4/22/2014 6:33 P.M. ET
Defensive shifting paying dividends
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- The Indians have embraced advanced metrics and have a front office and coaching staff that craves as much information as possible. Data can provide a competitive advantage, and that is made no clearer than through defensive shifts.
Cleveland has implemented shifting based on in-depth charts for several years, joining a growing list of teams that are using the approach more each season. In the dugout, defensive positioning for the outfield is handled by bench coach Brad Mills and infield shifts are in the hands of third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh.
"We are probably a little more aggressive shifting than we have in the past," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "You ask the players to give it their best, to give their all. So we as a staff feel the same way. We need to be prepared and we need to be ready. And there's so much good information now that, if we don't take advantage of it, then I think you're looking at an older manager that's stuck in their ways. That's not good."
A great example of a shift paying off came on the final play of the Indians' 6-4 win over the Blue Jays on Sunday. With the bases loaded, two outs and Edwin Encarnacion facing a full count against Tribe closer John Axford, Sarbaugh had second baseman Jason Kipnis positioned behind second.
With the runners going, Encarnacion ripped a pitch up the middle that might have gone into center field and tied the game under different circumstances. Instead, Kipnis barely had to move as he gloved the ball and fired it to first base for the game-ending out.
"It's just playing to the odds, playing to the percentages of them hitting it there," Kipnis said. "That time, we got fortunate enough where it worked out and worked in our favor. I think a lot of teams have been [doing it], actually. People are seeing the benefits of it."
When a shift works to perfection, Francona said it is reassuring to everyone involved.
"It really helps," Francona said, "because the ones you remember are the [broken-bat hits] that go where somebody wasn't. That's human nature. But, for the very most part, man, the shifting done in the Major Leagues now, it takes hits away. Most teams are doing it."
Rzepczynski versatile, reliable lefty option in 'pen
CLEVELAND -- Marc Rzepczynski is the resident squirrel expert in the Indians' bullpen. More importantly for Cleveland, he has turned into a reliable left-handed option since being acquired in a trade with St. Louis last summer.
The lefty was with the Cardinals when the Rally Squirrel did its part during St. Louis' run to the World Series in 2011 and he was in the Tribe's 'pen Monday, when another fleet-footed forest creature ran on the field at Progressive Field.
"It was definitely a comical thing, watching him try to get away from the grounds crew guys," Rzepczynski said with a laugh Tuesday. "The same thing happened to us in '11. It was funny. ... They were able to finally corral him into our bullpen. Hopefully he's out there and we'll see him again."
Rzepczynski has brought enough good luck to the Cleveland 'pen on his own since joining the club.
"He's made a huge difference," Indians setup man Cody Allen said. "Our bullpen kind of took off last year when we got him. He can play so many different roles. He can be a one-out guy, he can go get a tough lefty, he can get righties out, he can pitch more than one inning.
"There's so many different things he can do. Having him there, allows guys like me and [Bryan] Shaw and some other guys to kind of stay in their role."
Entering Tuesday's game with the Royals, Rzepczynski had a 1.00 ERA in his 10 appearances, limiting batters to a .143 average in nine innings. Since coming to the Tribe via trade before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline last season, all the left-hander has done is post a 0.92 ERA and 0.87 WHIP with 27 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings for Cleveland.
"He's added so much to our bullpen," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "When you have that lefty that you trust, it adds so much to your bullpen, because they're going to face the better hitters -- the guys that don't get pinch-hit for and in situations where the game is on the line. When they're successful, it makes the rest of your bullpen that much better."
Before the trade to the Indians, Rzepczynski had been demoted to Triple-A Memphis by the Cardinals, who saw him post a 7.84 ERA in 11 games early last season. Needless to say, Rzepczynski welcomed the change of scenery with open arms.
"I knew my time in St. Louis was over. It's the business of the game," he said. "I was lucky enough to come here and St. Louis did a nice thing of trying to trade me. I wanted to prove when I got here that I still had stuff left. For me, it's just, every day, feeding off the success that I had before and feeding off the negative I've had before and learning from my mistakes.
"It's realizing not to take anything for granted. One day you can be here and the next day your career could be over. Every day, I come to the ballpark and just try to prove myself every day, go about my business and perform."
Indians continue green initiatives
CLEVELAND -- The Indians have been going green for years, but Earth Day on Tuesday gave the club another chance to do its part in helping the environment.
The Tribe planned on giving 5,000 flower seed packets to fans to help celebrate the annual event and invited Craig Butler, the director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for Tuesday's game against the Royals.
"Ohio EPA is proud to bring awareness about the importance of recycling on Earth Day with the Cleveland Indians," Butler said in a news release. "We are asking fans to support recycling on Earth Day and every day because it saves energy and valuable landfill space, conserves our natural resources and creates jobs."
The Ohio EPA has partnered with the Indians and provided a grant to help with recycling at the stadium. This season, there are more than 60 new recycling cans throughout Progressive Field to aid that process. The Indians have run their "Our Tribe is Green" campaign for several years and the Ohio EPA plans on doing its part to expand the team's efforts.
According to the Indians, the organization recycled more than 30 percent of its waste in 2013 and recycled nearly 600,000 pounds of materials last year. The Indians also donated roughly 9,500 meals to the Cleveland Food Bank and recycled nearly 12 tons of fryer oiler used to make bio-diesel fuel.
Cleveland has reduced trash hauls to the landfill by 60 percent since 2007, has recycled more than two million pounds of material since '08 and has composted around 90 tons of organic material since '10.
Quote to note
"I don't think I feel a day over 75."
-- Francona, who turned 55 on Tuesday
• Heading into Tuesday's game against Kansas City, Indians center fielder Michael Bourn was batting just .143 (3-for-21) in five games since being activated from the 15-day disabled list, following a bout with a left hamstring injury. Indians manager Terry Francona said the slow start is not alarming, considering that Bourn missed roughly a month while hurt.
"He'll play his way into feeling good," Francona said. "The best way for us to get Bourny back to being Bourny is to play him."
• During the second inning of Monday's 4-3 win over the Royals, a squirrel ran across the infield at Progressive Field, forcing a momentary delay. The critter remained on the field for more than an inning before being led into the bullpen in center field. It was hardly the strangest on-field sighting of Francona's career.
"In winter ball, man. I remember it was Super Bowl Sunday in the Dominican," said Francona, who managed in the D.R. in 1996. "I'm standing on the dugout and I'm thinking to myself, 'What the [heck] am I doing here?' And I look out in the outfield and there's a dog, a goat and a chicken in the outfield."
• Entering Tuesday, Cleveland's bullpen had a 2.63 ERA and a .205 opponents' average, ranking third in the American League in both categories. The Tribe's relief corps had also stranded 89.3 percent (25-of-28) of inherited runners, which marked the second-best rate in the Majors behind the Red Sox (89.7 percent).
• On Tuesday, the Indians named Double-A Akron infielder Giovanny Urshela the organization's Minor League Player of the Week for April 14-20. During that span, Urshela hit .353 (6-for-17) with one home run, nine RBIs and a .950 OPS in five games for the RubberDucks.