CLEVELAND, Ohio — Indians manager Terry Francona was standing in the dugout next to pitching coach Carl Willis watching James Karinchak tiptoe around the snake pit that is the White Sox’s lineup.
“Me and Carl were laughing,” said Francona. “I was like, ‘I think I like baseball, but I’m not sure.’ It’s a little agonizing.’”
All seemed calm when Karinchak started the ninth inning Tuesday night with the Indians leading, 6-3. Karinchak was facing the bottom of lineup, a lineup that besides a three-run second inning, had failed to score against Shane Bieber and Bryan Shaw.
But it’s clear the White Sox have been doing their homework on Karinchak. In the first game of Monday’s doubleheader, they went into the eighth inning with the score tied 5-5 against him. A sacrifice fly by Jose Abreu and a two-run homer by Adam Eaton turned that into a 8-6 Chicago win.
Jake Lamb started Tuesday night’s ninth inning with a sharp single to right. Lamb went to second on a wild pitch before Andrew Vaughn flied out tor right. Zack Collins singled to score Lamb and make it 6-4.
Chicago manager Tony La Russa pinch-hit Eaton for Billy Hamilton, but Karinchak won this meeting with a strikeout. Still, the White Sox lineup was hissing.
Tim Anderson singled as Collins went to second. Nick Madrigal followed with another single to make it 6-5. When Karinchak walked Yoan Moncada on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases, he’d turned a comfortable three-run save into something far more prickly.
When Abreu, last year’s AL MVP, came to the plate, Francona had his brief conversation with Willis.
“That’s the last guy you want to see up there hitting,” said Francona.
Karinchak’s first two pitches to Abreu, both curves, were balls. The third pitch, a 96 mph fastball, induced a grounder to short for the final out as Karinchak earned his seventh save.
“There was never a doubt,” said catcher Austin Hedges, lifted off the ground in a Karinchak bearhug after the win.
Karinchak, in his first 21 games this season, was almost unhittable. He had a 0.44 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings. He allowed three hits.
It was a streak that couldn’t last. . .and it didn’t. Karinchak has allowed nine runs, seven earned, in his last five games.
“He was obviously punching the world out earlier in the year,” said Hedges. “Now he’s kind of figuring out how to get guys out if they’re going to put the ball in play. Which is good, you know?
“It’s going to happen. It’s the big leagues. Guys are going to make adjustments, guys are going to learn you.”
Karinchak, who has struck out 44% of the batters he’s faced, is 2-2 with a 2.92 ERA. He has five holds and is 7-for-8 in save situations. In compiling those numbers, he’s also drawn the attention of the the hitters who have to face him.
“When you have such good stuff, guys are going to start preparing more for you,” said Hedges. “They’re going to do different things in the box. They’re going to have a team-type approach, kind of like the way guys try to beat Shane (Bieber)..
“You’re either shutting down the stuff in the dirt, or you’re shutting down the high fastball. So, the league’s making adjustments. Now it’s his turn to make an adjustment. That’s what he’s going to do.”
Hentges believes Karinchak make any correction that is needed.
“He works so hard. We have so much belief in him,” said Hentges. “Outings like this are great for a young guy like him in a closer role. Now he knows what it’s like. It’s not going to be easy every time. That’s why it’s the big leagues. I was proud of him for responding as well.”
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