CLEVELAND — The midway point of the season arrives today with game No. 81, finding the Indians atop the Central Division standings, a feat they’ve been able to accomplish in the face of a number of setbacks and strange occurrences.
“I think just the overall consistency in all areas of our ballclub,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge, when asked what has pleased him most about his team’s play thus far. “I’m very pleased with the way these guys have found ways to win ballgames. You always envision what you can do as a club, but you have to be consistent, first and foremost.”
The Indians have stayed consistent despite early wintry weather in Cleveland that wreaked havoc on their schedule and the loss of two of their starting pitchers, Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee, for a month apiece. Another one of their season-opening starters, Jeremy Sowers, struggled and was demoted to the minors, with Cleveland’s opening-day third baseman, Andy Marte, experiencing the same fate.
“We’ve done a good job of picking each other up. Everybody’s contributed,” said Wedge, who has seen Fausto Carmona emerge as one of the league’s top starters and Casey Blake make a smooth transition back to third base. “We’ve really juggled our position players and our bullpen all season.”
One area that has definitely given the Indians a boost is defense. A year removed from performing as one of the worst teams in the field, they’ve been one of the best.
“It has been a lot better. It had to be better,” Wedge said. “We’ve done a lot better job making plays when we’ve had to make plays. Last year, our errors were very untimely.
“We’ve got some different people out there, but I think our experience from last year has helped too.”
Celebrity for a day
After hitting a walk-off home run in his first career big league start Friday night, Ben Francisco has been living the high life.
He was on SportsCenter twice for the first time in his life and he heard from practically everyone who knows him, including his parents Louis and Gretchen, who watched the game live from their home in Anaheim, Calif.
“I got calls from little league, high school, college, the minor leagues,” said Francisco, who also received a shipment of sub sandwiches from Jersey Mike’s, an Eastlake establishment that remembered him from his days with the Single-A Lake County Captains. “I got calls from everywhere.”
He didn’t get the call from his manager the following day, with Franklin Gutierrez and Jason Michaels starting at the corner outfield spots Saturday night.
“I know that’s my role,” Francisco said. “Whenever I’m in there, I’ll take it.”
Making the switch
Victor Martinez began the season batting cleanup, while Travis Hafner hit third. With Martinez flourishing and Hafner floundering, Wedge has flip-flopped the spots.
“(Victor’s) been our most consistent hitter. It was just to get him up in the first inning,” Wedge said. “Hopefully Travis will make me change my mind on that.”
Martinez has batted fourth 59 times and third 11 times, with Hafner hitting third 59 times and fourth 10 times.
Put me in coach
Kelly Shoppach’s first-half performance at the plate — .380, 4 HRs, 16 RBIs in 30 games — has caused Wedge to consider using him as more than just Paul Byrd’s personal catcher.
Since April 18, Shoppach, who had started 21 times through Friday, has made just one start in a game that Byrd did not pitch. But with Martinez’s ability to play first base, that could change in the second half.
“We’ve got a great catcher, but with Victor’s versatility at first base, you’re going to see us do more of that,” Wedge said.
Triple-A Buffalo’s Matt Miller pitched a scoreless inning Friday in his first appearance off the disabled list, striking out two of the three batters he faced in a 5-4 victory over Scranton in 11 innings.
l Bisons third baseman Andy Marte hit his eighth homer in the win.
The Indians signed their sixth-round pick from this year’s draft, OF/INF Bo Greenwell, the son of former Boston outfielder, Mike Greenwell. Greenwell committed to the University of Miami before signing with Cleveland, which has agreed to terms with nine of its top 12 picks.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.