This week has not gone well for the Cleveland Indians.
Sitting at 10-9 and in third place in the American League Central, two games in back of the first place Minnesota Twins, everything fell apart for the Tribe during a brief two-game homestand with the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday and Wednesday. For the first time this season, the starting rotation went back-to-back games without a quality start. The bullpen was tagged for a handful of runs. The offense mustered just three runs of support as the team took 7-1 and 7-2 losses to the Cubs, which, to be fair, entered as one of the best clubs in Major League Baseball.
The Tigers have been a surprise out of the gate for manager Ron Gardenhire. Sitting a half-game in front of the Indians at 9-7, the Tigers have struggled some at home with a 4-6 mark, but have performed exceptionally well on the road with five wins in six chances. Their schedule so far has not been anything to write home about, as the team has played six games against Cincinnati (3-3), four versus Kansas City (2-2), three with Pittsburgh (3-0), and three this week against the Chicago White Sox, losing two of three to end a four-game winning streak.
Civale made it three straight quality starts to open his 2020 campaign with a solid seven innings of work against the White Sox his last time out. He allowed just a run on five hits with five strikeouts, but was dealt a second straight loss as the offense could not put up any runs in support of the right-hander. Civale faced the Tigers three times last season, including in his Major League debut on June 22. He went 2-0 against them with a 1.31 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP.
Nova earned his first win of the season his last time out, defeating his former Pittsburgh club despite allowing five runs on six hits with three walks and three strikeouts over five innings of work. He has been unable to complete six full innings so far this season. He has faced the Indians seven times in his career, posting a 3-3 record with a 4.22 ERA. Four of those outings came a season ago, when he went 1-2 with a 3.91 ERA.
Bieber took a no-decision for the first time this season in his last start on Sunday night, when the Indians rallied back late for an extra inning win against the White Sox. The 25-year-old staff ace made his fourth straight quality start but had his toughest outing to date, allowing three runs on four hits with eight strikeouts and two walks. He now has 43 Ks over 27 2/3 innings to open his season. He is 3-1 in his career in four starts against Detroit with a 2.28 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP. Last year, he won both of his starts against the Tigers, allowing two runs on seven hits while striking out 18 in 14 2/3 innings.
Turnbull has been the ace of the staff so far for the Tigers. The 27-year-old right-hander has allowed no more than two runs in an outing and has made back-to-back quality appearances, earning wins in both of those starts. He struck out a season-high eight batters in his first start of the season in Cincinnati. The third-year starter has had no luck with the Indians in his career – in six starts and one relief appearance, he is 0-5 with a 5.52 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP.
Plutko will make a second straight start with the Indians rotation down 40% of its staff due to negligence. After opening his season with a quality spot start on July 28 against the White Sox, he worked a scoreless inning of relief before subbing into the rotation for Mike Clevinger on August 11. He lasted four innings against the Cubs, giving up a run on four hits with a pair of strikeouts before taking the tough loss, his first of the year. He has a perfect 4-0 mark against the Tigers in his career (five starts, three relief appearances) with a 4.09 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP.
Fulmer returned to the Tigers rotation for the first time since 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He has been limited in the early going, working two and two-thirds innings in his debut against Kansas City on July 27 (giving up four runs on five hits, including three homers). His last time out on August 10, he threw three scoreless innings, giving up three hits and a walk while striking out two on a pitch count against Chicago. He last faced the Indians in 2018, taking the loss in two of his three starts against them. He is 2-4 in his career against Cleveland with a 6.62 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP in eight starts.
TV: Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio (all), Fox Sports Detroit (all), ESPN (8/16 – out-of-market), MLB.tv
Radio (all): Cleveland Indians Radio Network; 97.1 The Ticket (Detroit)
HEAD TO HEAD
The Indians owned the Tigers a season ago, embarrassing them all year long. In 19 matchups, Cleveland went 18-1 while outscoring Detroit, 116-38. The lone loss by the Tribe came in the second game between the clubs on April 10, a 4-1 loss. The Indians proceeded to win 17 straight games to close out the season slate against them, including a perfect 10-0 mark at Progressive Field.
The Indians will face the Tigers ten times in 2020. Following this weekend’s set in Detroit, the teams will see each other again next weekend in Cleveland for three games. The final four contests will take place at Comerica Park from September 17 – 20.
TRANSACTIONS and INJURY NOTES
Christian Arroyo (UTL) – claimed off of waivers by Boston (8/13)
Mike Clevinger (SP) – activated from restricted list, optioned to team’s alternate training site (8/14)
Tyler Naquin (OF) – activated from 10-day injured list (8/11)
Roberto Perez (C) – 10-day injured list (7/29) – right shoulder strain
Zach Plesac (SP) – activated from restricted list, optioned to team’s alternate training site (8/14)
Willi Castro (IF) – recalled from team’s alternate training site (8/11)
C.J. Cron (1B) – 10-day injured list (8/11) – left knee sprain
Travis Demeritte (OF) – optioned to team’s alternate training site (8/14)
Buck Farmer (P) – 10-day injured list (8/10) – left groin strain
Cameron Maybin (OF) – activated from 10-day injured list (8/14)
Troy Stokes Jr. (OF) – 60-day injured list (8/7) – broken hamate bone
Jordan Zimmermann (SP) – 45-day injured list (7/18) – right forearm strain
TRIBE NEWS AND NOTES
The ongoing saga involving starting pitchers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac continued this week. After both broke team and league protocols by leaving the team hotel on Saturday night and failing to report back in time for the league mandated curfew, mixed statements from the pair have left some feeling underwhelmed with their accountability for their actions. A video on Instagram from Plesac, intended to share the truth of what happened, only led to him looking selfish and inconsiderate while offering no apology or justification. He has since deleted the six-plus minute rant that may have failed to accomplish what he sought out to do when he posted it Thursday.
The Indians responded to the status of the pitching duo on Friday, activating both pitchers from the restricted list and then surprising all by optioning them to the team’s Alternate Training Site in Lake County. Both pitchers had reportedly driven together to Detroit to be available for the club if they activated them back to the 28-man roster, but instead after several team meetings, the front office opted to relocate the pair to Eastlake.
The Indians had reportedly considered moving Plesac off of the roster this month due to the number of off days in this portion of the schedule. Such a move would have allowed him to get in work while the Indians were not in need of a fifth starter. Missing big league time for any significant stretch now could impact his future salaries with the club if it helps prevent him from reaching the ‘Super Two’ arbitration level.
Optioning Clevinger was a surprise as an established big league starter. He had one option year remaining, which was inconsequential overall, but for now both he and Plesac are banished off of the Major League roster for at least ten days (barring an injury that could expedite their return). It marks a dramatic response from the Indians organization, sacrificing the results that these two pitchers could provide on the mound to send a clear statement to other players affiliated with the club – follow the rules, or suffer the consequences.
On more positive news, Franmil Reyes has emerged at the plate, kicking that early season slump to shoot his average up to .292. He reached base safely in six straight plate appearances during the team’s series with the Cubs and extended his hitting streak to six straight, posting a plump 12-for-22 (.545/.583/.773) showing in that span with two doubles, a homer, and six runs batted in.
Cesar Hernandez struggled for the first time this season and saw his 16-game on-base streak come to an end in Tuesday night’s loss. A 1-for-9 effort against the Cubs dropped his batting average 26 points from .305 to .279.
KEEP ON KEEPING ON
The Indians will continue their road trip after another off-day on Monday, with the team opening a three-game series in Pittsburgh against the Pirates. They will finally return home for more than a blink of an eye next Friday, starting a six-game homestand against Detroit and Minnesota.
The Tigers will head out on the road after the conclusion of the series, playing four in Chicago with the White Sox before that trip to Cleveland next weekend.
Photo: Justin Berl/Getty Images