Indians outfielders finally have their day: Walk-Off Thoughts

Ryan Lewis
rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com
Cleveland Indians' Jordan Luplow, right, celebrates with Domingo Santana after hitting a two-run home run against the Chicago White Sox during the fourth inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020.

Here are seven Walk-Off Thoughts after the Indians’ 7-1 win over the Chicago White Sox on Saturday, which improved their record to 9-7.

1. Sandy Alomar wanted to make sure Jordan Luplow was in the lineup on Saturday, despite his dreadful start to the season. Both Alomar and manager Terry Francona have said at different points that the Indians have to get Luplow going in order to ensure he can be a weapon against left-handed pitching. But, that doesn't mean only waiting for left-handers. The Indians have needed to get him some swings against right-handers, and even though Luplow hadn't registered a hit before Saturday, Alomar felt good about some of his at-bats. He thought Luplow was close to figuring it out.

"I just don’t want him to lose his confidence," Alomar said on a Zoom call prior to Saturday's game. "I want him to be the guy that we had last year. Sitting on the bench is not gonna do that. I need to put him out there."

2. A few hours later, Luplow stepped to the plate still hitless for the season in 21 at-bats. The 2020 season was a quarter of the way over, and he was still searching, as if he was lost in dark cave with no flashlight. And then, it happened. Luplow, facing White Sox reliever Drew Anderson, was given a 2-2 fastball right down the middle, and he belted it for a home run, more than two weeks of frustration leaving his body as he rounded the bases and headed toward the dugout.

"Like the entire world just came off my shoulders," Luplow said of how that trot around the bases felt. "It was great. It was nice seeing all those smiles in the dugout and how happy they were for me. That shows how genuine of guys they are and how happy they were for me to finally get off it."

3. Every hitter wants to get that first one out of the way, to show they're contributing. Francona and Alomar have both noted over the past few weeks how important it is to get Luplow going. A weakly-hit blooper would have been fine. Luplow got his money's worth after having to wait so long.

"I think to get that monkey off your back, you try to get that first one," Alomar said. "Sometimes you want a guy to hit a blooper, but a homer? I'll take that. He got more [consistent] at-bats this past week, and he was putting good swings, getting deep into counts, and today it paid off for him."

4. Hitters going through a slump for a few weeks is nothing new. But, in a 60-game season in which every game matters a bit more, and considering it was the beginning of the season and Luplow had to stare at the 0-for-whatever up on the scoreboard every day, it certainly didn't make it any less frustrating. The Indians hope Saturday is the day that their patience pays off.

"There’s definitely, you know, some pressure [you put] on yourself," Luplow said. "My old college coach used to tell me, if you haven’t gone 0-for-20, 0-for-30, you haven’t played the game long enough. So, I mean, this isn’t unfamiliar territory. I’m sure the majority of baseball guys have been through something like this. It’s just nice to have the support from the team and the coaches. Just grinding every day, saying ‘You’re real close. You’re getting there. You’re getting there.’ It’s tough, but I got through it."

5. After mostly relying on the 1-2-3 hitters in the lineup, Saturday's 7-1 win was powered by those in the 4-5-6-7 spots. Carlos Santana drew three walks, further exemplifying his extreme difference between average and on-base percentage. Santana has always given a lineup more value than his average would suggest, but it's never been this severe. He now owns a putrid .174 average but a robust .424 on-base percentage. Franmil Reyes said Santana's ability to work the strike zone is "impressive" and added that "I've never seen that in my life." Reyes, hitting in the No. 5 spot, belted his second home run of the season, a two-run shot, just before Luplow hit his own home run. Later on, Domingo Santana launched his first home run as a member of the Indians, one that traveled an estimated 454 feet according to Baseball Savant.

"More quiet, less rotational," Alomar said of Reyes' swing recently. "He's using his hands more. He's not collapsing on his backside like he was before. When you collapse on your backside, your shoulders are pointing up. Everything middle away, you can't hit it. And also up and in, you can't hit it. So you should keep those shoulders square and let your hands do the work. He's a strong guy."

6. The Indians have been waiting — patiently, as that is how they often operate, even in this 60-game season — for several hitters in the lineup to come around. The dam was broken on Thursday night, but it then followed one of the more frustrating offensive nights on Friday, when several scoring chances were wasted. The Indians have yet to find anything consistent with the lineup while the pitching staff has been baseball's best.

"We all know the bats are going to come around once one dude gets hot, everybody gets hot," Plesac said on a Zoom call. "You just continue to do what we can do and what we can control and do my job."

7. Plesac pitched six scoreless innings to go with five hits allowed, one walk and seven strikeouts. It's the first time he's ever strung together three consecutive quality starts, and two of them have been scoreless. The Indians' pitching staff has now allowed four or fewer runs in all 16 games this season, the second-longest stretch in MLB history behind only the 1981 Oakland Athletics, who accomplished the feat in their first 21 games to start the season, according to Elias. Shane Bieber is firmly in the Cy Young conversation. Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco and Aaron Civale have all been strong, and Plesac, as the No. 5, now has a 1.29 ERA.

"I think once we get rolling here, knowing that we only have to put up a couple [runs], it should relax everybody," Luplow said. "Once everyone gets in a rhythm, gets some more ABs and gets in the swing of things, we’re gonna be a scary team. It’s gonna be fun down the stretch."

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read more about the Indians at www.beaconjournal.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.