The Indians looked absolutely awful today in dropping their season opener to the Rangers 9-1. Cliff Lee continued his poor performance from Spring Training in giving up 7 runs and 10 hits in only five innings of work, looking nothing like the dominate Cy Young award winner of a year ago. Lee failed to consistently get ahead of hitters, which he excelled at last season, and made the cardinal sin of allowing four runs to score with two outs in the second inning.
Meanwhile, the offense was downright anemic against Kevin Millwood, managing only 5 hits and stranding nine runners. At no point in the game did the Tribe muster any serious threat other than the 4th when, with Grady on third and Victor on first, Hafner weakly grounded into an inning ending double play.
Even Jensen Lewis who had a very solid spring, was hit hard, giving up 2 runs and 4 hits in his inning of work, including a home run to Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
So what to take away from this disappointing start to the season? Well, it's important not to get worked up over one bad game. Baseball games at the beginning of the year tend to feel more important than those from later in the season because we have less of a sample size to judge from. Through the course of a 162 game season, a team is going to have a few of these clunkers. If the date was July 6 rather than Opening Day, a loss like today's may be nothing but a mere bump in the road.
What does worry me is that I fear this year's team lacks an anchor in the rotation. Last year, Cliff Lee could be counted on to take the mound every fifth day and give the Indians a very good shot at a victory. I don't have the confidence that Lee is going to be able to repeat that role this season. Perhaps Lee's bad day could be attributed to the line drive he took off his pitching arm in the second inning (proceeding the 4 runs he allowed). Or perhaps Lee's day was a continuation of his spotty performances all spring. We know Lee is capable of being a much better pitcher than he showed today. Arlington Park is a difficult place to pitch successfully at and the Rangers tend to smack the ball pretty successfully against the Tribe. I think Lee's results this year will lie somewhere between his magical run of last year, and his disappointing 2007 season. On a side note - I was shocked to hear during the game that Lee threw to first base only 4 times the entire season last year to hold runners on. I know Lee's left-handed, which gives him an advantage in holding guys at first, but seriously, only 4 throws to first all season? That certainly isn't doing any favors for Victor or Kelly Shoppach.
In positive pitching performances, I was pleased to see Masa Kobayashi work a solid inning. Kobayashi's been treading thin ice with the team all Spring Training and it would be a big boost to the bullpen if he's able to straighten himself out sooner rather than later . Raffy Perez also continued his role as the most solid arm out of the pen, working a scoreless inning.
At the plate, Victor looked good swinging the bat - having the best at-bat of the day, a 10-pitch battle in the first inning. Prior to getting injured last season, I thought Victor was one of the best pure hitters in the game and I was glad to see some of that reemerge today.
Finally on Pronk Patrol: Hafner went 1-4, with the above-mentioned double play ground out. Though Hafner failed to get the ball out of the infield in his first two at-bats, I was pleased with his approach at the plate (read: he didn't seem to swing weakly at balls or grossly misjudge pitches) and even hit a single and scored the only run of the game. What's worried me most about Pronk, beyond his glaring absence of power, has been that he's seem to have lost his ability to judge pitches and the strike zone - resulting in his looking mismatched. I am optimistically hopefully that Pronk can contribute in some manner to the success of the team this year, but realistically believe he might be near the end of his rope. I'll make the bold prediction that for the Indians to make the playoffs this season, Hafner will have to hit over 20 home runs. I think less than 10 may be more likely.
Up Next for the Tribe: Wednesday Night 8:05 pm at Texas: Carmona vs. Padilla. Unlike Lee, I believe Carmona may end up being the anchor off the pitching staff this year. I hope he gets it started on Wednesday.