CLEVELAND – High-leverage situations best present themselves when the bases are loaded.
The pressure to perform packs into the minds of players on both sides of the field, particularly the pitcher and his opposing hitter.
When Erik Gonzalez earned two valuable opportunities to bat with the ducks on the pound against Adalberto Mejia, the crafty southpaw proved to possess the clutch gene rather than the fast-emerging, right-handed bat.
Gonzalez struck out in both the second and fourth frames, leaving six runners stranded to give Mejia a smoother path to his second big league victory on Friday night at Progressive Field.
“When we get the runners on, we just weren’t able to do anything,” said manager Terry Francona. “We started either chasing out of the zone or getting ourselves in a hole and weren’t able to capitalize.”
Visual evidence helps justify Francona’s point…
Result: Five-pitch strikeout ending on a 86.9-mph slider out of the zone (swinging).
Result: Five-pitch strikeout ending on a 94.1-mph four-seam fastball out of the zone (swinging)
In both cases, Gonzalez goes out of the zone and whiffs at two poorly located pitches from a hurler with erratic command – 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R/ER, 5 BB, 4 K (104 pitches, 64 strikes, 61.5%, eight groundouts, one flyout).
“[Mejia’s] got size and he’s got pretty good stuff,” Francona said. “He wasn’t commanding I’m sure like he wanted to, or sometimes like younger pitchers can. We just weren’t able to get (runs).”
Although Gonzalez has a .314/.333/.514 slash line this season, he leads the Tribe in swinging strike percentage (20.5%), swinging outside the strike zone percentage (O-Swing%: 33.3%) and swinging inside the strike zone percentage (Z-Swing%: 79.7%). In addition, he has the lowest contact rate on the team, putting the bat on the ball with just 62.2% of his cuts at the plate.
In simpler terms, the 25-year-old is swinging at nearly everything in sight throughout a small sample size of 17 games (39 at-bats).
Not only does this brand of aggressiveness not bode well for the two bases-loaded scenarios above, but it also makes Gonzalez a better fit for the bottom of the lineup.
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.