CLEVELAND — The Indians got their cleanup hitter back for Game 5, with Edwin Encarnacion returning to the lineup Wednesday after missing the past two games of the ALDS with an ankle injury he sustained in the first inning of Game 2 on Friday.
Cleveland’s struggling offense — .173 team batting average through the first four games of the series — needed a spark.
“I mean, nobody has a crystal ball, but he’s been our 4-hole hitter all year and he drove in a hundred,” manager Terry Francona said before Game 5. “It’s nice to have him. His presence should be helpful.”
“We know how dangerous he is,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Encarnacion before the game. “But the people in front of him are dangerous, the people behind him are dangerous, too. And we’ve seen him do it to us for a long time. Before, it was in our division for the last few years. We’re going to approach him the same way we did in Game 1 and Game 2, carefully. But you’ve got to make your pitches on him just like anybody else.”
Francona speculated Encarnacion would return for Game 5 after watching him during a workout at Progressive Field on Tuesday, but the slugger is clearly not 100 percent.
“I think it’s kind of stating the obvious. He doesn’t feel great,” Francona said. “I wouldn’t want to miss this game. You do what you can. He’s never been our best base stealing threat, even when fully healthy, but I thought he was moving around fine (during the workout).
“I was more concerned with him hitting. I watched him in the cage, I watched him on the field. If I wouldn’t have been looking for it, I wouldn’t have known that something was going on. So I thought that was really a good sign. I don’t think — again, there’s a lot of things that aren’t perfect, but the game’s going to start, and we need to try to be one run better when it’s all said and done.”
Encarnacion went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts during the Indians’ 5-2 loss in Game 5.
Staying the same
Despite speculation that Francona would tinker with his lineup, it remained relatively unchanged outside of Michael Brantley’s move to the bench.
Brantley, who filled in for Encarnacion at designated hitter the past two games, was replaced by Austin Jackson in left field. Brantley struggled to find his stroke after missing nearly two months at the end of the regular season with an ankle injury — 1-for-11 in three ALDS games — and was just 1-for-15 with seven strikeouts lifetime against New York’s Game 5 starter, CC Sabathia.
Outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall, who struck out four times in five at-bats over the first four games, was also on the bench.
One move that may have been considered was bringing center fielder Jason Kipnis back to second base, while moving Jose Ramirez to third in place of Giovanny Urshela, a defensive specialist who committed two errors in the Game 4 loss Monday at Yankee Stadium. But Francona stuck with Urshela.
Roberto Perez started in front of Yan Gomes at catcher for the fourth time in five ALDS games, with Francona saying the decision was a hard one.
“When the guys went home (Tuesday) night, (bench coach Brad Mills) told them that we’d get ahold of them because we actually didn’t know (who was going to start),” Francona said. “I took some time and talked to the coaches, and as always I talked to Millsy just about everything. We finally decided that’s what we were going to do.
“I don’t think there was a wrong decision there, and I think before it’s all said and done — and we told Gomer that he’d have something to say about the outcome of the game.”
Gomes entered the night batting .333 (2-for-6) with a double and an RBI — walk-off single in a 9-8, 13-inning Game 2 win — while Perez was at .286 (2-for-7) with a solo home run. Perez went 1-for-3 with an RBI in Wednesday night’s game, while Gomes failed to make an appearance.
Francona said he spoke to John Farrell on Wednesday after Farrell was fired as manager of the Boston Red Sox.
Farrell, a former Indians pitcher and front office member, was Francona’s pitching coach in Boston (2007-10), taking over as Red Sox manager in 2013 and winning the World Series in his first season.
“I talked to Johnny today. He’s one of my dear friends,” Francona said. “And I think on a day like this, I think John knows that he has a lot of people that — a lot of special people that care about him. It happens, unfortunately, in our industry. People get let go. And it’s hard because you care about people. But knowing John the way I do, he’ll land on his feet and he’ll be in a better position than he was before.”
Farrell won the talented AL East Division in three of his five years as manager, but the Red Sox have been eliminated in the first round of the postseason in back-to-back years.
“I feel for him. I’ve been there,” Girardi said. “My heart goes out to him, because I know how much he puts into the job and how much you put your heart and soul into a job. I don’t care what level it is, where you’re at in your life, when you don’t get retained or fired, it’s no fun. And it hurts, because of — you know, in your mind, you’ve put your heart and soul into something, and it’s someone saying that we think someone else can do a better job or we’re going to go a different direction. And it hurts, and I feel for him.”
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