Nobody could expect every Major League Baseball player to be completely ready for the 2020 season to begin. No amount of preparing in your garage or playing MLB: The Show or whatever these guys did to prepare was enough to simulate a full spring training plus a few months of regular playing time.
The Indians batters — particularly some of the their biggest names — have a lot of rust to knock off.
On the mound, Mike Clevinger didn’t quite have the 17-strikeout game he wanted, but he turned in an excellent seven innings of work, striking out six and walking none. Back-to-back homers in the first inning were his only real blemish on the night, when Jorge Soler and Salvador Perez took a fastball and slider served up over the heart of the plate into the empty Progressive Field stands.
It’s worth noting that neither home run would have happened, the Indians probably would have won the game, and world hunger would be solved, if a correct strike three was called on Jorge Soler where he preeeetttttyyyyy clearly didn’t check his swing in time but the umpires insisted he did. Because they’re evil.
After that, though, Clevinger refocused, probably twirled his weird mustache, and got to work. He held the Royals to just two more hits from the second inning through the seventh, when he was eventually replaced with an equally effective Nick Wittgren. His velocity maxed out at 96.4 MPH, according to Baseball Savant, and his slider induced eight swinging strikes on the night.
Wittgren’s relief inning was the same as pretty much every Wittgren relief inning: Boring, but in the best way possible. I get the frustration of not bringing in Karinchak every time there is a relief opportunity, and using Wittgren twice in two days to start the season is odd, but the 29-year-old showed why Marlins fans still can’t believe he was let go for nothing. He’s pretty good.
Despite two innings of shutout baseball — encouragingly featuring only one walk — James Karinchak left with the loss on the night as the first Indians victim of MLB’s needless tinkering. In-between swearing at himself and biting his glove on the mound, Karinchak pumped 96 MPH and mixed in some of the most effortlessly dazzling curveballs I have ever seen. I don’t have the words to describe them other than their trajectory does not look like it matches up with his release angle, it’s the weirdest thing. Maybe that’s why they’re so good.
Unfortunately none of that mattered because the Royals were up first in extra innings and were able to bunt over the runner that was placed at second base by the benevolent hand of Rob Manfred, and then they sac fly’d him home. A single run that the Indians could not match, despite also receiving a free gift from Manfred in their extra half-inning.
That’s all of the pitching, so I guess I have to recap the offense now, huh? César Hernández got on base twice looking fundamentally sound as heck (but also lost and destroyed his own theory two games into the season). He was one of only four Indians batters to get a hit on the night — along with Bradley Zimmer, José Ramírez, and Francisco Lindor.
Despite all the shortcomings over nine-plus innings (including coming up empty with the bases loaded in the ninth), the offense was set up to give both Ramírez and Lindor a shot at a walk-off win with runners on first and second and one out. They both failed. Miserably.
It’s early, so take it as whatever, but the Royals had a very effective gameplan against Lindor and I hope every other team is too busy to watch tape of this afternoon’s game. This is a look at all the sliders thrown against Lindor today:
Now, here are Lindor’s swinging strikes, including two from the final at-bat of the game. All of which are also sliders:
Lindor did also have one of the most magnificent defensive plays you’ll ever see, but that gets a bit lost in the shuffle of actually losing to the Kansas City Royals in the year 2020.
Oh well. Get ‘em tomorrow.