Crunch time baseball snaps Cleveland Indians back to attention, while offering look at new bullpen
CLEVELAND — There are parts of the season when the games go by so fast that there is no time to appreciate or dissect them. They’re just scores followed by more scores until they are scattered about like the pieces of a wrecked trailer on a forgotten acre of farmland that you drive by on the freeway.
The Indians have played a lot of those games since returning from the All-Star break. The scores read like this: 9-8, 16-3, 5-0, 7-0 and 9-4. On Wednesday, the jet stream of numbers slowed and some crunch time baseball broke out.
Trevor Bauer had a lot to do with it, but so did Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso. But the real revelation came later in the game when it became clear why switch-hitting catcher Francisco Mejia is now the property of the San Diego Padres.
This had nothing to do with Adam Cimber and Brad Hand making their Indians’ debuts. That has already happened. In Wednesday’s 4-0 win over the Pirates, a victory that ended an 11-game winning streak, Cimber and Hand performed in their real element.
Cimber replaced Bauer (9-6, 2.32) after Jordy Mercer started the eighth with a single. Bauer, it should be noted, threw seven scoreless with 10 strikeouts. Alonso, whose two-run homer off lefty Felipe Vazquez put the game to bed in the eighth inning, said it was Bauer’s best start of the year.
But in the top of the eighth, the score was still 2-0, with a man on first when the sidearming Cimber took the mound. No. 9 hitter Jacob Stalling singled to put men on first and second. Then Cimber did what sidearming right-handers are supposed to do. He induced a double-play grounder from Jordan Luplow.
Cimber’s day was done, but Hand was just getting started. He struck out Adam Frazier to end the eighth and retired the side in order in the ninth for his 25th save of the season and first with the Indians. Three of the four batters he retired were left-handers.
“Cimber comes in, gives up a hit, but gets a double play,” said manager Terry Francona. “Then Hand is sitting there for the lefties. So it’s something we didn’t have before, necessarily. Yes, we’ve been going to Oliver Perez in the eighth and ninth, but this certainly helps.”
If and when Andrew Miller returns to the pen - a decision could be made by the end of this week - Francona is going to have an array of talent to work with. Miller, Hand and Perez are lefties. Cody Allen has 20 saves. Cimber, including his time with the Padres, has allowed two earned runs in 10 2/3 innings in July.
“We’ll make it work,” said Francona, when asked earlier in the week how he would use his reworked bullpen.
Cimber and Hand joined the Indians on Friday in Arlington, Texas after being acquired from San Diego the day before. Cimber said he’s finally putting names to faces and learning what doors lead to where in the Progressive Field clubhouse.
The double play helped the transition as well.
“It’s always satisfying to get a double play no matter who you are,” said Cimber. “It was a little frustrating having a guy still on when I left. You always want to finish the inning and start with a clean slate the next inning, but it worked out all right.
“Brad came in and did his job. Shut them down.”
It’s still unclear how Francona will use the pen. Things should come into focus when Miller is activated, but even then it would not be surprising to see Francona flip-flip closers Allen and Hand. As for Wednesday, it felt like old times for Hand as he followed Cimber out of the pen.
“It was definitely good to get a win today,” said Hand. “Adam did a great job, Trevor did a great job. I was a fun day.”
Alonso was hitting .216 against lefties when he drove Vazquez’s 2-2 into the right field seats, 418 feet from the plate.
“It’s big,” said Alonso, who has four of his 16 homers against lefties. “It’s a 2-0 ballgame. They have a good offense and had the heart of the order coming up. We had to score and score fast.”
In the first two games of the series, the Pirates outscored the Indians 11-1 in the first two innings. Bauer changed that traffic pattern.
“He did amazing,” said Alonso. “I think this is his best start yet. We have a hot team here that we had to play and you could tell from the beginning of the game that he had full control.”