It is amazing sometimes just what a week can do for a team.
Just keeping their heads above water in a contentious American League Central Division a week ago, the Cleveland Indians sat at 10-9 with a favorable six-game road trip set in Detroit and Pittsburgh. A week later, the Indians are 16-9, winners of six straight with some impressive and needed victories to pull the club back to within a half-game of first place Minnesota.
The Indians flashed some strong starting pitching, including a complete game from Aaron Civale on Wednesday. The bullpen got some rest and then went back to work with some key innings to protect small leads. The offense continues to be hit and miss, but some clutch hitting, including a monstrous extra inning blast by Carlos Santana, helped power the Tribe through with runs when they needed it.
The Tigers (9-14) come in to the series in bad shape. After a good start against some questionable opponents, they have run into a buzz saw, destroyed over the last week and a half in divisional matchups with the Indians and the Chicago White Sox. Before the Indians showed up at Comerica Park last week, the Tigers had dropped two of three against the White Sox, then after three straight losses to the Indians, they were swept in an ugly four-game set at the southside, outscored 31-9. Their injured list grew and the roster shuffle has begun, most notably with the addition of phenom pitcher Casey Mize. The Tigers are six and a half games out in the division, five games under .500 while suffering through a nine-game losing streak.
Fulmer is still working his way back slowly from Tommy John surgery, so game one of the series should resemble a bullpen game of sorts for the Tigers. He last started against the Indians on Sunday, working just two and two-thirds innings while allowing three runs on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts while making a season-high 58 pitches in a no-decision. He is 2-4 in his career against Cleveland in nine starts.
Plutko will make his second straight start against Fulmer and his third in a row pushed into action due to the actions of the pandemic pair. He was shaky in that start against the Tigers on Sunday, lasting just two and two-thirds innings while matching his entire season’s total for runs allowed with three in the contest. He struck out one and did not walk a batter, but there was base traffic aplenty with six hits in those three frames on the mound. Despite the rough outing, he took the no-decision to maintain his perfect 4-0 record against the Tigers in his career (six starts, three relief appearances).
Saturday, August 22, 7:10 PM ET
LHP Matthew Boyd (0-3, 9.64 ERA) vs. RHP Triston McKenzie (Major League debut)
The Indians will take their first look this season at the southpaw Boyd, who has scuffled out of the gate. Entering the day, he has allowed 25 earned runs, the most in baseball, and that damage has been done in part by an AL-leading eight homers allowed. He has made five starts, taking losses in three of the outings, and has not pitched beyond five innings in a start this year. His last outing was one of his better ones this year, as he allowed a season-low three earned runs on four hits with a season-best nine strikeouts against the Chicago White Sox, but three of those hits left the yard and he was chased from the game after 90 pitches in just four innings of work.
McKenzie, 23, will make the spot start for the Indians, who have had to fill two rotation holes on the pitching staff due to players having problems abiding by the pandemic protocols implemented by the team and Major League Baseball. That opens the door for the team’s top pitching prospect McKenzie, who has yet to pitch above the Double-A level in his minor league career. It will be his first professional outing since August 30, 2018, when he fired six shutout innings in a home start for the Akron RubberDucks against the Bowie Baysox. He missed all of last season dealing with injury.
The Indians will need to make a roster move to add McKenzie to the 28-man roster, but he is already on the team’s 40-man.
Skubal made his Major League debut this week. The 23-year-old left-hander started against the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday, going two innings while allowing four runs on seven hits with one walk and one strikeout. Before making his first career start, he had worked 33 total games in the minors, including 25 as a starter, while topping out last season at Double-A Erie. There, he went 2-3 with a 2.13 ERA in nine starts to cap off a 6-8, 2.42 ERA season in 2019.
Carrasco will be looking to give the Indians some better results on the mound as his command, especially of his changeup, has eluded him over his last few outings. The 33-year-old veteran right-hander took a no-decision on Tuesday in Pittsburgh, leaving after four and one-third innings of work after allowing three runs on five hits with three walks and five strikeouts. Carrasco walked five in a loss to the Chicago Cubs the start before and four in the outing before that against the Cincinnati Reds in uncharacteristic issues on the mound. Opposing batters are hitting .212 against him this season.
TV: Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio (all), Fox Sports Detroit (all), MLB.tv
Radio (all): Cleveland Indians Radio Network; 97.1 The Ticket (Detroit)
HEAD TO HEAD
After sweeping the Tigers last weekend, the Indians extended their winning streak over the Tigers to 20 straight, the longest active mark in the Majors. They last lost to Detroit on April 10, 2019, falling 4-1 in their only loss against Detroit in 19 matchups a season ago. That record included a perfect 10-0 mark at Progressive Field.
The Indians face the Tigers four more times in 2020 after this weekend’s series. The final four games will be back in Detroit at Comerica Park from September 17 – 20.
TRANSACTIONS and INJURY NOTES
Greg Allen (OF) – recalled from team’s alternate training site (8/18)
Sandy Leon (C) – family medical emergency list (8/18)
Oscar Mercado (OF) – optioned to team’s alternate training site (8/17)
Dario Agrazal (P) – 60-day injured list (8/19) – right forearm strain
Jorge Bonifacio (OF) – contract selected from team’s alternate training site (8/19)
Beau Burrows (P) – optioned to team’s alternate training site (8/19)
Anthony Castro (P) – optioned to team’s alternate training site (8/18)
Harold Castro (UTL) – 10-day injured list (8/19) – left hamstring strain
C.J. Cron (1B) – 60-day injured list (8/11) – left knee sprain
Buck Farmer (P) – activated from 10-day injured list (8/20)
Carson Fulmer (P) – designated for assignment (8/20)
Dawel Lugo (IF) – designated for assignment (8/17)
Casey Mize (SP) – contract selected from team’s alternate training site (8/19)
Ivan Nova (SP) – 10-day injured list (8/15) – right triceps tendinitis
Isaac Paredes (3B) – recalled from team’s alternate training site (8/17)
Tarik Skubal (SP) – contract selected from team’s alternate training site (8/18)
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
FUN WITH STATS
The Tigers hit .235 against the Indians during their previous three-game series, their second-best mark against an opponent this season, but they mustered just eleven runs in the three games. They struck out 27 times in 111 trips to the plate and grounded into three double plays.
JaCoby Jones had three of the team’s 24 hits in the series, launching three doubles and driving in a run in nine plate appearances. Jeimer Candelario went 4-for-12 in his three starts and missed only the home run leg of the series cycle. He struck out in four of his other trips to the dish. Niko Goodrum had a home run and led the team with three RBI while stealing their only two bases of the series. Austin Romine has hit safely in six straight games, hitting .364 in that span with a homer and four RBI. Jonathan Schoop went 1-for-11 with a double and two strikeouts.
Of their seven opponents, the Indians put up their best offensive numbers of the year against the Tigers. In the three games in Detroit, the Indians posted a team .252/.360/.533 slash (.893 OPS) while outscoring the Motor City Kitties, 21-11. The team used a display of extra base power to get the job done, with 15 of their 27 hits in the series dropping in for at least two bases. They were 3-for-3 stealing bases and actually drew more walks (17) than they struck out (16) against Tigers pitching.
Carlos Santana enters the series with an active five-game hitting streak. He struggled against the Tigers, hitting a single and double with three walks and a team-high four strikeouts in 15 plate appearances last weekend. Franmil Reyes broke out of his early season funk with a big display in Detroit, hitting .455 with a .571 on-base percentage and 1.273 slugging mark in his 14 trips to the plate. He had five hits, including three home runs, and drove in five. Maybe most encouraging, he did not strike out and added a pair of walks. Jose Ramirez was 4-for-11 in 15 trips in the series with a single, two doubles, a homer, and four walks. He also failed to strike out and he touched home four times safely, one behind Reyes for the most that weekend.
TRIBE NEWS AND NOTES
The Indians will be without the services once again of manager Terry Francona, leaving the team down again three coaches from its staff (including bench coach Brad Mills and hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo). Francona was expected to miss the series in Pittsburgh during the week due to a procedure to help address an ongoing gastrointestinal issue that has plagued him for quite some time, but he will remain away from the club for at least the series opener on Friday night, if not longer.
The Indians will take a look at McKenzie on Saturday, but it is unknown if the outing will be a one-and-done opportunity for the young right-hander. He is one of several starting pitching options at the team’s alternate training site in Lake County, including Scott Moss and Jefry Rodriguez, and the team has stashed away left-hander Logan Allen on the big league roster already. He could get a look in the future as well, especially if Plutko has any sorts of bumps in the road.
McKenzie missed all of last season after straining his upper back during spring training. A rail-thin 6’5” righty, he pairs a low to mid 90s fastball with a deceptive curveball and a changeup. It will be a big opportunity for the young hurler, who had slowly fallen down the list of starting pitching depth in the Indians organization due to the rapid ascent of the likes of Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, and Zach Plesac.
There is still no word from the Indians organization on the status of Plesac or Mike Clevinger, who are both in the doghouse in Eastlake suffering their punishments for being boneheads. The two right-handers are vital parts of the Indians rotation, yet the team has gone on without them and just kept winning. Starting depth has been a significant strength for the club over the last few years, and if the men given opportunities to shine do so in their absences, they may just sit there longer. There are the obvious financial implications hanging over both players as well, as Plesac’s Super Two status and Clevinger’s arbitration time are both being affected by being at the team’s minor league site. If they remain down for the mandatory ten games (barring an injury list move), it will not have too significant of an impact, but if the team opts to send a prolonged message to the two night owls, it might hit the pair right in the wallet down the road. Fight as they might to grieve their situations, arbiters may not feel much sympathy in the current pandemic to grant the two a free pass because they couldn’t deal with being cooped up in their hotel rooms like the hundreds of others players active in the Majors right now.
The Tigers will head home after their three-game set to host the Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins for seven games over the next week. The Indians will stay at home for their toughest series of the season to date as they host the Twins beginning Monday night. After that three-game series, the Tribe will take Thursday off before heading to St. Louis for a three-game weekend set against the Cardinals.
Photo: Quinn Harris/Getty Images