Indians scratch out win after facing another lefty

April 20th, 2016

CLEVELAND -- A few hours before the Indians' game against the Mariners on Tuesday, a handful of players took early batting practice on the field against a pitching machine. It was sending a stream of sliders tailing inside on the right-handed hitters, mimicking the movement from a left-handed pitcher.

These days, Cleveland is doing everything it can to counter the unusual string of southpaws it has faced out of the gates this season. This time around it was Mariners lefty Wade Miley, though the Indians piled up the hits early and drew some well-timed walks to shake off some recent woes with a 3-2 victory at Progressive Field.

Asked if it has been tough to see so many lefties of late, Mike Napoli cracked a smile.

"It's nice for me," the right-handed-hitting Napoli said.

Seeing a lot of left-handers is nothing new for the Indians. Last year, Cleveland had 2,097 plate appearances against lefties, representing the second-highest total in the Majors. The Indians, who have featured a lineup with a lot of lefty hitters in recent seasons, went 24-31 against southpaw starters in 2015. Over the winter, the team targeted some right-handed bats to help the situation.

Napoli was signed to be an everyday first baseman, but the Indians especially liked his career track record against left-handers. During the offseason, Cleveland also added Marlon Byrd, Collin Cowgill, Rajai Davis and Juan Uribe, in part, to help improve the production against lefties.

What the Indians did not predict was seeing seven left-handed starters through their first 11 games.

"I felt like last year, teams were trying to manipulate their rotations so we could face some lefties," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "This year, we're actually positioned a little bit different where we're OK. It's just the luck of the draw. I haven't seen anybody move their rotation or anything. ... It's about the most I've ever seen, though. That's for sure."

Heading into Tuesday's meeting with Miley, though, the Indians were not faring well against lefties.

As a team, Cleveland carried a .200 average and a .551 OPS in 170 at-bats against left-handers through the first 10 games. Byrd (1-for-14), Cowgill (0-for-7), Davis (3-for-22) and Uribe (1-for-15) had combined for a .086 average within that showing. The left-handed-hitting Jason Kipnis (.182) and switch-hitting Carlos Santana (.111) were struggling as well.

Francona is not reading too much into their collective showing just yet.

"With small sample sizes, averages go up and down so fast the first three weeks of the season," Francona said. "That's why you look for the quality of their at-bat and you know, once they get to the 100 at-bat mark, things sort of tend to plateau or even out a little bit."

Cleveland corrected the issue a little on Tuesday night.

Against Miley, the Indians went 9-for-17 with two doubles and four walks, chasing him from the contest after 3 2/3 innings. Francisco Lindor and Napoli connected for consecutive two-out doubles in the third inning to give Cleveland a 1-0 advantage. In the fourth, Miley struggled mightily with his command, issuing four walks -- his first free passes of the season -- including two with the bases loaded.

"It was nice to see them get patient enough where, bases loaded, we worked a couple of walks," Francona said. "We swung the bats good early. We hit into three double plays in the first three innings, which doesn't help, but I'll take having the chances. I'd rather have chances than not."

Now, over the next couple games, Cleveland will have a chance to see some right-handed pitchers.

Will that be good for the Tribe?

"We'll see," Francona said with a laugh. "I'll let you know after we face them."