Notes from the Wigwam: Offense heats up

When an offense is cold, sometimes it just needs to find the right opponent, and that definitely seemed to be the case for the Cleveland Indians this past week.

While it would still be a stretch to label this past week a success, there are some definite positives coming out of the Indians’ three-game series with the Houston Astros this past weekend.

The Indians started the week by struggling immensely against the Boston Red Sox and were swept in a three-game series, but the team’s bats then exploded against the Astros for a total of 26 runs in three games.

The Indians’ weekly record of 2-4 still leaves a lot to be desired, but there do seem to be some positives moving forward. With that being said, let’s take a look at the week that was for the Indians…

Weekly results

April 16 vs. Boston, L 7-2, (WP: Doubront, LP: Jimenez)

April 17 vs. Boston, L 6-3 (WP: Aceves, LP: Masterson)

April 18 vs. Boston, L 6-3 (WP: Lester, LP: McAllister)

April 19 at Houston, L 3-2 (WP: Harrell, LP: Myers)

April 20 at Houston, W 19-6 (WP: Kluber, LP: Humber)

April 21 at Houston, W 5-4 (WP: Allen, LP: Ambriz)

Player of the Week

Nick Swisher — First Baseman

6 G, 9-for-26, 4 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K.

Isn’t it amazing how your opinion of a player can change almost over night? I’ll be blunt, I was far from a Nick Swisher fan when he was wearing pinstripes for the New York Yankees. I saw him as a brash, arrogant type, and I really could never have imagined cheering for him. Yet, that’s exactly what has since happened. Swisher’s personality is just infectious, and one look into the Tribe’s dugout proves that point. Whether he scores a run or makes an out, Swisher is always fired up and providing plenty of energy for his teammates. He had a very good week statistically speaking, but his value goes beyond the numbers seen in box scores. You can just tell that this is a player who relishes the leadership role, and his strong personality is going to help tremendously once the Indians enter the dog days of summer. He’s now hit in three straight games, and it really seems as if he’s starting to come into his own at the plate. It’s simply amazing how perspective can change everything. As an opponent, Swisher is an easy guy to hate, yet put him on your team, and it’s impossible not to fall in love with his energy.

Minor League Player of the Week

Jesus Aguilar — First Baseman, Akron Aeros

6 G, 7-for-21, 2 R, 2 2B, 9 RBI, 5 BB, 5 K.

Aguilar is hitting a healthy .283 this season with 22 RBI in 16 games. He’s also shown solid patience as he’s drawn nine walks this season. The big first baseman had arguably his best performance of the young season this past week when he combined to drive in eight runs over the span of two games. The only real knock with Aguilar so far is that we’ve yet to see too much power as only four of his 17 hits on the season have gone for extra bases. However, that’s really nitpicking a bit as it’s hard not to be impressed with the overall body of work. The Indians have a lot of talented infielders in the minor leagues, yet first base is a position where the team always seems to struggle to produce talent. Because of that, the development of Aguilar becomes all the more important. He still has a long ways to go to show that he might be able to one day produce at the Major League level, but he’s off to a great start this season and should be in line for a promotion to Triple-A Columbus this summer if he continues to perform at this level.

A rough week

Cord Phelps — Utility

3 G, 0-for-8, 2 K.

Phelps’ stints in the Major Leagues have been so short that it’s been hard to ever come to any concrete conclusions, but now may be the time to do just that. The switch-hitter really struggled this past week after he was promoted to the Indians. Phelps just seemed almost uncomfortable at the plate, and he was never able to really get a hold of a pitch and turn on it. Phelps has struggled in the past in the Majors as he’s gone just 18-for-112 in 52 career games. The disheartening thing about Phelps is that his latest struggles come after a spring season in which he went 18-for-48. The Indians would obviously love Phelps to come out and grab one of the utility spots, but he seems almost incapable of doing so. If you were to go watch him in a minor league game and then compare it to one of his Major League at-bats, you’d think you’re looking at two entirely different players; That’s how different the Major League Phelps seems from his minor league counterpart. Perhaps Phelps just needs a few more at-bats and some more time to settle in, but that seems somewhat unlikely when you look at the overall body of work. Another chance will come this season for the 26-year-old infielder, but Phelps better make the most of it because it could very well end up being his last.

News & notes

— Is the Indians’ offense really about ready to take off? There’s no way of knowing for sure, but it’s always a positive when a team is able to score 26 runs in three games. The most important thing to remember is that a number of players still have yet to really take off in terms of batting average. The offense has been led by the likes of Carlos SantanaMark Reynolds and Nick Swisher, but key players like Michael BrantleyJason KipnisAsdrubal Cabreraand Lonnie Chisenhall are all hitting .246 or less. So much has been made of the Indians’ pitching woes, but did anyone expect the team’s rotation to be anything more than average this season? In comparison, the Tribe’s offense was expected to be the team’s meal ticket; the offense was expected to be the cog that could potentially push the Tribe toward contention. It’s been up-and-down so far, but it really exploded against the Astros over the weekend. In reality, the series against the Astros could not have come at a more perfect time. It was clear that the Indians were down on themselves following their poor start to the season, so it was nice that they were able to face a lesser team like the Astros. The series could be exactly what the doctor ordered to get the team’s bats (and confidence) going in the right direction.

— So, have you heard about that Indians starter named Ubaldo Jimenez? Yeah, well I think it’s fair to say that he had an interesting week. The right-hander started out the week Tuesday against the Boston Red Sox. Let’s just tell it like it is: everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. After recording a one-two-three first inning with 15 pitches, Jimenez labored significantly in the second. He allowed two hits and five walks and was then removed after throwing 44 pitches while being unable to get out of the inning. After all was said and done, Jimenez allowed seven earned runs in 1 2/3 innings of work. Jimenez then made his next start Sunday against the Houston Astros. Jimenez allowed a walk, two-run home run and single to the first three batters he faced. At this point, Indians fans had to be thinking, “Yep, I’ve seen this script before.” However, outfielder Drew Stubbs made a miraculous play to rob the next hitter of a would-be double and then threw to first base to record a double play. Jimenez then seemed like a different pitcher from that point on as he did not allow another base runner until the sixth inning where he gave up a lead-off single. Jimenez then served up an RBI-triple to Marwin Gonzalez, which led to him being removed from the game after just throwing 65 pitches. Gonzalez ultimately scored and Jimenez was saddled with the no-decision. So, where do we go now? Well, no questions were really answered about Jimenez on Sunday, and he certainly did not pitch poorly enough to lose his spot in the rotation. Unfortunately, we’re kind of back to square one, and Jimenez remains arguably the most puzzling pitcher in Major League baseball.

— Brett Myers has not been overly impressive this season, but the Indians received some bad news on Sunday after it was announced that the right-hander had been placed on the disabled list with inflammation in his right elbow. If the Indians had plans of removing Jimenez from the rotation, it would appear as if those plans have now been officially nixed because the team must now also deal with the loss of Myers. The thought is that Myers’ injury may help explain the diminishing velocity that he had displayed in all of his outings this season. The diminishing velocity could also be one of the reasons behind the league-leading 10 home runs that Myers has allowed so far.

— The Indians made a number of moves this past offseason. From signing Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to trading for right-hander Trevor Bauer, there was no shortage of offseason activity from the Indians. Yet as we sit here today, take a guess at what move seems to be paying off the most? From a statistical perspective, the easy answer to that question is Mark Reynolds. In 16 games, Reynolds has gone 17-for-57 with four doubles, seven home runs and 18 RBI. The right-handed slugger has also drawn eight walks while striking out 15 times. The most impressive thing about Reynolds’ hot start is that many of his home runs have ended up being very important ones. It’s not as if he’s hitting them when the Indians are losing 10-2. Rather, he seems to hit them at the perfect time, and many of them have played a key role in the Indians being able to grab some of their early season victories. Now, there will come a time where Reynolds begins to strikeout more and becomes very frustrating, but he’s been a pleasant surprise so far. Can you believe that the Indians were able to sign this guy for merely $6 million?

— One point that seems to be overlooked from this past weekend is the performance of left-hander Scott Kazmir. In his first start in the Major Leagues in more than two years, Kazmir pitched 3 1/3 innings and allowed six earned runs on seven hits. He looked good to start the game, but then labored in subsequent innings and exited after throwing 89 pitches. Let’s start with the positives. Velocity — it was there. Kazmir’s fastball sat around 90-92 miles per hour all night, and he also showed some good breaking stuff. However, he struggled with location, which led to some walks and some balls that Astros hitters were able to tee off on. It was only his first start, and he’ll get some chances to redeem himself, but the bottom line is that Indians fans should not immediately expect Kazmir to come in and be the rotation’s savior. As stated earlier, it’s been awhile since he last pitched regularly, and that was blatantly evident in Saturday’s start.

Quick hits

— If the Indians’ offensive outburst on Saturday seemed special it’s because, well, it was. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Indians became just the fourth team in history to score at least eight runs in the first and six runs in the second innings on Saturday. The last team to do it was the Phillies against the Mets in 1985 as they scored nine in the first and seven in the second. It was also the fourth time in team history that the Tribe has scored 14 runs in the first two innings.

— Right-hander Matt Albers has rejoined the Indians’ bullpen. The Indians activated him off the restricted list today, and he’ll be with the team when they open up a three-game series with the Chicago White Sox tonight. Albers had been placed on the restricted list to deal with a serious family issue. To make room for Albers, right-hander Fernando Nieve, who had just been called up on Sunday, was designated for assignment.


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