Notes from the Wigwam: An up-and-down week

Two full baseball weeks are now complete, and the Cleveland Indians’ record sits at 5-6, which is third in the American League Central. Considering how the past week started, third place looks pretty nice at the moment.

To be honest, this past week probably could not have started any worse for the Tribe. Everyone was jazzed up for the team’s home opener last Monday against the New York Yankees, but let’s just say it really did not go exactly according to plan.

The Indians lost 11-6 to the Yankees in their home opener last Monday and then proceeded to fall 14-1 in the second game of their series. The next two games were ironically rained out, and I think many see this as a blessing in disguise.

If any team needed a break it was the Indians, who were outscored 25-7 in the first two games of the New York series.

Yet, for as bad as the week started, the Indians were able to salvage part of it as they won a weekend series against the Chicago White Sox and actually came close to completing a series sweep.

So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the up-and-down week that the Indians experienced…

Weekly results

April 8 vs. New York Yankees, L 11-6 (WP: Kuroda, LP: Jimenez)
April 9 vs. New York Yankees, L 14-1 (WP: Pettitte, LP: Carrasco)
April 12 vs. Chicago White Sox, W 1-0 (WP: Masterson, LP: Crain)
April 13 vs. Chicago White Sox, W 9-4 (WP: McAllister, LP: Sale)
April 14 vs. Chicago White Sox, L 3-1 (WP: Peavy, LP: Myers)

Player of the Week

Michael Bourn — Center fielder

4 G, 6-for-17, 4 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 5 K

Bourn’s week was not extraordinary by any means, but he’s really done an excellent job since the season began, and this past week is just a nice snapshot of what he can provide on a day-to-day basis. The left-handed hitter is now hitting .333 in 10 games this season, and he really has shown himself to be a quality leadoff man thus far. While the Indians have been able to score a significant amount of runs in a number of contests, no player has put up more consistent numbers in this young season than Bourn. However, the unfortunate news is that it looks as if Bourn is due to miss some playing time. Bourn slid headfirst into first base for an infield single on Sunday and was run over by White Sox pitcher Matt Thornton in the process. The collision resulted in Bourn’s right hand being spiked, and he received five stitches in his right index finger as a result. This seems to all but confirm that Bourn will miss some game action, though there are two ways to look at the injury. Yes, it’s unfortunate to see it happen, but it also happened because Bourn was relentless in trying to do whatever he could to give his team a chance to win. It’s hard not to like that, and that’s just another reason as to why he’s deserving of the Player of the Week nod.

Minor League Player of the Week

Joseph Wendle — Second baseman, Carolina Mudcats

6 G, 13-for-24, 3 2B, 2 RBI, 4 BB, 4 K

As Tony Lastoria appropriately puts it, the farm system is and will always be the lifeblood of the Cleveland Indians organization. For that, I will always make a point to recognize at least one minor league player in Notes from the Wigwam, and this week’s honoree is Mudcats second baseman Joseph Wendle. Wendle has been scorching hot since the season began, and the left-handed hitter is currently riding an eight-game hit streak. He’s not held in high regard as far as prospects go, which is probably attributed to the fact that he’s a product of Division II West Chester University, but mark my words, this kid can play. Wendle is older as far as prospects go as he’s set to turn 23 at the end of the month, but his domination of the Carolina League is still impressive, especially when you consider that he played only 61 professional games at Single-A Mahoning Valley last season. At this point, it’s hard to believe that the Indians look at him as someone in their future plans, but he could certainly change that if he continues to perform at this level.

A rough week

Jason Kipnis — Second baseman

3 G, 1-for-10, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K

The Indians’ starting second baseman has gotten off to such a poor start and things got worse this past weekend as he suffered a sore left elbow and was replaced by Ryan Raburn for the final two games of the White Sox series. While his start has left a lot to be desired, numbers do not necessarily tell the entire story as there have been some balls that Kipnis has hit hard, yet they’ve unfortunately been hit right toward a defender. In his Tribe Happenings piece on Sunday, Tony Lastoria made the point that Kipnis could even eventually be sent down to Triple-A Columbus if his struggles continue. Let’s hope that does not become the case because while I like Cord Phelps, Raburn and Mike Aviles, I do not think any of those players have the potential that Kipnis possesses. We know that Kipnis is capable of being an above-average Major League player as he showed it in spurts last season, but he just needs to start to show some consistency. Heck, at this point, I’d bet Kipnis would settle for just a base hit. One alternative suggestion would be for the Indians to move Kipnis out of the No. 3 spot in the lineup as it might alleviate some of the pressure that he most likely deals with each night.

News & notes

— Kipnis’ poor start may be the one that is generating the most news, but shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is off to an almost equally unimpressive start at the plate. In 11 games, Cabrera has gone 5-for-42 (.119). In the past, Cabrera would often start the season in not the best of shape, but that cannot be the case now as he reportedly showed up for Spring Training looking the best he had in years. In all likelihood, Cabrera’s poor start is probably just that — a poor start. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton is currently batting .186. That number is obviously going to improve drastically over the course of the season, and the same can be said for Cabrera. Cabrera has been an All-Star in each of the past two seasons for a reason, and he’ll eventually start to get out of this funk. One positive is that the Boston Red Sox are coming to town this week, and Cabrera has hit five of his 59 career home runs against Boston. Maybe he can increase that number to six or seven by the end of the week.

— After the Indians’ back-to-back losses to the Yankees last week, many concerns were raised about the team’s starting pitching. It seemed logical as Ubaldo Jimenez got tattooed for seven earned runs on Monday while Carlos Carrasco and Brett Myers combined to allow 14 earned runs in Tuesday’s contest. Yet, it’s amazing how one series can almost immediately change the perception of a team’s rotation. Justin Masterson was brilliant this past Friday as he struck out seven while throwing a complete game shutout to lead the Indians to a 1-0 victory. McAllister then followed him on Saturday with another strong performance as the right-hander allowed one earned run across 6 1/3 innings of work. Even Myers was able to redeem himself a bit with a strong performance on Sunday as he allowed two earned runs, which both came off a two-run home run. So, where do we stand in regard to starting pitching now? Well, the rotation is still filled with a number of question marks, and Myers definitely remains one of them. However, Masterson seems to have recaptured his 2011 form where he posted a 3.21 ERA in 216 innings and 33 starts. His body language seems to exude confidence and while he may never be an ace, it’s easy to see that he can be an above-average Major League starter. Three starts is still a small sample size, but it’s impossible to not be encouraged. Also, while McAllister has not dominated like Masterson, the right-hander has still done quite well in his own right. He’s just such a horse on the mound and if he can improve upon pitching around errors, he really could take the next step as a starter. The status of everyone else in the rotation may still be up in the air, but it does appear as if the Indians have something in both Masterson and McAllister.

— Yan Gomes made his Indians debut this past week after Carlos Santana left Monday’s game with a bruised hand. Gomes has been somewhat unimpressive offensively as he’s gone just 1-for-14 in four games. However, the one hit he did record happened to be a two-run home run, and Gomes has also had a number of nice swings that unfortunately did not result in hits. While his offensive game has been so-so, Gomes has really been impressive behind the plate. He’s done an excellent job of calling games, and he also has done well when base runners have decided to challenge him. Only two runners have attempted to steal a base on Gomes, and the result has been the same on both occasions — the runners were caught stealing. The Indians want Gomes to continue to develop as a catcher, so it’s likely that he will be optioned back to Columbus where he can continue to catch every day. If he performs well at Columbus, one has to believe that it won’t be too long before he supplants Lou Marson as the Tribe’s backup catcher.

— Speaking of catchers, Santana just seems so comfortable at the plate right now. While he was out much of this past week, he returned Sunday as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning. After nine pitches, Santana was able to draw a walk, but the story of the at-bat is what’s most impressive. With the count full, Santana hammered the eighth pitch of the at-bat down the right field line. It went foul just at the last second, but the message was clear: DO NOT pitch to this guy in this situation. White Sox closer Addison Reed obviously got the memo as his next pitch was too high and Santana took first base. It’s still very early but just imagine how much stronger this team can become if Santana has indeed taken the next step as a Major League hitter. Right now, all signs seem to indicate that he’s done just that. Let’s hope this is only the beginning.

Quick hits

— Myers’ start on Sunday was a very good sign as he allowed just two runs in six innings of work. He did, unfortunately, serve up the go-ahead, two-run home run to White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, but the start was a noticeable improvement from his previous outings. The Indians do not need him to be great; quality starts like Sunday’s would take a tremendous amount of pressure off this team.

— Ubaldo Jimenez makes his third start of the season on Tuesday for the Indians. He struggled mightily last week against the Yankees, but some believe that could have been because of the faulty radar guns at Progressive Field. The guns were apparently not accurately recording velocity, which led to Jimenez trying to throw harder and harder whenever he would look up at the scoreboard. This then could have led to his mechanics getting all out of whack. While this kind of seems like a lame excuse, it does make Jimenez’s start on Tuesday that much more exciting to watch.


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