CLEVELAND -- The Indians lost the argument and eventually the game. A controversial call in the seventh inning of Saturday's 7-4 defeat against the Blue Jays proved to be a turning point that does not show up within the box score.
With a runner on first base in the seventh, Cleveland designated hitter Travis Hafner sent a pitch from Toronto right-hander Brandon Morrow slicing down the left-field line. The baseball appeared to bounce off the chalk line, but third-base umpire Tim Welke ruled the ball foul. Hafner went on to strike out and the Tribe dropped the game in 12 innings.
"It was a fair ball," Indians third-base coach Steve Smith said. "That changed the game. Instead of having runners on second and third base with no outs, we went back to a runner on first with one out. That was a fair ball."
Smith argued the call with Welke behind third base, pointing to where the baseball appeared to strike the line. Indians manager Manny Acta also headed out of the dugout to discuss the play, but the umpires were not about to overturn the decision.
Acta said his point was that the baseball, coming off a left-handed hitter's bat, must have sliced around the base in fair ground before hitting the ground. That was not the way Welke saw things.
"There was a mark there where the ball hit," Acta said. "It looked like it was right off the right side of the line. Our argument wasn't so much where the ball landed, but we felt that it was almost impossible for the ball to land there and not go over the bag. Tim just told us that the ball was pretty straight coming off of Hafner's bat."
Hafner disagreed with that ruling.
"I thought it was over the base," Hafner said. "But I didn't look at the replay during the game, because I was too mad. I thought it hooked around the base fair."
Ubaldo strikes huge vote of confidence
CLEVELAND -- There were mechanical issues that the Indians wanted Ubaldo Jimenez to work on throughout Spring Training, but the ballclub has reached a point where it simply wants to see the right-hander consistently throwing strikes.
During Saturday's 7-4, 12-inning loss to the Blue Jays, Jimenez was sharp over seven innings, putting a subpar Spring Training behind him. During the spring, the righty concentrated on being more consistent with the stride at the onset of his delivery. Indians manager Manny Acta said the team is not worrying too much about the pitcher's mechanics right now.
"We felt that he did make some progress," Acta said. "But that's something that we're not going to be banging on him every five days. It's tough. It's called muscle memory. Once you've done something a zillion times, you just can't grab a guy and say that you've got to do this with your arm or you've got to do that."
Jimenez posted a 7.43 ERA in Cactus League play this spring after turning in a string of inconsistent outings after being traded to the Indians from the Rockies last July. Throughout his spring struggles, Jimenez insisted to both Acta and the media that he would be fine once the regular season arrived.
That certainly looked to be the case on Saturday, when he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Toronto and limited its lineup to two runs on one hit.
"I asked him a couple of times and he said, 'I'm going to be fine,'" Acta said of their conversations in Spring Training. "He said, 'This is Spring Training. I'm just working on some stuff. I'm going to be OK.' No one is saying that every five days he's going to pitch like [he did Saturday], but he felt pretty confident that he was going to be OK. He gave us some peace of mind [Saturday]."
Patience key early on for Indians hitters
CLEVELAND -- Two games is not enough to accurately evaluate an offense. That is especially true for the type of games the Indians have engaged in to this point -- extra-inning marathons that toy with a hitter's typical approach.
There is no denying that Cleveland's lineup has labored through the season's first two contests against the Blue Jays, but Indians hitting coach Bruce Fields is not getting overly worked up about the situation just yet. On Sunday morning, Fields reminded that playing extra-inning games can affect how a batter operates.
"Right now, what we're seeing," Fields said, "because of the games being the way they have gone, guys are getting in situations where they want to be that guy and get that big hit, and have that great at-bat. I think we're trying to do a little bit too much. As a result, we're kind of pulling off pitches a little bit too soon and we miss hitting them. I think that's what's going on."
Two games in, Cleveland and Toronto have played 28 innings, marking the first time since 1969 that any teams needed at least 12 innings to decide each of the first two contests of a campaign. The Indians lost both games by a count of 7-4, dropping the Opening Day tilt in 16 innings and Saturday's game in 12 frames.
Entering Sunday's finale of the three-game set, the Indians were hitting .135 as a team and the Blue Jays held a .180 average. Within the Tribe's subpar team average, Fields said there are plenty of positive signs. He pointed to the fact that Cleveland's hitters have drawn 14 walks (tied for the most in the American League) against 17 strikeouts.
On the other side, Toronto has 24 strikeouts and 11 walks.
"You can see it on both sides," Fields said of the offensive struggles. "Both sides are doing the same thing. Overall, I've told the guys, I like our at-bats. I like our approaches. They're not chasing a lot out of the strike zone. We're not striking out a lot and that's a great sign. To me, that's a great indicator that we are heading in the right direction. It's just a matter of settling in and settling down, having a little bit more controlled swings."
Quote to note
"As you see, we're getting more walks. So it's recognizing strikes and balls out of the hand, having strike recognition a little bit sooner, focusing on that, and there are other little things. Some guys will choke up, shorten their swings. We just need to be more efficient with it and be more aware of what we're trying to do in those situations." -- Indians hitting coach Bruce Fields, on trying to improve the lineup's approach with two strikes.
According to STATS, Inc., the Indians opened the 2012 season with the eighth-youngest 25-man roster (average age of 28.67) in the Major Leagues. Cleveland's roster was the fourth-youngest in the American League, trailing Kansas City (27.42), Seattle (28.33) and Oakland (28.36).
Through their first two games, Indians starting pitchers (Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez) have limited opposing hitters to a .063 (3-for-48) average. That ranked first in the Major Leagues. Philadelphia's rotation ranked second with a .091 (4-for-44) average against, entering Sunday.
The Indians began this season with an 0-2 record, marking the third time (2009, '11, '12) in the past four years that the team has dropped its first two games of a season. A year ago, Cleveland won eight games in a row and 14 straight games at home after starting 0-2.
Through the first two games of the season, Indians first baseman Casey Kotchman was 0-for-12 with eight groundouts. In fact, Kotchman had yet to hit a ball beyond the infield.