Truth be told, they haven’t looked good for much of the season.
Before the Indians hammered Detroit, 13-4, at Comerica Park on Friday night, manager Terry Francona was asked about Jake Bauers and diminishing returns. Was it time to send him to the minors and let him get his swing and head straight?
Francona often talks about the difference between developing players at the big leagues and having them get beat up in the big leagues. The first task is difficult. The second situation should be avoided whenever possible.
Was Bauers getting beat up? He entered Friday’s game hitting .209 with seven homers and 22 RBI. He was 5-for-31 in June, 15-for-97 in his last 28 games and had struck out 134 times in 471 plate appearances since the All-Star break in 2018.
Sporadic playing time could not be used as an excuse. He went into Friday’s game with 211 at-bats, the fourth highest total on the team. He’s appeared in 64 of the Tribe’s first 68 games of the season.
Francona said he talked to Bauers on Friday afternoon. He wanted to make sure that he wasn’t feeling isolated, which sometimes happens with young players when they struggle.
Perhaps Bauers was listening to that pre-game press conference. Or maybe he was just due. Hours later, he had become the first Indians player since 2016 to hit for the cycle. He doubled in the second inning, reached on a bunt single and RBI triple in the eight-run fourth and hit a two-run homer in the eighth. He finished the night 4-for-5 with two runs and four RBIs.
“He did it,” Francona said, downplaying his contribution to the outburst. “I have a responsibility to try to help, but he’s responsible for what happened and I’m proud of him. We talked for a long time, but he’s the one that did it.
““Everybody was thrilled of him, myself included,” he added. “It certainly helped lead us to a win, but just to see him swing kind of free and easy and use opposite field — that was really good to see.”
Rajai Davis was the last Indian to hit for the cycle on July 2, 2016 against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
How badly was Bauers struggling? He had nine extra base hits in his previous 41 games before Friday. He had three on Friday night as the Indians won for the sixth time in their last nine games.
The Indians took a 2-0 lead in the second on Bauers’ double and a fielder’s choice by Francisco Lindor. Adam Plutko (3-1, 4.63) gave the lead right back as Miguel Cabrera and Brandon Dixon hit consecutive homers to start the second. It was Cabrera’s 46th career homer against the Tribe.
The Tribe (35-33), however, was not done.
Trailing 3-2 they unleashed an eight-run, seven-hit fourth inning against Detroit lefty Ryan Carpenter (1-4, 8.82) and reliever Buck Farmer.
Leonys Martin hit a three-run homer against his old club. It landed 435 feet from home plate in the seats in right center. Two more runs scored when second baseman Harold Castro couldn’t handle a Jose Ramirez grounder with the bases loaded, crediting Ramirez with one RBI.
Roberto Perez, who started the fourth with a single, added a two-run double before scoring on Bauer’s triple to the wall in right center. Perez hit safely in his first three at-bats.
The eight-run fourth was the Tribe’s biggest inning of the year. They sent 13 men to the plate.
Plutko, after the consecutive homers in the second, settled into the game. The eight-run fourth made that considerably easier. He allowed three runs, two earned, on five hits in six innings. Plutko struck out six and walked one. He’s 2-0 against the Tigers in his career.
“There were some deep counts, even when he got ahead they kept climbing back into counts — then they hit those home runs,” Francona said of Plutko’s outing. “But to his credit, when we put up the eight-spot, he beared down and got through six, and that really helped.”
Shane Bieber (5-2, 4.07) will start at 6:10 p.m. Saturday night against Detroit. The Tigers have yet to name a starter for the game.
Bieber is coming off a short, ugly start against the Yankees on Sunday in which he allowed five runs on five hits in 1 2/3 innings. He didn’t take the loss because the offense got him off the hook in a 10-inning loss. He is 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in four career starts against the Tigers. That includes his win on April 11 when he threw seven scoreless innings in a 4-0 win at Comerica Park.
The Indians enter the game 10.5 games behind Minnesota in the AL Central, and 1.5 games behind the Rangers for the second Wild Card.