Indians encourage Mercado not to play it safe

July 13th, 2019

CLEVELAND – The momentum turned in Minnesota’s favor in Friday’s series opener in the seventh inning.

With a two-run lead, the Indians thought they recorded the third out of the inning on a play by , but a replay review kept the inning alive, pushing a run across. It also allowed Jorge Polanco to serve his go-ahead double into center field, but the way played the ball grabbed a lot of people’s attention.

“It looked to me like right off the bat he got his feet a little bit tangled up,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “And then he turned the wrong way, and after that it was too late.”

The miscue made it difficult to judge whether Mercado would’ve had a decent chance at making the play. According to Statcast, it wouldn’t have been so simple. The fly ball had a catch probability of 55 percent, based on distance and opportunity time. From the offensive perspective, balls with that exit velocity (99.1 mph) and launch angle (21 degrees) have an expected batting average of .420.

Should he have played it safe in that situation with runners on first and second by playing deeper to not allow anything to go over his head? Francona thinks not.

“We don't want him to play so safe where he takes two steps back and the ball falls in front,” Francona said. “With more experience, he's got the tools to be a really good, not just center fielder, but outfielder.

“I just think with experience, things like that won't happen as often. Nobody is going to be perfect. We try to stay on him without beating him up. I thought [bench coach Brad Mills] went and talked to him, I saw him talking to him afterwards. Millsie probably does it better than anybody, about having a way of explaining things without beating somebody over the head. Because that's not what we want to do, and that's not how we feel. But we do want guys to get better. And I've said it a lot, and I mean it, he's a really conscientious kid. He's doing OK. He's holding his own.”

Naquin could be available

In Thursday’s optional team workout, outfielder felt some discomfort in his back and further tweaked the area getting out of his car later that evening. Francona said he didn’t want to rush Naquin back in the lineup, keeping him out of Friday’s game, but said he could be available off the bench on Saturday.

“The idea is he's going to go out and take [batting practice] today,” Francona said. “…It's one of those [things] where, if you see him in the game, you know he's feeling pretty good. I don't want to undo something that shouldn't be lingering and make it linger out of impatience.”

Plutko to start Monday

has spent the last few weeks in the Indians' bullpen, but the right-hander has kept himself stretched out in order to be ready for when he is needed back in the starting rotation. Plutko made one relief appearance, but it lasted 4 2/3 innings and he tossed 93 pitches, keeping him on a starter’s pace. On Sunday in Cincinnati, he tossed four simulated innings to stay prepared.

“What he did was, the last day in Cincinnati, he simulated four innings when we were hitting,” Francona said. “…So he simulated four innings that day and then he went home and he simulated 90 pitches. He's done a really good job of trying to stay ready. And then he threw that long [outing], 90-something pitches, in Baltimore. So he actually should be OK.”

This date in Indians history

1963: Early Wynn won his 300th career game, tossing five innings against Kansas City in a 7-4 win. Wynn won 164 games in a Cleveland uniform.