fired a strike to the plate that was just a fraction of a second too late to nail Springer. Both remaining base runners moved up 90 feet on a double steal and that would prove costly as Evan Gattis grounded to Kipnis, but his throw was wide and Napoli could not get the swipe tag on Gattis, allowing Altuve to score the fifth run of the night. Colby Rasmus followed with a slow roller to Lindor and his throw was not in time and dropped by Napoli anyways, allowing another run to score. With a 6-2 hole, Francona brought on Cody Anderson, who struck out Hernandez swinging to end the nonsense.
Cleveland would put just one more runner on base in their final three trips as Lindor led off the eighth with a walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch, but a pair of strikeouts sandwiched a line out to leave him stranded.
The Indians dropped to 79-57 as their six-game winning streak came to an end. Their lead in the AL Central fell to four and a half games as the Detroit Tigers were once again victorious late, using an eleventh inning home run from Justin Upton to defeat the Chicago White Sox, 5-2. The Astros improved to 73-64 and gained a game in the division as Texas was dropped by Seattle. They trail the Rangers by eight and a half.
FIERS WORKS AROUND EARLY TRAFFIC
Fiers (10-6, 4.29 ERA) was hurt by some high pitch counts and some long early innings, but survived by keeping the Indians away from home plate. He worked five innings, allowing two runs on seven hits with a pair of walks and four strikeouts.
TOMLIN RELIEVES IN HIS SKIPPED START
The Indians are still mulling over their fifth starter plans for the coming weeks. Ideally, Tomlin figures out his issues and contributes in meaningful games down the stretch. In the meantime, he got an inning of work on Monday night, pitching the ninth inning in a game that he should have started, had it not been for his second half meltdown.
He worked the last frame, giving up a hit while striking out one.
CLEVELAND’S BULLPEN CAROUSEL
A total of eight pitchers took the mound for the Indians in the nine-inning game that lasted three hours and 44 minutes.
Clevinger (2-2, 5.30) took the loss after allowing a run in the first. Manship worked two-thirds of an inning and was charged with two runs on two hits with a walk and a strikeout. Rookie Perci Garner may have been the most effective of the bunch while making his second MLB appearance, working two and two-thirds innings of one-hit relief while striking out a pair. Joe Colon allowed a hit and a walk while striking out one in two-thirds of an inning, while Otero was charged with one run on one hit with both batters retired done so via strikeout. Shaw worked just one-third of an inning, one day after allowing the tying home run late, and was credited with two unearned runs on two hits and one walk. Anderson struck out four batters, but walked two and gave up one hit, in an inning and a third.
JOIN THE HIT PARADE
Eight of the nine Houston starters recorded at least one hit in the balanced attack, as the Astros had eleven hits on the night. Only Gattis (0-for-4) was held hitless.
NO CLUTCH ON EITHER SIDE
The Astros plated six runs on the night despite an otherwise horrendous effort at the plate with runners in scoring position. They stranded eleven runners while going 1-for-10 in the game.
The Indians, with just two runs to their credit, were no better, as they also went 1-for-10 with only Ramirez’s RBI-single providing damage with runners in scoring position. They stranded seven men on the bases.
Three errors were credited in the contest and all were slapped on the second basemen.
Altuve made his fifth error of the season on a throw to first trying to get Ramirez after his single. He appeared to try to stop his throw to first, but the ball left his possession anyways and sailed dramatically off line into foul territory to the left of the first base bag.
Kipnis made a pair of errors, one on a bad throw and another on a ground ball that appeared to eat him up.
Houston played without catcher Jason Castro, who sat out his second straight game after taking a foul tip to the knee on Saturday.
KEUCHEL HEADS BACK TO HOUSTON
Reigning Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel was scheduled to start Tuesday for the Astros, but he has been scratched and returned to Houston to have his ailing left shoulder looked at.
Houston will recall right-hander Brad Peacock (0-0, 3.86) from Triple-A Fresno to start in place of Keuchel on Tuesday, drastically changing what initially was scheduled to be a head-to-head battle between each of the last two seasons’ Cy Young Award winners. He has worked in five outings for the Astros this season, all in relief. Corey Kluber (15-8, 3.08) will make his first start since taking home the AL’s Pitcher of the Month Award for his 5-0 record last month. He has not lost a start since July 3 and the Indians have not lost a game he has started since July 24 against Baltimore.
Game time from Progressive Field on Tuesday is 7:10 PM ET.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images