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Cleveland Indians blow early four-run lead, eventually loses in walkoff fashion

Danny Salazar picked a bad time to have his worst start of the season.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals
Danny Salazar pitched poorly tonight when the Indians needed just mediocre
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The box score will show that Cody Allen is credited with the loss tonight. He was the one who gave up the winning hit in the 9th inning, after walking two batters to load the bases. But had Danny Salazar been just mediocre, the Indians probably don’t even need to send Allen to the mound in the 9th, never mind in a tie game.

The trouble started from the beginning of the game. The Indians staked Salazar to a 2-0 lead thanks to a Jason Kipnis two-run double, but that lead evaporated quickly, for Salazar allowed the first two batters that he faced to reached, then served up a fastball right in Jose Bautista’s happy zone. 3-2 Jays.

We’ve been talking about fastballs in bad spots a lot recently, and tonight Salazar continued that trend. He was unable to throw his fastball down in the zone, and often missed the strike zone altogether. This isn’t something new for Salazar, as he’s had those kinds of stretches throughout his 2017 starts, especially at the beginning of games. But tonight he couldn’t find his groove, and even after the Indians responded with a four-run third inning, he couldn’t keep Toronto off the board. Keep in mind that the lineup Salazar faced tonight didn’t have Josh Donaldson, or Troy Tulowitzki, or Russell Martin, or Kendrys Morales. Salazar was facing the equivalent of a Spring Training split-squad lineup, and even with that added margin of error, he couldn’t find the zone. As a representative sample, here’s the four pitches he threw to Jose Bautista in the third inning, when he had a four-run lead to work with:

With an off day tomorrow, Terry Francona decided he would try to finish the last 6+ innings of the game with his bullpen, pulling Salazar with two outs in the third inning. The Indians still had a lead, but now it was 7-5.

Francona not only had to worry about his pitching staff, but also about his position players. Both Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley were scratches, Chisenhall with a bruised finger and Brantley with a sprained ankle. Both players could appear in the game, but it would be preferable to keep both out of the contest. So when Abe Almonte had to leave the game with a shoulder injury, Francona turned to Michael Martinez instead of Chisenhall. But even then, events forced his hand, for Yandy Diaz, who was in left field, made two bad misplays on foul balls, and would be replaced by Chisenhall later in the game. And if that wasn’t enough, Yan Gomes would also leave in the third inning due to an illness. So three innings into the game, the Indians were leading 7-5, Danny Salazar was out of the game, and there were no completely healthy position players left on the bench.

Dan Otero got out of the third inning, but would give up a tying home run to LGFT Ezequiel Carrera in the fourth inning. Otero had thrown over 30 pitches when he gave up that home run, and in a normal situation would have already left the game.

Amazingly, that’s where the score would stay until the bottom of the ninth. Toronto, who had also gone to their bullpen in the third inning, held the Cleveland bats silent for the rest of the game, so tonight it was the other team’s bullpen that was better than ours.

Closer Cody Allen entered the ninth in a tie game, something out of the ordinary for a road team, but I think Francona was using him because he knew there was an off-day tomorrow. The two other options were Andrew Miller (who had pitched yesterday) and Zach McAllister (who had thrown two innings on Monday). Had Allen had a quick ninth inning, he may have gone out for the tenth, but as things worked out, the tenth inning was sadly unnecessary. Allen struggled to find the strike zone, and unlike in Detroit, he didn’t get a called strike to end the inning. He walked Justin Smoak and Steve Pearce to load the bases with two outs, then Ryan Goins jumped on Allen’s first offering, pulling it down the line for a game-winning hit.

So what’s the takeaway from this dud?

  • Danny Salazar had no idea where his pitches were going, unfortunately reminiscent of Trevor Bauer’s game against Detroit. The Indians need both pitchers to at the very least give them innings, but so far in 2017 that hasn’t happened. Mickey Callaway has his work cut out for him.
  • Yandy Diaz is probably headed back to the minors if Michael Brantley is ready to go on Friday. He looked very awkward tonight in the outfield, and while that could be because of an unfamiliar park, he wasn’t going to get much playing time there anyway. Diaz also looked like a different hitter at the plate compared his early-season stint, and by different I mean worse. He had several poor swings tonight, especially his final at-bat in the fifth. He just needs AAA reps, both at the plate and in the outfield.
  • Jason Kipnis looks to be coming out of his early-season doldrums. He was a key part of both the first and third-inning rallies. Brandon Guyer drove in three of the four runs in the third inning on a double off a right-handed pitcher. He still hasn’t drawn a walk, but he’s been hit by four pitches. That has to be some sort of record, right?