Columbus Clippers 2, Indianapolis Indians 1[ box ]
The newest member of the Indians, pitcher Nelson Figueroa, made the start tonight at Victory Field, but suffered the loss despite a solid debut performance. Figueroa pitched 7 innings, in his first game since August 2nd, allowing 2 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 2 Columbus Clippers batters. Clippers’ starter Mitch Talbot had an even better night, though, taking the win with 7 shutout innings.
Figueroa has pitched here in Indianapolis before, and he has also been in the Pirates’ organization before. Back in 2002, when the Indians were the Milwaukee Brewers’ AAA affiliate, Figueroa made 6 starts for the Tribe, earning a 5-0 record and a 3.63 ERA. He also made 30 appearances for the Brewers that season, 11 of which were starts. He earned a 1-7 record and a 5.03 ERA for the Brewers. A Brooklyn native, Figueroa was the Mets’ 30th round draft pick in 1995. The 37-year-old reached the AA level with the Mets, then was traded to the Diamondbacks, and made his major league debut with them in 2000. Figueroa has also pitched for the Phillies, the Pirates and the Nashville Sounds (their AAA affiliate at that time) in 2003 and 2004, the Mets again, the Phillies again, and then Houston. He began the 2011 season with the Astros, where he made 8 appearances (5 starts) with an 0-3 record and a 8.69 ERA, and 16 appearances (15 starts) for AAA Oklahoma City, where he earned a 6-7 record and a 6.50 ERA. He has been in Indianapolis for a few days now, but officially signed a minor league contract with the Pirates yesterday.
Figueroa struggled a bit in the top of the 1st. Clippers’ SS Luis Valbuena began the game with a line drive into left field, over Tribe LF John Bowker’s head and off the left field wall, for a double. CF Tim Federoff followed with a line drive into right field, moving Valbuena to third base. 3B Jared Goedert lifted a long fly ball to center field for a sacrifice fly, which brought in Valbuena for a 1-0 Clippers lead. As CF Gorkys Hernandez was about to throw the ball back to the infield, he saw that Federoff was still not even close to being back to first base. Hernandez fired the ball to first, doubling off Federoff for the second out of the inning, and the inning ended with a strikeout.
Figueroa settled in after that. He walked two batters in the 2nd inning, but left both on base. He retired the side in the 3rd, then allowed an infield single to RF Travis Buck to lead off the 4th. The Indians were playing a defensive shift, with 2B Jordy Mercer playing about mid-way between first and second bases, but well back on the outfield grass. Buck dribbled a slow roller past the pitchers’ mound, but because Mercer was much further back than usual, neither he nor anyone else could get to the ball in time, and Buck had the infield hit. No matter — Figueroa got 1B Nick Johnson to line out to a leaping SS Brian Bocock, who then doubled Buck off first base for another double-off-double-play.
The Clippers added a second run in the 5th inning. With one out, former Indy Indian (2010) C Luke Carlin and 2B Argenis Reyes both grounded singles through the hole and into left field. A wild pitch from Figueroa allowed both runners to move into scoring position. Valbuena drove in Carlin with a sacrifice fly, giving the Clippers a 2-0 lead.
Figueroa gave up a single to Buck in the 6th and also hit LF Chad Huffman with a pitch, then walked Valbuena in the 7th, but those runners were all left on base. Figueroa threw a total of 96 pitches, with 60 strikes.
That should have been good enough to get a better outcome for Figueroa. But the Indians’ batters were not able to give him much in the way of run support. They had only one batter reach base safely in the first four innings, when C Eric Fryer grounded a single up the middle to lead off the 3rd inning. The Indians were not able to take advantage of a mental error by Clippers’ 2B Reyes — Hernandez grounded to short, where Valbuena scooped the ball and flipped it to Reyes, who stepped on second base to force out Fryer, who was running from first. But Reyes stopped there. Apparently thinking that there were already two outs, Reyes did not throw on to first base for what would have been an easy double play. It turned out to not matter, though, since Mercer also grounded to short, and Valbuena and Reyes repeated their play, getting the force out on Hernandez to really end the inning.
The Tribe also could not take advantage of a bases-loaded situation in the 5th. 3B Pedro Alvarez led off with a walk, and he advanced to third base when DH Jeff Clement doubled to the base of the center field wall at the 405′ sign. A walk to Fryer loaded the bags with no outs. RF Miles Durham struck out, chasing an outside pitch for strike three. Then Hernandez bounced into an inning-ending double play.
Mercer led off the 6th inning with a single, and reached as far as third base, but was left stranded. Fryer was also stranded after his second single in the 7th inning. The Indians finally got onto the scoreboard after Clippers’ starter Talbot finished his evening’s work. Reliever Zach Putnam came on to pitch the bottom of the 8th, and the Indians jumped on him. With one out, Mercer dropped a single into short right-center field, then Bocock slipped a single into left field, moving Mercer to second base. Bowker made it three consecutive hits with a line drive down the right field line. Mercer raced around from second base to score as the throw came in from right field. The throw in completely missed the cut-off man, though, and instead rolled across the back of the infield and over towards third base. Bocock, coming from first, rounded second, then rounded third and was about a quarter of the way from third to the plate when the ball rolled up to Clippers’ 3B Goedert. Goedert picked up the ball, then turned to find Bocock almost behind him, scrambling to get back to third. Bocock made a desperate dive for the bag, but was unsuccessful, and was tagged out. A pop out ended the inning, but the Indians were closer, 2-1.
Danny Moskos relieved Figueroa and pitched the last two innings for the Tribe. He allowed one hit, another infield single to Buck, who again took advantage of 2B Mercer playing back on the outfield grass. Moskos retired the Clippers in order in the top of the 9th.
That gave the Indians one more chance, with Columbus closer Josh Judy coming on to pitch the bottom of the 9th. Judy got one out, then walked both Clement and Fryer, back-to-back. Pitcher Jose Ascanio took over for Clement as a pinch-runner, and both runners moved up one base when Durham hit a little tapper in front of the mound — not a bunt, but almost the same as a sacrifice. But the tying and the go-ahead run were both left in scoring position when Hernandez popped out to end the game.
The Indians will finish up this 10-game homestand on Thursday with another game against the Clippers. Then the two teams will travel to Columbus to finish their 4-game series.
Indians’ Hitting Gem of the Game: John Bowker’s clutch RBI single down the right field line in the top of the 8th inning, driving in the Indians’ only run of the game.
Indians’ Defensive Gem of the Game: The line-out/double-off double play in the 4th inning. Brian Bocock made an amazing leap to catch a line drive off the bat of 1B Nick Johnson, which looked like it was sure to end up in the outfield, maybe for a double. Then Bocock fired over to first base to double off base runner Travis Buck for the double play.
Rehabbing Pirates Alex Presley and Chase d’Arnaud were reported to have been in the Indians’ lineup, then were pulled from the line-up shortly before game time. They were in the dugout in the early innings of the game, but then in the top of the 3rd, they were shaking hands and getting congrats from everyone in the dugout. Then they disappeared into the tunnel, heading back to the clubhouse. That seems to indicate that their rehab assignment is over.
Aaron Thompson had a great major league debut with the Pirates this afternoon. He scattered 4 hits and 2 walks over 4.1 scoreless innings, and struck out one Brewers’ batter — Prince Fielder.
(photos by Nancy)