Spin Forward: Tribe sticking with plan
Indians hurlers try to contain Sox offense by getting ahead
BOSTON -- Give them a pitch over the plate, and they can send it towards Cambridge. Give them a pitch off the plate, even just a smidge, and they'll take it for a ball. They'll either force a walk to let Mike Lowell have a chance at an RBI, or they'll force a pitcher to come back over the plate, in which case the first scenario comes back up.
The Red Sox's hitters are lethally patient, especially sluggers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. If they're a pitcher's nightmare, they can be a pitching coach's ulcer. However, Indians coach Carl Willis felt like his club had a quality game plan with which to approach the heart of Boston's order in Game 1.
In what might be a must-win situation in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, the Indians are going back to it with Fausto Carmona.
"I don't think that our approach will change," Willis said after Friday's 10-3 loss in Game 1, "because I don't really think we executed our approach tonight. We've got to make sure that what we're trying to do, we've got to make sure it won't work before we abandon it."
The base of the strategy for Cleveland, or any team's approach against Boston, isn't exactly a trade secret. It starts with getting ahead in counts. Put two strikes on these guys and theoretically they have to at least protect against strike three.
Yet even an 0-2 count isn't always enough to put the opposing pitcher in a comfort zone. Lowell batted .242 in those situations, one point better than his average in 3-2 counts. Ten of Kevin Youkilis' 77 walks came after falling into an 0-2 hole, giving him a .296 on-base percentage in those situations. Ramirez was still a .202 hitter this season after falling into 0-2 counts.
"We are professional hitters," Ortiz said. "We know what we're doing. We work out every day. We have an approach."
Cleveland starter C.C. Sabathia's downfall in Game 1 came in no small part from four unintentional walks over 4 2/3 innings, three of which resulted in runs. Two of them came after Sabathia had an 0-2 count -- first on Ramirez, then on Ortiz.
Ramirez swung his way into his 0-2 hole. But after Sabathia put two strikes on the corner, he went to his offspeed stuff. Ramirez didn't bite, and neither did the pitches -- not the way the Indians would want, anyway. Two pitches went in the dirt, then two more missed the strike zone.
"He couldn't get the changeup on the plate," Willis said of that situation, "and obviously, Manny recognizes spin."
The changeup wasn't working for Sabathia for much of the night, but the fastball was.
"But again, when he got in advantage counts -- the few times that he did -- you can't keep pumping [fastballs to] Boston Red Sox hitters," Willis said. "You just can't keep going fastball after fastball. And he would go, then, to the slider, and they recognize the spin. And all of a sudden, they worked themselves back in the count.
"You have to tip your cap. I don't think that we pitched necessarily very well. Obviously, we didn't pitch as well as we'd like to. But I also think that they took advantage of our mistakes."
The one pitcher who just might be able to get away with a lot of fastballs against the Red Sox is Carmona, whose heater can come in as hard as 95 mph, with sink. It's the main reason he has befuddled hitters so often this season. Make contact, and the ball's usually on the ground. It's like combining Sabathia's power with Jake Westbrook's movement, and it's a challenge for hitters to judge.
"I don't think it's any secret; if you chase balls out of the zone on Carmona, down, it'll be too quick of a night," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We need to bring him up and get pitches to hit that you can handle. But that's the case with just about every pitcher you talk about. If you can get pitches in the zone that you can handle and do something with it -- the byproduct is usually drive the pitch count up, scoring runs, having better swings. That's the case all the way around."
They didn't do it last time. When Carmona outpitched Josh Beckett for a 1-0 victory on July 25 at Jacobs Field, Boston worked Carmona for 113 pitches, but he survived for eight scoreless innings in part by walking just two Red Sox and throwing 71 strikes. Ramirez and Ortiz went a combined 1-for-6 with a walk and three strikeouts.
So pardon the Indians if they still like their plan. It's a matter of somehow executing it.
"When you do get ahead with those guys, you need to work hard to put them away," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "Again, easier said than done. But we've got people that can get the job done. C.C. was a little bit off tonight, but he'll be back. So we move on to [Saturday]."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.