CLEVELAND -- The Indians have made it clear that they want to give their young talent a chance to help their team win, and a large part of that revolves around Oscar Mercado. The last thing the Tribe needs is for the 24-year-old outfielder to be sidelined with an injury, and they were lucky that Mercado was able to walk away from a scary collision in Thursday's 7-2 loss to the Rays.
In the top of the sixth inning, Tampa Bay outfielder Kevin Kiermaier served a fly ball into left-center field. Both Mercado and center fielder Leonys Martin were tracking the ball, and Mercado dove head-first as Martin began to slide, resulting in the two crashing together.
“Leonys’ knee jammed into Oscar’s pelvic area and obviously that jarred him pretty good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I went and looked at it. We’re probably lucky one guy dove and one guy slid. If they both dove, that might have really been bad.”
“It couldn’t have been placed any [more] perfectly,” Mercado said. “We both went at it full speed, and it’s just one of those things where it’s tough to call because you don’t know if you’re going to get to it and it’s just, like, a last-minute ... We both reacted and dove. Unfortunately, it resulted in that, but it’s a learning experience.”
Martin’s leg drove into Mercado’s hip and the rookie collapsed to the ground, unable to get back up to chase after the ball. Martin got up to his feet, looked for the ball and when he saw shortstop Francisco Lindor hustling into left field to field it, he dropped down to the ground in pain. Kiermaier rounded the bases for an inside-the-park home run to put the Rays up, 6-0.
“I knew I hit him pretty good. I knew it,” Martin said. “And I was trying to get up and find the baseball. But I knew I hit him pretty good.”
"I'm just glad they're both OK, to be honest with you,” Indians starting pitcher Adam Plutko said. “At that point, it's less about the game and baseball and more about making sure your teammates are all right. So the fact they're both OK is the best thing. It's one of those situations where everybody else kind of saw it from a mile away. It was a train wreck. Luckily, like I said, everybody's good."
Although Martin was also shaken up, he was able to get up after a few moments while Mercado was being examined by the Indians' training staff. At that point, both players remained in the game. At the end of the half inning, the club examined Mercado and, although he felt pain, he talked his way into temporarily staying in the game.
Mercado was later pulled with a right hip contusion after hitting a single during the bottom of the sixth and advancing to second on Jason Kipnis’ single to left during the ensuing at-bat. Mike Freeman came in to pinch-run for Mercado. It’s likely that the Indians will want a second look at Mercado when he comes in on Friday before determining if he’ll be inserted into the starting lineup.
“He wanted to stay in, and when he got on base, he wasn’t running very well. It’s just hard,” Francona said. “I appreciated it, but I think it was the right thing to do.”
“It was pretty painful,” Mercado said. “I pretty much was, like, ‘No, I’m staying in.’ But just trying to run the bases, it was pretty tender, so it’s a better idea to just come out and I’ll get some treatment on it.”
Offense fails to pick up steam
Mercado’s single was one of just four hits the Indians manufactured Thursday. Although Jordan Luplow knocked in a pair of runs on a bases-loaded double, Plutko put the Tribe in a deficit they couldn’t make up, allowing career highs in runs (seven) and hits (12), with no walks and three strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings.
“You know man, it’s been like that,” Martin said of fighting back from early deficits. “But as a team, we need to find a way to win ball games. It’s not about the pitchers. It’s about all, hitters and pitchers. We need to combine that and put everything to get the win, you know? They take the lead early, but we didn’t find a way to score runs. We are a team and need to stay together. That’s the only way we’re gonna get wins.”