SEATTLE -- There is an adjustment period for each bullpen around baseball at the outset of every season. That is especially the case this year for the Indians, who are working to figure out the alignment for the middle innings.On Sunday at Safeco Field, the Tribe's new-look bullpen hit a
SEATTLE -- There is an adjustment period for each bullpen around baseball at the outset of every season. That is especially the case this year for the Indians, who are working to figure out the alignment for the middle innings.
On Sunday at Safeco Field, the Tribe's new-look bullpen hit a snag in the form of a three-run seventh inning, providing the difference in a 5-4 loss to the Mariners. Dan Otero and Tyler Olson each surrendered home runs in the decisive frame, canceling out the impact of a two-homer game from slugger Edwin Encarnacion.
"It'll take care of itself," Otero said of the team's relief roles. "Even in the last couple years, usually in the first month of the season, you get a feel for how you're being used and stuff like that. But, that had no effect on anything that happened today or this series, I don't think.
"We'll settle in at some point. Until it does, we've just got to be ready to pitch."
The biggest adjustment for the Indians right now is the absence of long-time setup man Bryan Shaw, who left via free agency for the Rockies. Tribe manager Terry Francona is planning on divvying up what would have been Shaw's innings among relievers like Otero, Olson, Nicholas Goody and Zach McAllister.
In Saturday's 6-5 win over the Mariners, McAllister logged one shutout inning to successfully bridge the gap to relief ace Andrew Miller and closer Cody Allen. On Sunday, following a rocky five-inning outing from starter Trevor Bauer, Francona called upon Otero with the score caught in a 2-2 deadlock in the sixth.
Otero got through his first inning of work unscathed, but then yielded a go-ahead home run to Dee Gordon to open the seventh. Three batters later, the left-handed Olson gave up a two-run shot to Mitch Haniger that pushed Seattle out front, 5-2.
"We're trying to figure out the innings to get to Andrew and Cody," Francona said. "O.T. came in the first inning really well and we wanted to [have Olson enter to face Robinson] Cano. And Gordon, he's not known for that, but he got every bit of it, and it hurt us."
Bauer walked away with a no-decision after allowing two runs on five hits in five innings, in which he struck out seven, walked three, hit a batter and piled up 101 pitches. Both runs came in the fifth via three doubles, including one off the bat of Kyle Seager that eluded the glove of first baseman Yonder Alonso to tie the game, 2-2.
"I'm not too excited right now since we lost," Bauer said. "It'll be good to look at the numbers and see what everything looked like. My adrenaline was good and my velo was good, so I was happy about that. I can't put as many people on base, it killed my pitch count."
And it forced the Indians bullpen into duty earlier than preferred.
"We have confidence in all the guys down there," Bauer said. "They're going to give up runs, so it's easy to look at it and say, 'Oh, it's the first game and this guy that or that guy this or whatever.' But, wait a month or two or three and everyone is going to get to their level and we're going to have a really good bullpen."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Tough hop costs Tribe: With runners on first and second with two outs in the fifth inning, Bauer got the result he wanted. Seager pulled a pitch up the first-base line for what looked like an inning-ending groundout. Per Statcast™, that particular ball in play had a 9-percent hit probability, but it resulted in a game-changing double. The baseball struck something in the infield and shot into the air over Alonso, who stabbed at the ball, but could not corral it. Jean Segura scored from second and Seager wound up with an unlikely double.
"Yonder said that it hit right in the hole that the runner on first was digging out to get a foothold," Bauer said. "It hit right in it and shot up. You can tell live, you can tell on TV that it just took a really awkward, weird bounce. Obviously, it cost a run and eight pitches and that was the end of the outing for me."
Edwin trots twice: Francona got Encarnacion more at-bats this spring (50 in Cactus League play '18, compared to 45 in '17) in an effort to get the slugger's offense going. The designated hitter only hit .180 (.541 OPS) in Spring Training, but is off to a promising start. On Sunday, Encarnacion launched a homer against Mariners starter Mike Leake in the fourth and later added a two-run rocket shot off reliever Juan Nicasio in the eighth. Encarnacion hit .200 with four homers total in April last season.
"That bodes well for us," Francona said of Encarnacion's performance. "Because last year was really tough sledding for him for a while. To see him that aggressive early on is really good."
"I thought the ball was coming out really well. He just didn't command the best. There was a lot of traffic, a lot of deep counts. But the ball's coming out really well, so that's good. First outing. You're at 100 after five. And it's not just that, you're showing good hitters a lot of pitches." -- Francona, on Bauer's outing
"I don't feel anything. When you hit the ball like that, you don't feel anything. It's a good feeling." -- Encarnacion, asked what it felt like to hit the ball hard on a cold day in Seattle
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Last season, Olson finished his first season with the Indians with a 0.00 ERA in 30 appearances (20 innings). Olson's 20 scoreless innings were the most in MLB history for a season in which a pitcher allowed no runs (earned or unearned). The lefty's 30 appearances were the most ever in a completely scoreless season in MLB history. Naturally, Olson allowed two runs in his 2018 debut for Cleveland. It marked his first runs allowed in the regular season in a Major League game since April 15, 2016.
GORDON FLASHES HIS DEE-FENSE
Gordon figures to hit some hiccups in his transition to center field this season for the Mariners, but the former National League Gold Glove second baseman is showing his range already and made a nice sliding catch in the third inning to steal a hit from Jason Kipnis. The play was rated a three-star catch by Statcast™, with a catch probability of just 52 percent as Gordon covered 76 feet in 4.5 seconds to make the play without even needing to hit his normal top-end sprint speed.
Indians: The Indians acquired righty Mike Clevinger from the Angels in August of 2014. Four years later, Clevinger is set to make his season debut as Cleveland's No. 4 starter in a 10:07 p.m. ET tilt against the Angels on Monday night in Anaheim. Last season, the pitcher went 12-6 with a 3.11 ERA for the Tribe.
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Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.