Guardians produce resilient comeback, but Astros have last word

May 1st, 2024

HOUSTON -- The Guardians lived through a bad wave of deja vu on Tuesday night.

They had three straight days of free baseball, a trio of tough performances for Hunter Gaddis and two consecutive games resulting in disappointment after the bottom of the 10th. This time, Gaddis was on the rubber for the final frame and gave up a walk-off two-run homer to pinch-hitter Victor Caratini to hand the Guardians a 10-9 loss to the Astros at Minute Maid Park.

It was a night that encompassed so much of the theme of the Guardians’ first month of the season: The offense was gritty, surprising and resilient, coming back from a five-run deficit on Andrés Giménez and Estevan Florial homers in the sixth inning. The bullpen took on a hefty workload and was excellent except for one mistake that cost Cleveland the game. And the starting pitcher was only able to eat up four innings before his departure.

Carlos Carrasco said last time that he wanted to stop trying to be too perfect on the rubber. He did that through the first two frames with a better fastball than he’s shown all year. When it got to the third, he bounced back from a one-out walk with a strikeout. But then, he admitted to trying to be too perfect again and a single and three-run homer knotted the game.

“I just missed a couple spots, so they got me,” Carrasco said.

When Carrasco came back for the fourth, the first four batters reached base before Jon Singleton hit a three-run homer that put the Astros up five runs.

“Again, just had some command issues and got hit around a little bit,” Guardians manager Stephen Vogt said. “Had a really good fastball tonight. … But again, just had traffic the whole time and they cashed him in tonight.”

Carrasco left the game after throwing 76 pitches in four innings. Given the way the last two innings had gone, plus the struggles that Carrasco has faced all year, it was time to turn the ball over to the bullpen. But once again, there were a lot of innings for the ‘pen to fill.

The Guardians have only had five games of their 29 in which their starting pitcher tossed at least six innings. Entering the night, four of Cleveland’s relievers -- Scott Barlow, Nick Sandlin, Emmanuel Clase and Gaddis -- all were tied for the second most appearances (15) in the Majors (behind Oakland’s T.J. McFarland, 16). Only one other team had more than one reliever make at least 15 appearances entering play on Tuesday (Padres, three).

All this means is that the Guardians have had to lean heavily on their relievers due to a lack of depth from their starters. And because the team has won 19 games, it means the most reliable arms are pitching more often in high-leverage, stressful innings. They are bound to make some mistakes.

That’s the situation Gaddis finds himself in. He’s now pitched in three straight contests (granted, Monday was a team off-day) in high-leverage spots against dangerous offenses in his first season as a full-time reliever. He’s earned these big spots, considering he started the year by tossing 12 1/3 scoreless frames and had a stretch in which he made eight straight appearances without allowing a hit. But in his last three outings, his dominance came to an end.

On Saturday, Gaddis gave up two runs to allow the Braves to tie the game. On Sunday, he again gave up two runs to let the Braves tie the game. On Tuesday, he got two outs in the 10th before giving up the walk-off homer to end the game.

“It’s been three tough ones in a row for Gaddy, but he’s resilient,” Vogt said. “He’s still our guy that we’re going to keep going to.”

Clase, Sandlin and Barlow each pitched on Tuesday, too, which means all four of Cleveland’s main relievers have now made 16 appearances. Clase pitched the ninth, but because his workload has been so high, Vogt didn’t want to have him also pitch the 10th. The team doesn’t have another day off until May 16, so it has to be extra careful with its usage right now.

Vogt has done as good of a job as he could’ve this year by trying to space all of his relievers out while also winning games. But if the Guardians can’t get more innings from their rotation, this will be a difficult puzzle to piece together.