Indians show shades of 2013 on Cabby's stellar day
Asdrubal falls triple shy of cycle as Tribe turns a corner on homestand
CLEVELAND -- Asdrubal Cabrera strolled into the clubhouse, one towel around his waist and the other draped over the shoulder, toga-style, looking like Venezuela's answer to Caesar.
"Don't wait for me," Cabrera told the pool of reporters assembled near his locker, exercising his right not to talk to the media.
But the Indians had really been the ones waiting. For a day like this, when the man known as "Cabby" offered tantalizing visions of his old self.
And over the course of a seven-game homestand capped Thursday afternoon by a Cabrera-led 9-4 victory over the Twins, the Indians looked like their old selves, too.
"We're still inconsistent in some things," manager Terry Francona said afterward. "But we're doing a lot of things better than we were."
For now, that's the most that can be said about the Tribe winning five of seven at Progressive Field against the Twins and White Sox. Were it not for back-to-back mishaps by closer John Axford, this coulda been, woulda been a straight sweep of division opponents. But the next-best result was something the Indians, still smarting from an 0-6 West Coast swing and looking up at everybody else in the American League Central standings, desperately needed.
Whether this result was a springboard for Cabrera -- whose debilitating woes against righties have crippled the early portion of his contract year -- and for the Indians naturally remains to be seen. But the Tribe's once-wayward starting pitching certainly seemed to stabilize, as was evident Thursday when Justin Masterson continued to show newfound ability to do more with diminished velocity. And now an offense that had been averaging a woeful 3.85 runs per game can point to the plentiful positives that arose out of their assault of Kevin Correia and the Minnesota bullpen and see marked progress.
Oh, and Cleveland has now won three in a row for the first time all year. So there's that, too.
"To come home and take care of business like we were supposed to -- even with some adversity within that -- was tremendous," Masterson said. "Hopefully that will carry into this next series, because there's a lot of momentum."
Nowhere is it needed more than in the heart of the order, where slow starts from Nick Swisher (.198/.301/.313), Carlos Santana (.143/.301/.277) and Cabrera (.238/.314/.373) couple with the recent abdominal injury to Jason Kipnis to create a concoction that is simply unsustainable for a contending club. Between the inability to avoid outs at the plate and the inability to turn them on the field (the Tribe ranks last in defensive efficiency), the magic act of 2013's AL Wild Card run had appeared to be running dry.
One homestand won't change that, and even this convincing contest was accompanied by the defensive foibles -- Cabrera himself bungled a couple balls at short -- that have frustrated Francona, hence his point about the inconsistency. Masterson also wasn't nearly as sharp in the sixth inning as he was in the first five, and certainly the scrutiny of his stuff will continue as he, too, inches closer to free agency.
"I'm not letting the velocity get in the way," said Masterson, who topped out at 90 mph in his final inning and frequently sat in the high-80s. "It will come when it's supposed to come, if it's going to come. And [in the meantime], we'll just pitch and make it work."
All that said, the long-awaited arrival of 80-degree temperatures to northeast Ohio and the long-awaited breakout of the bats occurred in sweet symphony, a momentary break in the blather and banter about the local football club's next franchise-saving NFL Draft selection.
It wasn't just Michael Brantley's 3-for-5 day, in which he launched his sixth homer and drove in three. Brantley, after all, has been carrying this club all year, both with his continued poise and his newfound power. The "Dr. Smooth" sobriquet has never suited him so well.
The 3-for-4 days from David Murphy and Mike Aviles were also in keeping with this club's current, unexpected sources of lineup clout.
Cabrera, though, had begun to look dangerously like a lost cause, particularly on the heels of his personally unfulfilling 2013, which had ended, notably and appropriately, with the double play he hit into in a key situation in the AL Wild Card Game.
The industry views Cabrera, who at this point is merely keeping the shortstop position warm for stud prospect Francisco Lindor, as potential trade bait should this club be out of contention by midsummer. But even there, he hasn't exactly held up his end of the bargain, as his .173/.271/.213 slash line from the left-hand side makes him an alarmingly easy out against roughly 75 percent of the opposition.
Francona, in fact, had planned to give Cabrera the day off against the right-handed Correia.
"He talked me out of it," Francona said.
A good thing he did.
Cabrera homered in the second to put the Indians up, 2-0, singled in the fifth and doubled home a run in the seventh to set himself up for the cycle. And depending on your perspective, he just might have attained the cycle, for he motored his way to third on a ball he crushed to the right-field corner in the eighth, only to see the play ruled a double and an error. The crowd booed lustily when the error flashed on the scoreboard.
"I don't know if I'm begging," Francona said, "but when you see the ball get by the right fielder and Cabby never broke stride, I wouldn't be surprised if it gets changed back."
Whatever the ruling, the result was clear. This was a jailbreak kind of day for Cabrera, and the homestand, as a whole, was a welcomed jolt to the system, as more than just a Great Lake (6 1/2 games, to be exact) currently separates Cleveland from Detroit.
Cabrera has been searching for his mojo, and so have the Indians. Maybe the wait is over.