By Peyton Wesner
Not too many times in baseball, will scheduling pin the two teams that met in the previous year's championship for an Opening Day showdown. Though, that was exactly the case in the International League as the Indianapolis Indians made the two and a half hour journey east for retribution against the 2015 IL Champions, the Columbus Clippers.
However, the only schedule that always holds true is mother nature's and in this case extremely cold temperatures and snow (yes, snow) resulted in not one, not two, but three days of no baseball in Columbus, Ohio. So with the hope of avoiding four unsuccessful attempts at Opening Day, the two IL West rivals took the field for a Sunday afternoon doubleheader.
And this time, baseball was played.
The pitching match-up could not have been any better since Indianapolis Indians' manager Dean Treanor sent bona fide ace and the Pittsburgh Pirates' top prospect Tyler Glasnow to the mound against the "Hero of Game five" Columbus' Mike Clevinger.
Clevinger, who spent all of the 2015 regular season with Double-A Akron, was by far the most valuable hurler the Clippers had last September. He was 2-0 with 15.1 innings of scoreless baseball. Moreover, he was the pitcher that stifled Josh Bell, Alen Hanson, and the Indians' bats on September 19 in a winner take all contest. Sunday, he had just as much luck.
Coming of the gates with three strikeouts of the first five batters, Cleveland's 7th prospect picked up right where he left off that chilly fall night. Moreover, he stranded runners, such as Bell in the 1st and Hanson in the 3rd, while also getting help from his defense in the form of Adam Moore throwing out Bell on a steal attempt with one out in the fourth.
On the other side of the ball, Glasnow was also displaying his worth early for he induced Michael Martinez to fly out and former Pittsburgh prospect Robbie Grossman to strike out looking to begin his day. Next up was the 2015 IL RBI leader Jesus Aguilar and this time the prized prospect did not have his blow by fastball as the power hitting first basemen blasted an offering to left field for the first and ONLY run of the contest.
Although MLB's 9th overall prospect settled down and finished the afternoon striking out six over five frames (three walks), Clevinger made one less mistake and turned five innings of scoreless ball over to the Shawn Armstrong, who also hurled a perfect inning.
During the Indians' last chance in the top of the 7th, former Milwaukee Brewer Jason Rogers started the inning by taking an Austin Adams' delivery for a single. Sadly though, a pair of whiffs, one by Danny Ortiz and another by Jacob Stallings with Mel Rojas Jr. at second (he pinch ran for Rogers) sealed the first result of Indianapolis' 2016 campaign as a loss.
What's the best thing about double-headers? If your team lost the first game, they immediately have a chance to salvage the day with a split. That is exactly what the Indianapolis Indians' did about 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 1.
Sure, they were facing a MLB veteran in Tommy Hunter (rehab start) as well as the best pitcher in all of Triple-A baseball in 2015, Toru Murata. Nevertheless, the Indians rocked Murata's world following Hunter retiring the side 1-2-3 in the 1st. As a matter of fact, Murata had actually started the game nearly perfect considering he set down the first five of six and had two outs recorded in the bottom of the third. Though, at this point, the rough waters of the IL West flipped Murata's boat for four runs on two hits.
That's right, Murata actually walked both Adam Frazier and Max Moroff (both with two outs) before Josh Bell smacked his second hit of the day (he had one in Game 1), a two-RBI single, that supplied Indianapolis' with their first runs of the season. But, the Indians were not done yet.
Only a relied upon home run hitter, Jason Rogers only belted 12 home runs between Triple-A Colorado Springs and the Big Leagues last year after having a combined 40 in two seasons. Looks like power-hitting Jason is back. Absolutely destroying the Murata offering, the 6'1" first baseman touched them all for a two-run shot that increased the lead to 4-0... And on this day, four would be more than enough.
While great concern arrived quickly in the bottom of the 1st as the Pirates' 24th prospect Trevor Williams left after two batters (shoulder discomfort), reliever Kelvin Marte drove the Indians out of early trouble by fanning Joey Butler with runners on first and second. Furthermore, Marte would continue to exhibit his ability to tip-toe out of danger by stranding Erik Gonzalez at first following a lead-off single in the second inning.
From Marte, five Indians' took the mound, each for an inning of work. As most had an easy time posting their zero on the scoreboard, no Columbus' threat had more potential than the bottom of the fifth. Guido Knudson was on the mound, and despite a very appropriate time to warm up prior to his entry, he had trouble spotting the ball, resulting in a walk of Anthony Recker. Throw in a bunt single by Ronny Rodriguez in the succeeding at-bat and the Clippers had the oars rowing for a big inning with the top of the order coming up to bat and no outs.
Michael Martinez sent a deep fly to center field! But, it was just a loud out number one. Next up, was Robbie Grossman and he was only able to chop a grounder to second when meeting a Knudson offering, ultimately placing runners on the corner for Jesus Aguilar.
This time a high flyer was sent to left field. The Huntington Park crowd immediately hopped to their feet as though the score would soon be 4-3 Indianapolis. Unfortunately for the home faithful, the ball did not carry over the left field wall and instead fell into the glove of Adam Frazier for the third out. The Indianapolis Indians were leaving Columbus with a win under their belts.
What's On Tap
Following today's double header, the Indians will enjoy their fourth off-day since the Minor League Baseball season officially started before ending their current road trip with a two-game series in Toledo. The Mud Hens also had their struggles with Mother Nature this past weekend, for Friday through Sunday's games were canceled. Toledo is currently 1-0 as they obliterated the Louisville Bats and former Indianapolis pitcher A.J. Morris 10-2. Former MLB Top 100 prospect Steven Moya showcased his power with two home runs and five RBIs in the contest.
Thad Weber will take the ball on Tuesday for the Mud Hens. Weber possessed a 6-10 record and a 4.19 ERA in 27 starts last year. Scheduled for Wednesday is young stud Josh Turley. Turley has been terrific in the Detroit Tigers' organization since being drafted from Baylor. In 2015, he posted a 13-8 record and a 3.25 ERA in 25 starts. For Indianapolis, Steven Brault will attempt to wash out the bad taste from his last start of 2015 on Tuesday night. Brault, a lefty, shined in his first year within the Pirates' organization as he had an outstanding 13-4 record and 2.43 ERA in 28 starts.
The next day, the much anticipated return of former top prospect Jameson Taillon will transpire. Taillon has not pitched in the regular season since the end of 2013 when he concluded his campaign with six starts and one relief appearance for the Indians.
Who To Watch
Josh Bell: .400 BA (2-5), R, & 2 RBI.
Jameson Taillon: 5-10 record, 3.73 ERA, & 143 SO in 147.1 IP. (2013 statistics)
Steven Moya: .750 BA (3-4), 3 R, 2 HR, & 5 RBI.
Josh Turley: 13-8 record, 3.29 ERA, & 103 SO in 153 IP. (2015 statistics)
IL West Standings
1. Toledo 1-0
2. Indianapolis 1-1
3. Columbus 1-1
4. Louisville 0-1