April Showers Bring May Wins

The turn of the calendar brings about new confidence for the Tribe

(Adam Pintar)

By Mike Lopresti / Indianapolis Indians | May 12, 2017 12:58 PM ET

This was a late April afternoon in Scranton, and both the manager and the hitting coach of the Indianapolis Indians had seen enough. Enough bad at-bats. Enough empty innings. Enough losing, in a 6-14 start. Meeting time in the clubhouse before the game; manager Andy Barkett, coach Butch Wynegar, and hitters only.

Let Barkett take it from there.
"It was supposed to last only about 20 minutes. It lasted about 45. A lot of what we talked about was self-confidence and believing in yourself.
"When you're in the batter's box you have to believe you're the best player on the field. Even if you're fighting that belief, you still have to trick yourself into it. If you think about anything else, you're going to get beat."
Let Wynegar take it from there.
"Andy and I were both a little frustrated by the fact we were up there looking very passive, looking like we weren't ready to hit, taking a lot of fastballs. Andy had the information on paper to show them how many fastballs we've been taking, so it wasn't like we were talking off the top of our heads."
"Straight to the point meeting. There was no yelling, there was no screaming or anything like that. That's the last thing I wanted to do with these guys, because No. 1, I knew they were trying. But the message was, this is what's going to happen in the big leagues if you're doing what you're doing now, and it wasn't good."
Let catcher Jacob Stallings take it from there.
"Andy basically just laid it all out on the line. He just told us what he saw, and he was spot on. And he asked the hitters what we saw. We're a young team and there's still a lot of learning, but he was brutally honest. We weren't making adjustments, especially with two strikes. Swinging at the same pitches, taking the same pitches.
"I think some guys would be angry, but our team took it really well, because we know Andy has our backs. He's the ultimate player's manager, so when he gets on you, you know he's being honest with you, and he's right."
What happened next?
Barkett: "I think from that day on, I've seen a difference."
Wynegar: "It seems like the light bulb went on in their minds."
Stallings: "I think guys heard him."
And so here the Indians are, 14-16 through Thursday. To describe the season's first month: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Oh yeah, and the wet.
There have been four postponements. There have been nine call-ups to the Pirates, the road between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh already starting to look like I-465. Max Moroff homered in the first three games, and left for the Pirates with eight home runs - matching his career high in one month.
And there has been a sudden course correction in fortune.
First, there was April. Ugh. The opening homestand included a five-game losing streak. The 7-15 record for the month was the worst in the International League. In the first 16 games, Indianapolis was shutout four times, three by 1-0 scores. Five times, the Indians lost when leading after six innings. They went 1-8 in one-run games, and hit .224 with runners in scoring position.
"A few times early in the season, we got to pitchers early and then just kind of hit cruise control and let them off the hook," Stallings said.
"I think in April we were a little unsure of ourselves," Barkett said. "We were trying to feel out the level. A lot of guys were for the first time playing at this level. A couple of guys were repeating, but even the repeaters are young. They were trying to figure out where they were, and who they were."
Wynegar put both forefingers and thumbs together to form a small triangle. "I think a lot of guys were going up there looking for a ball right there. And your zone is bigger than that."
Then, May arrived. When the Indians and Tyler Eppler shut down Charlotte 1-0 Wednesday - one of those morning starts with the school buses lined up outside Victory Field, and the concession stands buzzing with school field trips - it was not only their fifth win in a row, but the first shutout victory of the season.
That pushed the Indians to 6-1 in May. The close game blues? They won three one-run decisions in four days. The futility with runners in scoring position? They were hitting .345 for the month.
It was a good moment for Barkett to describe the task that April had created, nursing his young lineup through hard times.
"We talk to them. We encourage them. We try to hunt the good stuff. And we tell them that this is going to turn around. It's just baseball," he said. "We had that conversation many times.
"You have a choice when you're getting beat up. You can sit there and feel sorry for yourself and wait for somebody else to feel sorry for you. If that makes you feel better, that's fine, but at the end of the day, you're still getting your butt beat. You have to pick up yourself by your boot straps and you have to go fight every day, you just keep playing, and the game will turnaround. Especially if you've got talent, which we do.
"If you take individual by individual, they're all believing in themselves a lot more than they did in April, and that's the difference."
Added Wynegar, "We basically gave them permission, if you see a pitch somewhere around the zone you're looking for, especially a fastball, take a whack at it."
It won't happen at the plate every game. Eppler's four-hitter through seven shutout innings Wednesday was as impressive a start as any this season, as he became the team's first three-time winner. "The kid's got good stuff, he has ice in his veins," Barkett said. "We've got a little bit of momentum, we've been playing pretty good lately, and he took that and ran with it."
So pitching carried that day. It was the second consecutive game the Indians had won with three or fewer runs. Before Tuesday, they were 0-10.
"A 1-0 score, that's not what a hitting coach wants to see," Wynegar said. "But when I look at my notes I took during the game, I walk away with a good feel. I'm looking at the quality at-bats. I'm looking at some of the well-hit balls that were just caught. That's what I'm trying to stress to them.
"Like (Austin) Meadows. Meadows to me is swinging the bat extremely well right now. He was 0-for-4 today, and my job with him right now is to keep him confident, telling him what he's doing is good. Stay where you are, the results will come. When they don't see hits, they kind of start, why am I not seeing hits? That's baseball. That's hitting."
Meadows, rated Pittsburgh's top prospect, started the season 1-for-23. But May dawned with him getting four RBI in a win over Toledo and three hits Tuesday against Charlotte. Signs of life from him, from so many.
"The mentality of the whole team has changed since that meeting," Wynegar said.
Or as Eppler said, "We're just finding out who we are."
How to get to where the Indians are now? Go to Scranton and make a U-turn.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More