CLEVELAND — Nobody really wanted to discuss the 500-pound bright pink gorilla in the ballpark prior to Thursday’s game between the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field.
Nonetheless, starting pitcher Trevor Bauer was faced the reality that his time with the Indians could soon be coming to an end. With the July 31 trade deadline looming, Bauer is among the most talked-about potential trade candidates in baseball.
The 28-year-old has one year of arbitration remaining and is expected to earn upwards of $18-20 million next season, a price tag that other teams know the Indians likely can’t manage. The mercurial Bauer will never bring Cleveland more value in a trade than he will right now.
The Tribe could try to ransom several young, controllable pieces from a contending team that needs starting pitching, but it won’t be easy. Indians manager Terry Francona said president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti recently addressed the club, and Bauer in particular, on the organization’s strategy approaching trade deadline dealings.
“I thought it was extremely respectful,” Francona said. “You don’t want to do something well-meaning and then mess it up. And (Antonetti) said he was glad he did it.”
Antonetti told Francona that Bauer handled the meeting with aplomb, and that he doesn’t expect the swirling rumors to be a distraction to the righty once he takes the mound.
“I think he likes to pitch, I hope he likes to pitch here,” Francona said. “I think he does. I mean I hope he does.”
Bauer has pitched effectively in three of his previous four outings, posting a 3-1 record and a 3.51 ERA with victories against Kansas City and Cincinnati.
Francona and the Indians have learned a lot about Bauer in the seven years since acquiring him in a trade from the Diamondbacks.
“We’ve got to know him pretty good and the one thing you know is on the day he pitches, you’re gonna get a guy that goes out there and is not gonna back down, is gonna compete and there’s a pretty good chance the last pitch he throws that night is gonna be the best pitch of his night,” Francona said. “There’s a lot to like about the way he pitches.”
Ramirez stays confident
Collecting three hits in a game was commonplace for Jose Ramirez through the first 125 games of 2018, but the well seemed to run dry for the two-time All-Star beginning in mid-August.
After a prolonged hitting slump that carried over into the beginning of this season, Ramirez caught fire in late June. Wednesday’s 3-for-4 effort against Detroit begs the question: is he starting to feel more confident when he steps in the batter’s box?
Not if you ask Jose.
“My confidence is always there regardless of the results,” Ramirez said through translator Agustin Rivero. “I’ll just keep focusing on the work that I put in and the results will show.”
The results for Ramirez in the last three weeks have been overwhelmingly positive compared to where he was in April and May. In 18 games dating back to June 22, Ramirez is hitting .353 with three home runs, seven doubles, a triple and 12 RBI. He has seven multi-hit games and a nine-game hitting streak in that stretch. That’s his longest hitting streak since 2017.
Compared to a dismal first two months of the season where Ramirez struggled to hit .200 with an OPS well below .640, things are beginning to look up.
Whenever Francona is asked whether or not Ramirez has turned a corner with his recent success at the plate, he brings up the fact that the 26-year-old infielder has found a way lately to keep more batted balls fair. And with those positive results, Ramirez’s confidence is starting to become a little more evident.
“With some success you’re starting to see his confidence again,” Francona said. “No matter who you are when you’re struggling, you feel it. Because it had been an extended period, you see him smile a little bit more. He’s feeling a little better about himself.”
Ramirez admitted Wednesday that this is the best he’s felt all season at the plate. He’s made adjustments in his swing aimed at keeping more balls fair and that’s led to less frustration when he gets good pitches to hit.
“That’s been the key, basically focusing on working and staying in the middle,” he said. “I’m aware I was opening up a little bit too much, but now I’m working on focusing on staying in the middle.”
With early season injuries to Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis, the Indians offense struggled because Ramirez was unable to shoulder a bigger share of the burden. But Francona bristled at the notion of benching the two-time American League MVP finalist.
“Sometimes you’ve got to ride it out,” Francona said. “It’s hard for him, it’s hard for us. But you can miss out on too much good stuff if you panic and pull a trigger you shouldn’t.”
Even when things weren’t going well for him between the lines, Ramirez says he was able to leave his worries at the ballpark.
“As soon as the game is done, I try to clean up, get home and be with my family and everything goes away,” he said. “Good or bad, I’m always here.”