Bullpen maneuvers don't work out for Indians

Bullpen maneuvers don't work out for Indians

CLEVELAND -- As reliever Bryan Shaw trotted in from the bullpen to face Billy Butler, first baseman Carlos Santana took several steps to his right.

The bases were loaded with two outs in the eighth inning of a tie game. The right-handed hitting Butler has been pulling the ball more than ever this season for the A's. His spray chart is littered with little dots on the left side of the infield. Just a handful exist where a first baseman is traditionally positioned. So Santana vacated the area.

On Shaw's second pitch, Butler hit a weak, slicing liner to right field that came off the end of the bat at just 72 mph. But the exit velocity doesn't show up in the box score. Just the three runs that scored as a result in the 5-4 loss for the Indians.

"Shaw made a really good pitch," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Got ahead of him with a breaking ball, and made a really good pitch. You can't have a fielder everywhere. It's what led up to that that hurt."

What led up to it was a series of bullpen switches and pitches not executed that afforded Butler the opportunity to hit it where the fielders weren't.

Butler's go-ahead two-run double

Zach McAllister had started the inning by striking out No. 9 hitter Marcus Semien and quickly retiring leadoff man Billy Burns. The right-hander got ahead of Stephen Vogt 0-2 and put a 95-mph fastball on the outside corner where he wanted it, but the All-Star Vogt displayed a good piece of hitting to spoil the offering to the opposite field.

Switch-hitter Ben Zobrist moved from the on-deck circle to the batters box, and Francona moved to the mound, motioning towards his bullpen for a lefty. Zobrist has mostly neutral splits throughout his career, though he's typically fared better against southpaws. This year, though, the 34-year-old has dealt with a knee injury and his power from the right-hand side has been non-existant.

"With Zobrist, all his homers are left-handed," Francona said.

Marc Rzepczynski entered the game to turn Zobrist to the right-hand side, and fell behind 1-0 before delivering a low-and-away sinker that Zobrist hit to right field for another single. No damage had yet been done, and the Indians were still an out and a good matchup away from exiting the inning unscathed. The matchup was in their favor -- lefty Josh Reddick is just a career .221 hitter (.663 OPS) against southpaws, and Rzepczynski is tough on lefties himself.

Problem is, Rzepczynski didn't give himself a chance to be tough on the lefty. Four pitches went by and Reddick walked to first base, setting the stage for Shaw's trot in, Santana's steps over and Butler's heroics.

The inning was there for the taking, but the Indians had put themselves in a situation where a good pitch and a ball hit off the end of the bat could cost them the game. And it did.

August Fagerstrom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.