As you can see, it’s a beautiful day at Jacobs, er, Progressive Field. No sign of the rain that poured down yesterday afternoon. This has always been one of my favorite ballparks, although the atmosphere was a lot better when the Indians were selling out the place day after day, year after year. The same could be said of Safeco, for that matter.
Much of the pre-game talk today with manager Don Wakamatsu focused on Russell Branyan, who clearly was still bothered yesterday by his sore back. Wakamatsu said he left the ballpark yesterday thinking that he was going to sit out Branyan the next two days, which combined with Monday’s day off before the start of a three-game series in Detroit would have given Branyan three consecutive days off.
Instead, when he got to the ballpark, Branyan told him his back had improved considerably and made a case to start tonight. Wakamatsu put him in the lineup, but Chris Shelton will start at first tomorrow. That will give Branyan two days off in a row.
“He reassured me he wanted to be in there, and his back was going in the direction we wanted it to, rather than getting worse,” Wakamatsu said.
What’s going on simultaneously is that Branyan is trying to fight through a slump that has seen him drop from .320 on June 13 to .275 heading into tonight’s game. In the 26 games since then, he is batting .188 (19-for-101), but he’s still produced three doubles, a triple, seven homers and 19 RBI. He’s walked 12 times and struck out 39 times.
“He’s done so much for this club,” Wakamatsu said. “Offensively, it’s hard to put your finger on what he’s going through the last couple of weeks. Is he pressing too much? Is it his swing mechanically? There’s a lot of different factors, but the biggest thing for him is just try to retain the routine he had in the first half, and push it through the second half. The back doesn’t help. That’s what we’re juggling right now.”
Wakamatsu believes the return to Cleveland, where Branyan began his career, might be on his mind.
“Absolutely. There’s always going to be some anxiety to try to prove, ‘Hey, you let me go, or whatever it is, coming back to where it all started for him. Obviously, it would bring back memories for a lot of people. Those are all things he needs to go through, grow, and continue on.
“We believe in him as a player and what he can do. I think he can be a premier hitter. But half a season doesn’t make a season, and that’s what we’re trying to tell him right now. Just keep pushing. You’ve got to fight through things like this.”
I asked Wakamatsu about Wladimir Balentien’s odd platoon split which has him hitting .247/.286/.400 against right-handed pitchers, and .175/.238/.281 against lefties. He’s in the lineup against Cleveland right-hander Tomo Ohka.
“It’s similar to Ronny Cedeno — with any bench player, any young player, you have to have a mentality for it, and an understanding, and some experience with it. We’re talking about 57 at-bats or something like that, so it’s not a great number. Three or four hits here and there could change the whole number.
“I think the change-up has been a little bit of his nemesis. I saw it in in spring training a little bit where he had a tendency to pull off of it a little bit. Guys that are coming off the bench have a tick more aggression in their swing, so those are all factors that might factor in it.”