Nine Innings: A new lefty, a veteran lefty and some leftovers

BY foxsports • July 31, 2013

1) Marc Rzepczynski is a journalist’s nightmare and a left-hand hitter’s problem. The latter matters a lot more to the Indians. Because Rzepczynski (spell that five times real fast) was acquired to fill a glaring need in the Indians bullpen: Throw left-handed, and get left-hand hitters out. “Scrabble” (Rzepcynski’s nickname and what he shall henceforth be called in this particular space) does that. In the playoffs two years ago, he was especially effective for St. Louis, pitching 7 1/3 innings in the World Series and NLCS and giving up just one run and striking out eight. In parts of five seasons, Scrabble has held lefties to a .224 batting average. Terry Francona loves numbers of relievers, and Scrabble adds another. “We think he addresses a need,” GM Chris Antonetti said. “Both in the short and potentially long-term.”

2) Why Scrabble? Well … it’s either that or Stratego. … yes, we’re here all night … alas we digress. … Rzepcynski has a 7.84 ERA in 11 appearances in St. Louis this season, but in AAA lefties hit just .185 off him. Indians lefties this season have a 6.47 ERA in the bullpen, and the only lefty in the bullpen now is Rich Hill, whose ERA was 6.35 entering Tuesday’s game. At the least, Scrabble becomes the best lefty in the bullpen not named Hill.

3) Then again, it remains to be seen how and where Scrabble fits. Antonetti said the Indians were “working through” whether to put him on the roster, and added “a lot can happen in the next 24 hours” when the trade deadline hits at 4 p.m. Antonetti said the Indians were still working to improve the major league team, and alluded more than once to something else happening. That was before Tuesday’s game. After, word leaked that Vinnie Pestano had been sent to AAA. That’s a lot happening, as the guy expected to be the team’s setup man went from setup man to middle-inning guy to AAA.

4) The Indians have finally cut into some of Mark Reynolds playing time. Reynolds carried the team in April, and he could carry the team again. The problem is knowing when it will happen. Since May 1, he’s hitting. 183 with 35 singles in his 44 hits. Reynolds last home run was June 28. Since, he’s hitting .111 (six-for-54) with no home runs and one RBI. The Indians gave him a long time to work out of whatever he was in; it didn’t work. Francona said he met with Reynolds recently and told him he’d do his best as far as playing him, but he couldn’t promise. Reynolds is such a good guy it's tough to get too down on him; plus even the prolonged struggles, he's still third on the team in RBI and tied for first in home runs.

5) Heading into Tuesday’s game, the Indians baserunners had gone from first-to-third on a single 73 times, best in the American League. St. Louis leads baseball with 74, but in terms of percentages, Indians baserunners have taken the extra base 35 percent of the time, St. Louis 30 percent. These are the kind of things that make Francona smile.

6) It really seems hard to believe given the Indians do not have that one dominant bat in their lineup, but they rank fourth in the league in runs (4.78 per game). This is true even though Jason Kipnis leads the team with 63 RBI, which ranks tied for 23rd in baseball.

7) The great Dennis Manoloff of The Plain Dealer nicknamed Michael Brantley “Dr. Smooth,” and watching him play defense in left field it’s evident why. Brantley spent most of his time in center field a year ago, and might have played there this season had the Indians not signed Michael Bourn just before spring training started. Brantley moved willingly, and has been outstanding in left. He is tied for the AL lead with outfield assists with nine, and Monday made an over-the-shoulder catch that was far harder than he made it look. “He hit it so well and the ball was kind of tailing back on me,” Brantley said. “I was trying the best I could to catch it, but it was difficult because it tailed over my head and I wanted to keep it on my left side.” When a ball is hit so hard merely catching it looks like it might separate a player’s shoulder yet the player makes the difficult catch look fairly easy, that player is pretty dadgum good.

8) Ryan Raburn now is 12-for-26 with runners in scoring position and two out. That’s .462 … .001 behind league-leader Miguel Cabrera ... yes THAT Miguel Cabrera. How this happens is a little baffling. Raburn has never been a standout RBI guy. But he comes through for the Indians, he said, by simply trying to think that the pressure is on the pitcher. "I couldn't do anything right last year," Raburn said. "But it seems like right now I almost can't do anything wrong."

9) The Jason Giambi Admiration Society -- otherwise known as J-Gas -- continues to grow. Giambi’s walk off home run Monday night was not only exciting, it gave the Indians -- and especially Francona -- a chance to talk more about the guy who now is the oldest in baseball history to hit a walk off home run. Francona said he actually took a few seconds to watch Giambi round the bases and asked himself, “I wonder with is going through his head.” Francona said part of what makes Giambi “endearing” (his word) is his humanity, meaning he has failed when he admitted to using PEDs and come back from it. “He’s not perfect,” Francona said. “And he owned up to it. He doesn’t deny it. He says, ‘I’ve been up, I’ve been down, I’ve been in the middle.’ And he’s learned from it. He’s a hard guy not to like. If you don’t like him you got to be really looking.” For his part, Giambi said to have his name mentioned in the same sentence with Hank Aaron (the second oldest player to hit a walk off home run) is “unfathomable.” He called baseball “a blessing,” and said he’ll keep playing until someone takes the jersey off him. As for adjusting to a role as a part-time DH and pinch-hitter, Giambi shrugged and said how much he enjoys helping younger players. “I think it comes down to just loving your role,” he said. “Being one piece of the big puzzle. I love and embrace what I do. I love helping the guys out and seeing them succeed and passing on that knowledge. I think that would be the biggest shame of everything that I’ve been through in this game. Not passing it on. I think that would be the biggest crime.”