Cleveland Indians: 3 players that need to step up down the stretch

Cleveland Indians, Bradley Zimmer

Bradley Zimmer #4 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

3 Cleveland Indians that need to step up down the stretch

The Cleveland Indians signaled at the trade deadline that they didn’t believe 2021 was the year to break the 73-year World Series drought for the organization. Terry Francona stepping aside to focus on health and Cleveland’s subsequent play have cemented that belief. So there’s no need to spend bylines praying for a miracle stretch run. There’s no need to waste time chiding players for their poor performances. It’s become a full-on rebuild season.

But that doesn’t mean fans, and the Indians, shouldn’t focus on a few players as they finish out this lost season. A smart team understands how to properly recognize and navigate rebuilding seasons. There’s reason to believe a heightened level of play could benefit these players, and the team, moving forward. Here’s three players that need to raise their level of play in the final month and a half of this season.

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James Karinchak

There’s a bunch of extra baggage with the real life “Wild Thing.” He went from a young kid with tons of energy on the mound, a guy that struck out everyone he saw with his high fastball and hammer curveball, to losing his closer role in 2021. With the possible use of Spider Tack aside, his appearances have warranted more groans than cheers recently. Over the last month, he has a 5.46 ERA and has a WHIP of 1.50.

Baseball Savant shows his fastball trends toward the upper-left corner of the box. But it’s bleeding more into the center of the plate, and batters are catching much more of it than earlier in the season. The curveball is landing too high as well, catching enough of the plate to aid in allowing seven home runs. The off-speed needs to spin more, the fastball needs to catch less of the center of the plate, and Karinchak needs to stop allowing nearly one hit per inning.

Owen Miller

Miller’s bat can play. That’s what numerous websites said of the former Top 30 prospect and third round pick before his major league debut. It showed at the beginning of this season through one of the best batting averages in Cleveland’s minor league system before his promotion in May.

At the time, it seemed as though Miller could take the Indians’ lineup by storm, take second base for years and become the best acquisition out of the Mike Clevinger trade. Then, well, he proceeded to have a 19 OPS+. There’s plenty of terrible batting statistics to pull, but the gist of what they all point to is that Owen Miller has hardly performed at the plate in his rookie season.

Of course, with him being just he’s 24-years old, the San Diego Padres were aggressive in their promotions of Miller. He’s played as many games at first base as at second. It’s only been 88 at-bats, but what we’ve seen hasn’t been pretty. I don’t need to see him return to his insane minor league numbers, but he needs to put up something north of a .204 OBP, just some sign that he can hit at the major league level before the season’s end.

Bradley Zimmer

Oh, Bradley. What could have been. Frankly, the time for believing that Zimmer would live up to the first-round hype he had in 2014 has passed. Unfortunately for him, we could be approaching a point where his time with Cleveland has passed. But he’s doing everything in his power to show the Indians he still belongs in the outfield.

So, his addition in this is a plea for a continued rise in his play. The issue has never been his defense or his speed needed to patrol center field. It’s been his bat and his strikeout rate now sitting north of 40%.

I think if Bradley Zimmer doesn’t show that he can be a reliable bat, doesn’t lower the strikeout rate and doesn’t display he can carve out a platoon role in the outfield in the last month and a half, it’s over. By season’s end, without those changes, he’ll quickly find himself without a spot on the team.