CLEVELAND — A season-opening offensive slide has not gotten into the heads of Indians hitters, according to manager Terry Francona.
Cleveland entered Wednesday night having scored only 31 runs over their first 11 games, while batting a major league-low .158.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” said Francona, whose club won six of the 11 games despite the offensive woes. “It’s not a lot of fun going through periods where you swing the bat like this. But they’re playing the game with enthusiasm. They’re into it. They’re picking each other up.
“I think they know they’re going to hit. But I’ve seen teams that maybe pout a little bit and because of that you lose a couple of games and that doesn’t help anything. I’m proud of them. Their effort’s been terrific.”
Nearly everyone is struggling, with only one player in the lineup Wednesday — Tyler Naquin — batting over .200.
“Believe me. That will change,” Francona said. “It’s easy when you can step outside and think, well, in August this might cost guys three or four points on their batting average. In April, when it’s all you’ve got, it’s hard to do. Guys gotta live through it.”
Frigid temperatures since the team returned to Cleveland weren’t conducive to emerging from the team-wide slump.
“Guys don’t feel comfortable in this cold weather, especially me — and we’re not from (Cleveland), even though I stay here in the offseason,” catcher Roberto Perez said. “We’re going to get out of this, man. I believe in my team, and we are confident in ourselves.”
In an effort to keep the confidence up, hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo met with players and provided statistics that show the Indians are barreling up the ball and hitting it hard. They just haven’t gotten positive results.
“That’s the biggest thing is that you don’t want guys saying ‘This isn’t enough, so I’ve got to do more,’” Francona said. “Because inevitably more turns into trying to do too much. And then you get guys rolling over and that’s not what you want.
“You want them to stay with what works. Even if in the small sample it hasn’t. Because it will. It’s amazing. Guys get to their level. It’s the damnedest thing, but they do.”
Francona said the transition from pitching coach Mickey Callaway to Carl Willis has been a smooth one.
“Carl has been tremendous,” Francona said of Willis, who served as Cleveland’s pitching coach from 2003-09 under manager Eric Wedge. “He’s fun to be around. We knew he would be. Following Mickey is not easy because of what he meant and what he did here. Carl is the perfect guy to do it.”
Under Willis’ watch, four pitchers have won Cy Young Awards — CC Sabathia (2007 with Cleveland), Cliff Lee (2008 with Cleveland), Felix Hernandez (2010 with Seattle) and Rick Porcello (2016 with Boston).
Left-hander Andrew Miller isn’t locked in yet, but the numbers tell a different story. Entering Wednesday, Miller had not allowed a run over five games, striking out nine in 5 1/3 innings.
“My goodness, it doesn’t feel like he’s hit his real stride, but you look at his stats,” Francona said. “He’s pretty good … this just in.”
Miller has had runners on base, allowing four hits, three walks and hitting two batters.
Ahead of the curve
Right-hander Zach McAllister relies on his fastball, but he’s been trying to develop a curveball to give him another weapon.
“He’s worked so hard on trying to be able to have a lead breaking ball to get you into a count or back into a count,” Francona said. “It’s not something that has come as easy as his fastball. But it’s something he’s spent a lot of time working on. You can tell by watching him how much it’s getting better.”
Right-hander Josh Tomlin bounced back from a brutal season debut to pitch like the Tomlin of old Tuesday night, shutting out the Tigers on four hits over five innings of a 2-1 victory.
“We’re not going to lose confidence in him after one start,” second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “Other people might, but we’re not going to. We’ve seen him have a bad start before.
“The guy has proven to be a major league pitcher. And I don’t think anybody in here wanted to count him out after one bad start. And he got right back on there and shut these guys down and gave us a chance to win. He’s one of those guys that goes out and competes each time.”
- The Indians are the first team since 1908 to win four of its first 11 games of the season recording four or fewer hits.
- Cleveland entered Wednesday with a 35-9 record within the division since July 1.
- The Indians had won nine straight against the Tigers through Tuesday.