Cleveland eyes return of key bats after loss

July 3rd, 2021

CLEVELAND -- Friday night began with the Indians having to scratch third baseman José Ramírez from the starting lineup 40 minutes prior to first pitch, and the momentum already started to shift in the Astros’ favor.

The Indians had their chances, loaded the bases on three separate occasions, but the offense failed to push runs across the plate in any of the instances, resulting in a 6-3 loss to the Astros at Progressive Field. It marked Cleveland’s fourth consecutive loss, matching its longest losing streak of the season. The last time it happened was from May 14-17.

“That’s a hard way to play against the Astros,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “They didn’t give in. We stranded a ton of runners, and that’s not what we’re shooting for, but they played. That’s a hard way to play, but they kept fighting.”

The fight was there, but the results were not. And it didn’t help that the team had to stay away from Ramírez and Eddie Rosario in some moments that could’ve called for a pinch-hitter. However, while they were both sidelined for Friday’s game, the one sliver of good news the club can walk away with after the tough loss is that those two bats -- or at least one -- shouldn’t be absent from the lineup for too long.

“Eddie’s doing significantly better,” Francona said. “He’s gonna come out tomorrow and we’ll move him around. If that goes well, as we hope, he’ll hit. If that goes well, then we’ll see what the next step is.

“José dove for that ball [on Thursday] that [Michael Brantley] hit down the left-field line. He has a pretty good bone bruise, so when he gets to [the] extension in his swing, it was kind of grabbing at him a little bit. He got treatment pretty much most of the night. We’ll see how he shows up tomorrow.”

Having those two in the lineup doesn’t guarantee that the Indians could’ve avoided stranding 15 men on base -- their highest total since July 25, 2019 in Kansas City (17). But having that extra depth surely wouldn’t have hurt. The Indians have left the bases loaded five times this series, including twice in the series opener.

On Thursday, it was Oscar Mercado and Ernie Clement who fell victim to inning-ending strikeouts and flyouts, respectively, while Clement, Amed Rosario and Harold Ramirez were the ones who recorded the final outs to leave the bases loaded on Friday -- a night in which Ramirez was in the five-spot and Clement was penciled in behind him at sixth in the order.

On a night that both Ramírez (who usually is in the third slot) and Rosario (who typically bats fourth or fifth) are both healthy and in the lineup, that suddenly causes the offense’s depth to grow much deeper, having any combination of Rosario, Franmil Reyes and Bobby Bradley in the fourth through sixth spots in the order.

Instead, the Indians are hoping that they won’t need to lose Ramírez for an extended period of time after having to overcome a plethora of injuries to date. The team had somehow found a way to keep its head above water despite these hurdles, but it may be running out of ways to avoid trouble.

The club has now lost six of its last seven contests and has hit a mere .120 with runners in scoring position during that stretch. And until the rotation can get back to full strength (or something close to full strength), the offense will have to be responsible for doing the heavy lifting. And getting Reyes, who logged a three-hit night, back on Friday, was at least a step in the right direction.

For now, the team will continue to choose to look at the positives each night, even with games where it’s difficult to do so. And what will continue to remain the focus is the fight that they try to display day after day, which they hope is enough to help them get back on track before the All-Star break quickly comes next week.

“Unfortunately, the outcome of the game didn't end up what we wanted it to be,” Mercado said. “But even when I wasn't a part of the team, watching the games, you could tell how much fight the guys had, and it kind of seemed like the game wasn't over until the last out. So seeing it firsthand now, it's special. It's a good group of guys that just never give up.”

“[If] they keep fighting,” Francona said, “we’ll keep fighting right along with them.”