Cabrera, Indians roll a seven against Mariners
Tribe enjoying its best start since 2002 season
SEATTLE -- During one of the Indians' early-morning batting practice sessions in Spring Training, Orlando Cabrera spent some time watching shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in the cage. The elder Cabrera was blown away by what he saw.
"Have you ever seen him take BP?" Orlando Cabrera said on Sunday.
Orlando's eyes widened at the mental image of Asdrubal sending pitches skyward with ease. The veteran second baseman offered some advice to the shortstop. Orlando Cabrera told Asdrubal to try to find times during games to use the same approach as batting practice.
Swing hard. See what happens.
On Sunday, Asdrubal Cabrera belted a solo home run in the first inning against the Mariners, igniting an early offensive push that helped the Indians to a 6-4 victory and a three-game series sweep. The quick lead helped starter Josh Tomlin guide the Tribe to its seventh win in a row.
Throughout the winning streak, Asdrubal Cabrera has been a consistent catalyst within the Indians' suddenly potent lineup. In Cleveland's latest victory, the shortstop finished 3-for-5 at the plate with a pair of RBIs. Overall, Cabrera is hitting .316 with a team-high three homers and nine RBIs.
Cabrera managed three long balls in all of 2010.
He never had three homers in a single month until now.
Orlando Cabrera said the offensive transformation started in the spring.
"He takes BP like a big guy," Orlando Cabrera said. "He hits home runs to straight center field. He goes [to the opposite field] any time he wants. He'll say, 'I'm going oppo.' I'm like, 'What the heck is this?' How can a guy like that hit only three home runs in a year?"
So, Orlando had an idea.
"He saw my BP in Spring Training one time," Asdrubal Cabrera said. "He said, 'Hey you've go to try to use that big swing sometimes.' He saw I hit the ball good in BP and he told me, 'Hey, you've got to take one at-bat for you and try to hit a home run.'"
The shortstop was hesitant at first.
"He was saying, 'If I try to hit home runs, I'm going to hit .250,'" Orlando Cabrera said. "I said, 'Remember, home runs are hits, too.'"
Indians hitting coach Jon Nunnally said that Asdrubal Cabrera had been content with being a switch-hitting slap hitter in recent seasons. Much like Orlando Cabrera's observation, Nunnally also wanted Asdrubal to carry that authoritative batting practice swing into game situations.
This does not mean Asdrubal Cabrera is suddenly swinging from his heels on every pitch. Instead, he is picking and choosing the best time to unleash a more vicious swing. Cabrera has stopped choking up on the bat all the time, choosing only to do so with two strikes.
As a result, Cabrera has become more unpredictable for defenders.
Cabrera still slaps singles around the diamond when necessary, and he is hardly against squaring up for a bunt. Consider that, on Thursday, Cabrera used an eighth-inning squeeze bunt to cash in the only run in a 1-0 win over the Red Sox. One day earlier, it was a three-run homer that proved crucial for Cleveland.
"He just always tried to play a little more of a slappy game," Nunnally said. "I was kind of like, 'Look, man. You're a strong kid. Swing the bat. Show what you have. That way, you can change the defense a little bit. Now they can't play you shallow all the time.'"
Last year, Cabrera was limited to 97 games due to a broken left forearm -- an injury that shelved him for two months. In the end, the shortstop finished batting .276 with three homers, 16 doubles and 29 RBIs for the Indians. Orlando Cabrera feels Asdrubal is capable of so much more.
"He can have 45 doubles with 15 home runs and 80 RBIs," Orlando Cabrera said. "That's the type of player he is, I believe. He's a guy that has extraordinary power from both sides of the plate."
Especially when he's entirely healthy, which was not the case down the stretch last year.
"I can tell how healthy he is," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "You can see just by him taking batting practice with the authority that he's hitting the ball, and the fact that he's already hit three home runs.
"Hopefully he stays healthy and has a big year for us."
In the Tribe's two-run first inning, Cabrera yanked a 1-2 cutter from Mariners lefty Erik Bedard over the left-field wall for a solo shot. One frame later, Cabrera sliced a pitch into right field for a run-scoring single.
By the end of fourth inning, Cabrera and his Cleveland counterparts -- among the contributors, Jack Hannahan belted a solo homer -- helped the Indians run to a 6-0 advantage, ending Bedard's afternoon in the process. That was ample support for Tomlin to cruise to the win.
Seattle (2-7) did manage a comeback attempt, striking for one run in the fourth inning and another three in the seventh. The biggest blows came via home runs from Ryan Langerhans (off Tomlin) and Michael Saunders (against reliever Chad Durbin) in the seventh to trim the Tribe's lead to 6-4.
The Indians' bullpen -- punctuated by the stellar late-inning combination of lefty Tony Sipp and closer Chris Perez -- slammed the door on the Mariners' rally, though. Perez worked a perfect ninth to earn his fourth save and seal the win, which gives the Tribe its best start since opening the 2002 tour with an 11-1 record.
"I don't feel like we can be beat right now," said Tomlin, who allowed three runs over 6 2/3 innings. "I think everybody feels that way. I feel like, if we play the baseball we're capable of playing, then it's going to be tough for anybody to come in here and beat us.
"For us, it's just keeping that momentum and feeding off each other."
How long Asdrubal Cabrera can continue leading the Indians in home runs remains to be seen. He laughed at the concept.
"No chance. I'm just a singles guy," Cabrera said with a smile. "I understand my game. My game is put the ball in play. I'm not that guy who hits a lot of home runs. We have [Shin-Soo] Choo and Travis Hafner for that."