By Michael Reghi
…Of observations as the Indians survive the heat, and the bats of the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers, while the Browns look to take measurable steps forward in preparation for Saturday’s preseason opener with Green Bay.
While the two losses in Texas were especially galling, following a pair of Boston walk off wins that were excruciating, you have to be pleased with the Indians’ approach with the bats, and how markedly improved they were. While the 3-4 mark should have been at least flipped, if not 5-2, the Tribe showed aggressiveness at the plate, compiling 38 runs over the 7 games, an average of 5 and a half per, while drilling 12 home runs, with 30 total extra base hits. They hit .266 on the trip. And .265 with runners in scoring position. They’ll need to continue at this type of clip, as the next 12 games are in the AL Central. 6 of them with the division leading Detroit Tigers. In fact, 37 of the final 50 are inside the division, giving them ample opportunity make up the 4 games they stand back of Detroit, or fall out of contention all together.
Speaking of hitting, and this has nothing to do with numbers – I repeat, nothing to do with their numbers, I feel VERY confident that youngsters Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall will be just as advertised….. very fine major league hitters! You can see it in both of them…short, explosive strokes, the willingness to go deep in counts, and hit with two strikes, excellent bat speed, and the ability to drive the baseball! The big league stage isn’t too large for either, as the ‘approach’ they take to the plate with each at bat is very refreshing. Mark this down. They both will be 15-20 home run types, with gap power, and strong run producers, beginning next season! You can ‘hear’ sweet swingers; I know the ‘sound’. And both of these young Tribe hitters have it. Combine them with a rising Michael Brantley, and Carlos Santana, to swing in the lineup with Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin Soo Choo, and at least another season Travis Hafner dh’ing, and I like how the Indians will build offensively. Granted, both Kipnis and Chisenhall have improvements to make defensively, yet Indians fans will live with developing glove men at second and third base, as long as the bats are potent.
The Tribe debut of Ubaldo Jimenez was uneven in the 8-7, 11-inning loss to Texas. Yes, Jimenez could have escaped with the win, as he, and the Tribe bullpen let a 7-2 lead disintegrate. Jimenez couldn’t throw his two and four seam fastballs for strikes in the first 3 innings, relying on his slider and breaking ball to find the strike zone. 108 pitches tells the tell, and his command must get better, beginning Wednesday night as he starts against the Detroit Tigers. He did fan 7. Without command and location, and pitching behind in the count, as he did all night in Texas, Jimenez and most starters are just another guy. The Indians need him to be a dominant mound presence in his 10 starts left, not only to have any shot at catching Detroit, but to make all feel that he will be a top of the rotation winner to team with Justin Masterson for the next couple years, if the Tribe are to be serious about winning al Central crowns. They can’t, and won’t…unless Jimenez is that imposing presence.
I spent four days with the Browns last week, three in Berea, and at the Stadium Saturday. He are my impressions.
1. Colt McCoy showed improvement after a few unsteady practices. You can see more comfortability within the offensive flow, as the West Coast pass game evolves. He missed a few reads, and a couple of subsequent throws, yet I liked his red zone session Saturday, firing td darts to Greg Little, Evan Moore, Peyton Hillis and Ben Watson. He’ll figure it out. Of that I am confident.
2. Greg Little is extremely skilled. Large body, not afraid of contact, and showing vast progress while being force-fed the system with large reps in Mohammed Massaquoi’s absence. Little is being given the stage to shine, and privately, the Browns offensive coaches feel he can do just that. Little wants the football in traffic, and that type of receiver is very valuable in the pass game.
3. Evan Moore and Jordan Cameron will both be used as ‘hybrid’ wide receivers in the system. Both 6-6, and with strong hands…. they have caught everything thrown their way. Moore couldn’t work with the team until Thursday, while Cameron took advantage of his absence until getting dinged and missing Friday and Saturday’s work. I expect them to be valued ‘weapons’ for McCoy as things progress, with both being on the field together in certain sets.
4. D’Qwell Jackson looks completely rejuvenated! Flying around, active, and stepping into the ‘A, B’ gaps, and hitting ball carriers. He thoroughly enjoys being flanked by vets in Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong, who know the ins and outs of the ’3-4′. Stay healthy Mr. Jackson!
5. Phil Taylor is impressive! Can slide up and down the line, and play any technique the Browns desire. Would expect Dick Jauron to take advantage of how he and Atyba Rubin will ‘fit’ in those gaps along the line. The man can move, and not just in tight quarters. Can use that 338-pound frame in many fronts in the Browns ‘d’ line.
6. Rookie corner Buster Skrine also has a shot at getting playing time in the secondary. He gets to the football, can fly, and can play physical at times. Not afraid to take a chance, and you have to like that confidence in a 5th rounder.
7. Pat Shumur appears comfortable with the surroundings and what the job entails. He can get help when necessary, from a Dick Jauron, Gil Haskell, Mark Whipple, and Mike Holmgren himself. How will he handle adversity, and if it happens early will be a huge determinant in the beginning of NFL head coaching career.
8. On the negative front, the assorted injuries haven’t provided Shurmur with anything close to a full compliment of players. He may to make some tough decisions without having ample time to assess playing personnel. Massaquoi’s foot setback is glaring. Needs all kinds of time to sync with McCoy for obvious reasons.
The preseason evaluations may have to be tempered somewhat. Time is of the essence, and the Browns realize an NFL fan base, especially in Cleveland, is not considering patience as a high priority option!