Temporarily without its manager, Cleveland is moving forward without its lead hitting coach, too. Because of a personal health condition and family concerns with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ty Van Burkleo will sit out the remainder of the 2020 season.
Van Burkleo came to the decision after the Tribe’s first road trip of the regular season, and he had the full support of the Cleveland front office.
“I think when you get in the environment, you see all of the protocols and how wearing that can be, especially on the road,” Tribe president Chris Antonetti said Friday. “If we were just playing home games ... it may have been possible for Ty to feel comfortable staying. I can understand why being on the road would heighten Ty’s concerns.”
Van Burkleo’s vacancy on the coaching staff was filled by Alex Eckelman, the organization’s hitting director. Assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez assumed the lead hitting coach duties and will work in concert with Eckelman and hitting analytics instructor Justin Toole to divvy up responsibilities.
Even after a 13-run outburst against the Reds on Thursday, Cleveland entered the weekend with the lowest team average (.192) and OPS (.586) in the American League. When a lineup with high expectations struggles to that degree, the hitting coach is often a target a criticism. But Antonetti made it clear that Van Burkleo remains the club’s hitting coach for 2021 and that he will continue to contribute remotely.
With manager Terry Francona absent from the team all week (and through this weekend’s series in Chicago) due to a gastrointestinal issue and bench coach Brad Mills already electing not to participate prior to the season, the Tribe has had to juggle and jumble its coaching staff. Sandy Alomar Jr. has filled in for Francona, coaching assistant Kyle Hudson has filled in for Alomar at first base, third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh was pulled off the field to be Alomar’s temporary bench coach and Tony Mansolino was summoned from the alternate site to fill in for Sarbaugh at third.
“Everybody’s prepared to do whatever it takes,” Alomar said. “Our team is very good at collaborating.”
Karinchak not wild enough for Charlie Sheen
When James Karinchak opted to don No. 99 as a reliever in Cleveland, he had to know the comparisons to Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn were coming. What was less certain was that Vaughn -- or, more correctly, actor Charlie Sheen -- would be making them, too.
But sure enough, Sheen, who is a big Reds fan, texted with Cincinnati broadcaster Jim Day during the Ohio Cup series this week to lament Karinchak’s heavy use of the curveball when Karinchak faced Nicholas Castellanos in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game.
“Not one fastball!” Sheen texted. “Giving the Indians’ No. 99 a bad name!”
Karinchak seemed aware of the mention and said he had “no regrets” about going all-curveball in that particular at-bat, as he struck out Castellanos looking (he also, appropriately, uncorked a wild pitch). The next night, Castellanos singled off Karinchak’s four-seamer in the eighth.
So you’ll continue to see Karinchak, who has shown true closer potential in the early going of the 2020 season, break out the breaking ball, which he has used 46.2 percent of the time. And for now, you won’t see him wear Vaughn’s signature specs.
“I don’t know if I could wear that,” Karinchak said. “We’ll see, though.”
Minutiae of the day
• With the Cubs-Cardinals weekend series postponed as part of COVID-19 protocols, the Indians' series finale against the White Sox has been moved to 7 p.m. ET to air on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball."
• Alomar had high praise for the White Sox young and burgeoning lineup. “They really remind me of the Indians in the ‘90s,” he said. “It’s a team that’s going to be a good force to reckon with for a long period of time.”