Naquin's issue in center leads to crippling blow against Pirates

Bullpen rebounds well following early Bieber exit

Alex Hooper
July 24, 2018 - 11:10 pm
Jul 24, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians center fielder Tyler Naquin (30) makes a catch in the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Progressive Field.

© David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians’ desperate need for an outfield upgrade showed through on Tuesday night, their third consecutive loss, of the 9-4 variety to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The team has been resigned to playing Tyler Naquin in center field to try and squeeze some semblance of offense out of the position previously inhabited by a mix of Greg Allen, Rajai Davis and the injured Bradley Zimmer.

At a premium position, Naquin boasts a career -14 defensive runs saved and -8.3 UZR in center over 971 2/3 innings entering the day. His debut season saw -17 DRS before 3 in 2017, while the 27-year-old is net neutral in 2018.

His .655 OPS and 75 wRC+ on the 2018 speak to just how poor the position has been on the year, with a 0.6 WAR (22nd in baseball) and 63 wRC+ (29th).

Though Naquin has shown marked improvement in center in 2018, he is still learning the position, sometimes at the detriment to the club at the time.

Already trailing 2-0 in the 2nd on Tuesday night, Corey Dickerson uncorked a 105.7 mph shot in Naquin’s direction that could have been the final out of the inning. Instead, the Tribe center fielder tracked the ball the entire way, turning his shoulders multiple times before the ball ricocheted off of his glove, resulting in a two-run triple.

The next batter, Starling Marte, singled home Dickerson before coming home on a two-run homer from Gregory Polanco that knocked starter Shane Bieber out of the game.

What could have been a scoreless inning turned into five runs in what wound up being a five run game.

That is not to say that the play was an easy one. Statcast gave Dickerson’s batted ball, 105.7 mph and 31 degrees off the bat, a 91 percent chance of landing for a hit based on similar events in the past. Though the metric does not account for where the ball was placed on the x-axis in play, which in this case was a catchable ball.

“I think he could make it a little easier if he, and he’s still working on it, to get back behind it,” Manager Terry Francona said. “That’s a lot easier said than done, but he ended up making it probably even tougher. Sure the ball’s bouncing because it ended up hitting off the side of his glove. And that’s something that he’s still working on, trying to get back and then work in.”

Naquin’s positioning on the play certainly complicated things, as MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian noted.

Bullish pen

Due to Bieber’s short night, the Indians much maligned bullpen was forced to work overtime on the night. Unlike many other instances this season, the outing was a general success.

Indians relievers accounted for the final 7 1/3 innings on the night, allowing just five hits. The only two runs allowed came on a two run homer from Josh Bell off of Neil Ramirez.

With the arms of those involved relatively untaxed, and an off day on Thursday, the team will not have to make a roster move to add another reliever.

“Other than the home run, they actually did a pretty good job in a game where you’re worried about not just finishing the game but tomorrow. And we’re actually OK. Other than Neil, probably everybody’s available tomorrow, so we’re OK with a day off the next day,” Francona said.

New additions Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, both acquired from the San Diego Padres on Thursday, combined for two scoreless innings, facing the minimum.