After my father and I nearly froze to death from 16 innings of Opening Day “magic” at Thursday’s Indians game, he turned to me and asked, “What if it goes extra innings on Saturday as well?” I responded by saying, “Ubaldo Jimenez will probably give up seven or eight runs in the first couple of innings. Dan Wheeler will be sent in for mop-up duty, and he’ll give up a few more. The offense will be terrible, so it will assuredly end in nine innings.”
I’m glad to say that if I had to be wrong about one of those statements, it was the one about Jimenez. Nobody really knew what to expect from Jimenez today, but Indians fans seemed to fear the worst. He was all over the map in spring training, and was shaky after he plunked Troy Tulowitzki against Colorado last Sunday. With a five-game suspension looming (Jimenez announced that he will drop his appeal) and the ongoing drama with the Rockies, would he be able to put all of that behind him and help the Indians bounce back from their heartbreaking loss Thursday?
Jimenez looked sharp today, and despite the fact that he earned a no-decision in Cleveland's 7-4, 12-inning loss, he took a perfect game into the sixth inning, and a no-hitter into the seventh. From what I saw on the radar gun at the ballpark, he topped out at 93 mph and looked like he was throwing a lot of off-speed pitches. His command, a problem at times this spring, was sharp until the sixth inning. He was able to quiet the bat of Jose Bautista, which no Indians pitcher seemed able to do on Thursday (including Justin Masterson).
While I’m certainly not ready to declare last summer’s trade with Colorado a complete success yet, it has to make Indians fans feel a little bit better to see a strong opening performance from Jimenez. I expected to see more tension and excitement at today’s game as it reached the later innings. The closest I’ve ever been to witnessing a no-hitter was when Cliff Lee took one into the eighth inning against the Cardinals on June 14, 2009; on that night, you could just feel the electricity in the air at Progressive Field, as if something really special was taking place. Today, much of the crowd around me appeared to be disengaged, or Toronto fans. Nobody really seemed to fully grasp the performance they were seeing from Jimenez.
To be fair, most people with a rooting interest in the Indians were preoccupied with complaints about the Indians’ offense. The Tribe has now played 28 innings of baseball in just two games. In those 28 innings, they’ve scored eight runs, six of which have come via the home run. The Indians left just three runners on base on Saturday, two of which were left stranded in the 12th inning after Toronto had already gone ahead by four. While there were a number of missed opportunities on Thursday, they didn’t even have any opportunities to miss this afternoon. In their first two games they’ve had just 12 hits, and three of those came in the bottom of the 12th today. The “major” free agent signing this winter, Casey Kotchman, has started the season 0-for-12. He has yet to hit a ball out of the infield; a couple of his groundouts today didn’t even make it past the pitcher’s mound.
The “Bullpen Mafia” has shown some signs of weakness early in the season, with Chris Perez, Jairo Asencio, Vinnie Pestano, and Tony Sipp all responsible for surrendering runs in pivotal situations. With the offense as weak as it has looked these first two games, the Indians would probably still be playing Thursday’s game if the bullpen continued to hold the Toronto offense scoreless. Both Thursday and today, manager Manny Acta appeared slow to pull the trigger once Perez and Sipp got into trouble. Nobody was warming up, and nobody even tried to stall for time to get someone else up in the bullpen. When your team is struggling to score runs, a quick hook with a struggling bullpen pitcher may be the best form of action.
Even though the Indians have only played two games thus far, Masterson and Jimenez have been the bright spots in both. This offseason, fans were most worried about the starting pitching and the offense. Even though it’s far too soon to declare the starting pitching situation “fine,” I’ve seen enough from the offense to know that I’m concerned. Masterson went eight innings on Thursday, and Jimenez lasted seven today; you can’t ask for much more than that from your starting pitchers.
Now the offense needs to step up and prove that these two games were a fluke, and not the norm. Perhaps they just need to start a feud with Troy Tulowitzki and the Colorado Rockies. It seemed to work for Jimenez.
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Stephanie Liscio blogs about the Indians for the SweetSpot network at "It's Pronounced 'Lajaway'," and can be followed on Twitter at @stephanieliscio.