Three Guardians takeaways after wild cap to weekend series with Yankees

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CLEVELAND — In the 10th inning on Sunday, with the Yankees and Guardians exchanging haymakers in a chaotic series finale, Cleveland Guardians manager Stephen Vogt turned to his bench coach and smiled.

“This is awesome,” Vogt said to Craig Albernaz.

Vogt has steered the Guardians to a 10-5 start. His club skidded through a doubleheader against the Yankees on Saturday, but rebounded to salvage a wild 8-7 win on Sunday. He has been tested in his first two weeks as manager, navigating through injuries and inconsistent starting pitching while juggling how to deploy a cast of unproven position players. Sunday’s game pushed him even more, as Vogt cycled through relievers, emptied his bench and shifted guys around the diamond.

He relished every second of it.

“Of course it means a lot and it’s high intensity,” he said, “but it’s such a fun game.”

Comeback kids

As Logan Allen and an army of relievers cooled down in the clubhouse following their outings Sunday, they lived and died by the roar of the crowd. The fans’ reactions revealed to them what unfolded on the field before the delayed broadcast on the clubhouse TVs did. The constant back-and-forth in the final few innings kept the pitchers guessing.

After the Guardians pulled off another come-from-behind win — this one requiring a pair of late-inning charges — players shouted “We don’t quit” as they retreated to the clubhouse through the dugout tunnel. It was the theme of the week: They trailed at least 3-0 in each of the final five games of their homestand. They pulled out wins in two of them, both in 10 innings. In only one game were they decidedly defeated. It’s the sort of habit that shortens the lifespan of a manager or fan.

The rotation has been Cleveland’s weak link, a primary explanation for the sluggish starts. It obviously doesn’t help when the club’s ace, Shane Bieber, is home in Arizona with his right elbow in a protective contraption. Xzavion Curry and Ben Lively will join the rotation this week at Fenway Park, starting Monday and Wednesday, respectively. Cleveland’s starters are averaging fewer than five innings per start (72 2/3 innings in 15 games), which isn’t a healthy trend. They need more from Triston McKenzie and Tanner Bibee.

Credit the bullpen for keeping opposing lineups at bay, granting the offense a chance to mount a comeback. Hunter Gaddis and Cade Smith have combined for 16 2/3 scoreless innings, just as everyone expected. The Guardians’ bullpen owns a 1.88 ERA as a whole.

Double duty

Vogt was beaming about the double play that ended the Yankees’ half of the 10th, a prototypical 3-2-3 twin killing to neutralize another scoring threat. The longtime catcher — who also moonlighted as a first baseman and corner outfielder — lauded the athleticism demonstrated by two catchers, David Fry and Bo Naylor.

Fry placed a perfect throw to the plate, where Naylor applied the tag, pirouetted and whipped a throw back to Fry, who scooped the one-hopper for the second out (and third of the inning). Fry, who shifted from first to catcher back to first during the game, credited Naylor’s presence of mind to even consider a throw to first while completing the tag at the plate.

“For (Fry) to make that throw on the run,” Vogt said, “and to have the IQ to get back to first base and for Bo to sweep tag, apply the tag, spin and throw it back — the amount of athleticism and baseball IQ in that play probably won’t get talked about enough. That should be No. 1 on SportsCenter, MLB. Whatever the top plays are, that should be the top play.”

Revenge tour

Estevan Florial entered the interview room on Sunday and Fry yelled, “Revenge tour, baby.” Florial had one home run in 48 big-league games over parts of four seasons with the Yankees. Then he socked two homers in 24 hours against his former team, including a go-ahead shot in the eighth inning on Sunday.

With those two hacks, Florial boosted his wRC+ to 154 (meaning he’s been 54 percent more productive than the league-average hitter this season). Let’s toast to tiny, early-season sample sizes. Florial has totaled only 25 plate appearances. He’s had four walks, 10 strikeouts and those two homers, an apt demonstration of his skills and his deficiencies.

“He makes really good swing decisions,” Vogt said. “He does punch out, but … there’s a big reason why he’s with us: the quality of his at-bats.”

The Guardians knew this would be an experiment when they traded pitcher Cody Morris for Florial over the winter, but with so few answers in the outfield, they felt it was a gamble worth taking. Before Saturday night, they had witnessed much of what the Yankees saw in brief spurts. Then he homered in consecutive games against New York to remind everyone why he was once a top prospect, why he’s able to produce silly numbers at Triple A and why teams can’t quit him. The question is whether he can find some modicum of consistency.

This team desperately needs someone other than Steven Kwan to emerge in the outfield. Tyler Freeman and Will Brennan are off to rough starts. Aside from some walks and wielding a rocket arm, Ramón Laureano hasn’t offered much yet. There’s ample opportunity for someone to get in a rhythm and seize regular playing time. Maybe Florial will be the one.

“The swings have been better and better,” Vogt said.

(Photo of Andrés Giménez celebrating after hitting a 10th-inning sacrifice fly: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

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