CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona always emphasizes the importance of clean and fundamental play for his club. So far this season, the defense has been a disappointment in that regard.
Heading into Wednesday's meeting with the Royals, the Indians were tied with the A's for the most errors (20) in the American League. According to baseball-reference.com, Cleveland's Defensive Efficiency rating of .644 ranked last in the AL, too. Fangraphs.com listed the Indians last in the Majors with -22 Defensive Runs Saved as well.
"I think as a team, we've not played very good defense yet," Francona said. "I think we will be better. I think we need to be better. We're that type of team where, when we play clean baseball, we generally give ourselves a chance to win. When we don't, when you give a team extra outs or even extra opportunities, it certainly makes it tougher."
According to Fangraphs, the Indians have a -8.5 Defense rating overall, which ranked 14th in the AL, entering Wednesday. Cleveland's -9.5 UZR (ultimate zone rating) also rated 14th in the league.
The Indians' pitching staff ranked as the best group in the AL in limiting home runs (12) and third in the league in strikeouts (175), but opposing lineups had a .336 batting average on balls in play. That last figure was the highest mark in the AL, meaning there has been plenty of luck on the opposition's side in the early going.
Individually, the most surprising setback involves catcher Yan Gomes, who had three passed balls and ranked first in the Major Leagues among all position players with six errors. On the plus side, Gomes had thrown out 42.9 percent (6-for-14) of would-be basestealers.
"He's so quick behind the plate," Francona said. "He's made a couple throws that he's known that he has to get it there, because it's bang-bang, and he's kind of been a little too quick with his feet. And he's left a couple balls short and a couple balls high. Saying that, I think he's [6-for-14] throwing runners out. He throws guys out. He's quick, and people don't run on him very much.
"But, like the rest of our team, he's made some errors, some missteps, that normally he won't do."
Tipping pitches isn't issue for Salazar in loss
CLEVELAND -- Danny Salazar has had issues in the past with tipping pitches. Neither Indians manager Terry Francona nor pitching coach Mickey Callaway felt that was a contributing factor in the right-hander's loss to the Royals on Tuesday.
That did not stop Salazar from bringing up the problem after his outing.
"I was actually kind of surprised he said that," Francona said prior to Wednesday's game against Kansas City. "No, he's not. Now, there were some instances last year and in Spring Training that we kind of addressed with him. But, no, we really keep an eye on stuff like that. Believe me, we do."
During Tuesday's 8-2 defeat, the 24-year-old Salazar turned in three no-hit innings before surrendering a four-spot in the fourth. Overall, the right-hander was charged with five runs (four earned) on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, ending with six strikeouts and two walks.
Over his last three starts, Salazar has given up 15 runs (14 earned) on 19 hits in just 12 2/3 innings. Overall, he is 0-3 with a 7.85 ERA in four starts.
After Tuesday's game, Salazar mentioned that he has dealt with tipping his pitches, adding that it felt like the Royals knew what was coming. The pitcher noted that he has accidentally positioned his glove differently for changeups and fastballs in the past. In the fourth inning on Tuesday, Mike Moustakes saw two changeups and crushed the second offspeed pitch for a three-run home run.
The ill-fated changeup in question floated high in the strike zone.
"I just think overall, he's up," Callaway said. "After the first time through [the lineup], they've seen him one time, they can time him up a little better and, if you're pitching up in the zone, you're going to get hurt. If he gets the ball down and makes that adjustment, he's going to be fine."
Francona added that Salazar's changeup had been extremely effective prior to the pitch to Moustakas.
"It's easy to second guess," Francona said. "'Why'd he throw a changeup?' Well, he had been throwing some pretty good ones. He just left one [up]. He didn't throw one in a spot where [it was effective]. He kind of nursed it and it hurt us, but he had thrown some really good ones."
Callaway planned on talking things over with Salazar on Wednesday and reviewing video of the righty's last outing to see if he could spot something he did not see Tuesday night. The pitching coach did not expect the pitch-tipping problem to persist.
"We've noticed some stuff about that in the past," Callaway said. "Some last year, some this year. It's just the way he holds his changeup and then kind of goes to his fastball. We've really tried to hone in on that and kind of hold the ball a different way from the onset, so he has to change to everything. Hopefully, it's not an issue anymore."
Tribe prospect Aguilar to see action at third
CLEVELAND -- The Indians already believe Jesus Aguilar is developing nicely into a right-handed power threat with Triple-A Columbus. Cleveland is now evaluating whether the first-base prospect can hold his own at the hot corner.
The Indians plan on having Aguilar play third base roughly once every 10 days to determine if he might have a future across the diamond. Aguilar played some third over the winter for Caracas in Venezuela out of necessity for the team and performed well enough for the Major League club to consider extending the experiment.
"We don't see a potential downside to it," said Indians vice president of player development Ross Atkins. "It's a potential add to his repertoire. So, if we can do it, that's what we're assessing. Now, he obviously can play the position, but it's another thing to play it here at the Major League level.
"He has good hands. He has plenty of arm. He has decent actions. It just will come down to agility and ability to make the play coming in, ranging hard to his right, plays that require a little more athleticism.
"And then, based on what we see, we may decide to increase it. We'll be cautious of what the demands are on his body."
Offensively, the 23-year-old Aguilar has enjoyed a hot start this season, building on his strong campaign last year.
Aguilar set a Double-A Akron record in 2013 with 105 RBIs, and hit .291 with 34 homers, 35 doubles and 155 RBIs in 188 games (725 at-bats) between Akron and Caracas last year. Through 17 games with Columbus this season, Aguilar hit .393 with five home runs, five doubles, eight walks, 11 runs, 13 RBIs and a 1.185 OPS.
Aguilar's April showing comes after he went 0-for-15 in 11 games for the Indians in Spring Training.
"Spring Training is interesting," Atkins said. "We didn't see anything significant in his swing or his approach to suggest that he should make any adjustments in Spring Training. He's been fantastic."
Quote to note
"That's something we try to keep an eye on with all our guys. The guys that are pitching in Triple-A, OK, their line was really good. Did they pitch really well? Did they face the bottom of a Triple-A order and they swung at all balls, where for the majority, they're not going to do that here? We try to really keep track of that a lot."
-- Indians manager Terry Francona, on evaluating Minor League outings
• Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs, turned 100 years old on Wednesday. Francona played 86 games for the Cubs in 1986. Asked about the ballpark, Francona said, "If you like going to church, it's like going to St. Peter's. It's Wrigley. ... It's the way baseball, I think, is supposed to be."
Francona also recounted a time when former Cubs general manager Dallas Green chewed out the team during a meeting in Chicago's old clubhouse down the left-field line.
"That's what the grounds crew is using now," Francona said. "I remember, I had only been there about a week and I was like the first one there, sitting in the front row. It was Jody Davis and Keith Moreland and Leon Durham. They were like, 'Hey, man, you might not want to sit there.' I didn't know. I thought maybe it was like being disrespectful, because I hadn't been there.
"They said you might want to get in the back. After about five minutes, I was like, 'Boy, am I glad I'm not in the front.' I have never witnessed a meeting like that."
• Both Francona and Callaway indicated on Wednesday that Salazar's pitch velocity is not a concern. The right-hander is averaging 93.5 mph this season -- down from 96.2 mph in 2013 -- but the pitcher's velocity is on par with where it sat last April. On Tuesday, Salazar averaged 95.2 mph with his fastball.
"His velocity is identical to what it was last April," Francona said. "You've got to remember, we got him in, what, August? And he was in midseason form, even though he wasn't going deep in games. ... That probably means that, as the season progresses, he'll build into more."
• Pitching prospect Trevor Bauer allowed one run on six hits in 6 2/3 innings for Triple-A Columbus on Tuesday, finishing with three stikeouts and three walks. On the season, Bauer is 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA in 18 2/3 innings, during which he has piled up 21 strikeouts against six walks.
• The Indians and Tigers announced on Wednesday that they will play a split doubleheader on July 19 at Comerica Park to make up the weather-postponed contest on April 15. The games will have scheduled start times of 1:08 p.m. ET and 7:08 p.m. ET.