October 20, 2014

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Fielding of dreams – Tribe Notes

Garko helps Indians win with his bat and his glove

As much as Ryan Garko is known for his handiwork with the bat, it’s his improvement with a glove that has ensured an everyday job in the big leagues.
Garko has emerged in his second season with the Indians as one of the team’s top hitters, hitting .304 entering Monday’s matchup with the Chicago White Sox, while slugging 11 home runs and driving in 34 runs.
But what has caught the eye of Indians manager Eric Wedge is his improvement at first.
At the end of last season, Wedge sat Garko down and implored him to use winter ball as a means for honing his play at the corner. Garko spent several months in the offseason in the Dominican Republic, putting in extra time on short hops and stretches on throws.
While he might never be confused with Keith Hernandez, who won 11 Gold Gloves at first, Garko looks notably lighter on his feet and more comfortable in key situations.
“He’s obviously a hitter,” said Wedge. “But he takes a lot of pride in what he does at first base.”
Sunday’s performance against the Kansas City Royals served as an apt illustration.
The first batter of the game, David DeJesus, reached base when Garko botched an easy chopper.
But on several other plays, he looked downright nifty with the glove. He caught one ball in the fourth inning that took an awkward bounce behind the bag, then made a diving stop to his right in the ninth inning and a perfect throw to closer Joe Borowski, covering first.
“Those are plays I might not have made at even the beginning of this year,” said Garko. “But my footwork’s getting better and I really feel like I’m reacting to the ball faster. Because of all that work, I feel like I’m able to make those diving plays now.”
Loft-y dreams
Indians general manager Mark Shapiro refused to respond to a Dallas Morning News story which reported the Texas Rangers had received “significant interest” from the Indians for center fielder Kenny Lofton. According to the story, the Indians and Milwaukee Brewers had scouts at Saturday’s game in Arlington.
Shapiro begged to differ, stating emphatically that no Indians scouts were in Texas.
“We’re looking to incrementally get better,” he said before a contingent of 19 reporters. “The galaxy of players we’re looking at right now probably outnumbers you guys.”
Jeremy’s chokin’
The swift descent of pitching prospect Jeremy Sowers continues to be both baffling and mystifying.
On Sunday, Sowers, who was demoted to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons in June, was tattered for five runs on eight hits over six innings. The loss dropped Sowers to 0-4 on the year, with a 5.86 ERA in six starts.
It’s a startling turn of performance for a pitcher who skyrocketed through the system and went 9-1 for the Bisons last year, with a minuscule 1.39 ERA, earning an express ticket to the big league club. Sowers started 12 games for the Indians in the first half, but was pounded by major league hitting and went 1-6 with a 6.93 ERA.
A skid the minors apparently hasn’t gotten the kinks out.
Damage control
The Indians currently rank third in the major leagues with 486 runs scored, trailing only the Detroit Tigers (535) and New York Yankees (488). That total is helped, at least in part, by the fact that Cleveland has bounced into the fewest double plays in the game (54).
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or palpern@chroniclet.com.