CLEVELAND -- The Indians worked hard over the winter to address the lineup's woes last season against left-handed pitching. So far this year, Cleveland has shown drastic improvement with its new cast of hitters.
Through the Tribe's first 10 games, the team has bested the likes of Rays lefty David Price and White Sox southpaw Chris Sale in overwhelming fashion. Overall against lefties, the Indians ranked first in the American League in runs scored (24), hits (42), home runs (seven) and doubles (15).
"It's very encouraging," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "It's definitely impressive, the pitchers that we have wins against so far already this year. They're some of the better pitchers we're going to see all year. The offense is going good. We anticipated this happening, because of the players we brought in and it's coming to fruition now."
There were times in 2012 when the Indians rolled out an all-lefty lineup, giving opposing teams an advantage with southpaws on the mound. Cleveland hit .234 with an American League-low .664 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) against left-handed pitching last season.
Over the winter, the Indians added switch-hitter Nick Swisher, right-handed slugger Mark Reynolds and right-handed hitters Drew Stubbs and Mike Aviles to help balance out the lineup. Cleveland already had switch-hitters in catcher Carlos Santana and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in the fold.
Entering Sunday, the Indians were hitting .240 as a team with a .318 on-base percentage and a .446 slugging percentage against left-handed pitching. Against righties, Cleveland had hit .241 with a .318 OBP and a .424 SLG, showing how much more balance exists in the 2013 batting order.
Price and Sale, who combined to go 3-0 with a 1.63 ERA against the Indians last year, have gone 0-2 with a 15.43 ERA against the Tribe so far this year. On April 4, the Indians also tagged veteran lefty Mark Buehrle for six runs over 5 1/3 innings in Toronto.
Early success against such pitchers can potentially help the Indians down the road.
"Absolutely," Kipnis said. "People will be more confident, saying, 'We've done this before. Let's go out there and do it again.' Guys are more confident in our lineup."
Reynolds getting chances with runners on
CLEVELAND -- Mark Reynolds came to Cleveland to drive in runs and he has been given plenty of opportunities to do precisely that early on this season.
Entering Sunday's game against the White Sox, Reynolds led the Indians in at-bats with runners on base (20) and with runners in scoring position (15). Told of that fact Sunday morning, the Indians' primary designated hitter chuckled.
"I better be leading the team in RBIs then," Reynolds replied.
Reynolds is indeed pacing the Tribe in RBIs with 13, including 10 that have come with runners in scoring position. He has launched two of his team-leading five home runs with RISP and has posted a .961 on-base plus slugging percentage under that scenario.
Whether he has hit fifth or seventh in the order, Reynolds has regularly stepped into the batter's box with teammates already on base.
"It's been fun," said Reynolds, who signed a one-year contract with Cleveland this past offseason. "Every time I'm at the plate, I have somebody on base -- it seems like that. I've just got to keep doing my job and driving those guys in."
Heading into Sunday's action, Reynolds was hitting .257 with a .743 slugging percentage, which was the third-highest mark in the American League. His five home runs (Cleveland did not have a player reach that mark until May 6 last season) ranked second in the AL and his 13 RBIs were the third most in the league.
It has been a satisfying start for Reynolds.
"I couldn't imagine a better one," he said. "A home run a game maybe would be better. I'm just happy with my pitch selection and I'm happy with how I've been putting the ball in play more consistently. I just want to ride it out as long as it lasts."
Santana pinch-hits, Kipnis remains out of lineup
CLEVELAND -- With an off-day coming on Monday, the Indians have taken a cautious approach with the respective returns of catcher Carlos Santana and second baseman Jason Kipnis from injury.
In the finale of a three-game set with the White Sox on Sunday, Santana (bruised left hand) and Kipnis (left elbow soreness) remained out of the starting lineup for Cleveland. Both players hoped to be able to rejoin the starting lineup by Tuesday, though the ballclub will continue to closely monitor their progress.
"That's probably a good day for me," Santana said of possibly returning to the starting lineup on Tuesday. "I think the off-day Monday will be good for me."
Santana, who has hit .500 with two home runs and five RBIs in eight games this season, has been held out of the lineup with his hand issue since Monday, when he got crossed up on a pitch from closer Chris Perez and was struck near his thumb. The catcher was a late scratch from the lineup on Saturday after feeling discomfort during batting practice. he pinch-hit in the ninth inning on Sunday and walked.
Kipnis -- mired in an early slump (.125 average in eight games) -- said he first felt soreness in his left elbow on Saturday. He has missed the past two games and indicated he would be re-evaluated prior to Tuesday's home game against the Red Sox.
Kipnis also dealt with a right elbow injury during Spring Training.
"I can't really pinpoint [what caused it]," Kipnis said on Sunday. "I do feel a little bit better today, but it's too early to tell. Hopefully [I'll be fine Tuesday]. I think we're going to treat it constantly for the next two days and see where we stand once Tuesday arrives."
Quote to note
"He's so strong. Hitting the ball to left field [Saturday] was no easy task. He's so strong, and when he stays through the ball like that, it's so pretty to watch. You're always one swing away from spreading the game out or winning the game. That's what he brings."
--Indians manager Terry Francona, on Mark Reynolds
• Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez (Tuesday's starter) said he threw 35-40 pitches in a side session on Saturday and felt good with his progress in cleaning up the mechanics involving his stride. Jimenez denied a report that indicated he was overthrowing in his last start (he allowed seven runs in 4 1/3 innings on Monday) due to seeing faulty readings on the Progressive Field radar gun.
"That's what they told me when I got in the dugout," said Jimenez, referring to the velocity readings being slow on the stadium scoreboard. "It wasn't about that. It was about how I felt. It wasn't about the radar gun."
• Indians left-hander Scott Kazmir, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a right rib cage strain, is scheduled to make his first rehab assignment with Triple-A Columbus on Monday. Kazmir is eligible to be activated from the DL on Wednesday, and could be a possibility to start for the Tribe on Saturday, when the team next needs a fifth starter.
• In Saturday's win, Swisher went 2-for-2 with a home run, double, walk and a hit-by-pitch. Per baseball-reference.com, he became just the seventh Indians player since 1916 to collect a homer, double, walk and hit-by-pitch in one game. The others include Earl Averill (Sept. 17, 1930), Al Rosen (Aug. 9, 1950), Larry Raines (May 29, 1957), Duke Sims (May 19, 1968), Manny Ramirez (Aug. 7, 1999) and Travis Hafner (July 16, 2004).
• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Reynolds is only the third player in franchise history to record at least 13 RBIs prior to playing the 10th game of his Cleveland career. Juan Gonzalez (14 RBIs in nine games in 2001) and Leon Wagner (13 RBIs in nine games in 1964) also accomplished the feat.
• Entering Sunday, Swisher has hit safely in 20 consecutive games at Progressive Field, dating back to Sept. 2, 2008, when he played for the White Sox. That was tied for the longest such hitting streak (Michael Young also accomplished the feat from June 1, 2004-May 25, 2008) at the ballpark, which opened in 1994.