CLEVELAND -- The Indians took a moment to honor returned United States soldiers on Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Prior to their game against the Royals, the Indians invited Major James Ruzicka to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, which was received at home plate by first baseman Nick Swisher. Ruzicka is currently serving his second consecutive year in Afghanistan as Office in Charge of Internal Operations of the Special Forces Base.
Ruzicka's wife, a native Clevelander and lifelong Indians fan, was on hand to share the experience.
As part of Major League Baseball's league-wide remembrance of 9/11, the Indians wore commemorative hats to remember returning solders. Cleveland also held a moment of silence before the game and had members of the Cleveland Police Department present the colors before the game's first pitch.
Post-surgery, Wood can still bring the heat
CLEVELAND -- Count Indians reliever Blake Wood among the increasing number of Tommy John surgery success stories. During Wood's brief outing against the Royals on Tuesday night, one look at the Progressive Field radar gun was all one needed to know he is fully recovered.
Wood's first pitch of the ninth inning was a 100-mph fastball to Kansas City's Billy Butler and the hard-throwing right-hander did not let up. Only two of the dozen heaters fired at his former team registered under 98 mph in Wood's three-batter appearance.
"You feel stronger," Wood said, "because you've had more time than you've ever had to work out, get stronger and work on the stuff you wanted to work on that you didn't have time to do during the season, to feel right mechanically. It's that, plus the new ligament."
Wood and Indians starter Danny Salazar -- both with Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery on their resumes -- have reached triple digits on the radar gun this year. A few lockers away from Wood in the Indians' locker room, fellow Tommy John-recipient Josh Tomlin laughed.
"I got the same ligament he got," Tomlin said of Wood. "Same one as Salazar, too. Why am I still throwing 88?"
According to brooksbaseball.net, which compiles PITCHf/x data from every Major League game, Wood's 99.43-mph average on Tuesday night was the second-highest velocity average he has posted in a game since Aug. 29, 2011. Across the 2010-11 campaigns with Kansas City, the 28-year-old Wood averaged 95.5 mph with his fastball.
Wood, who underwent surgery on his elbow in May last year, fully understands that pitch speed is not the only important element on the mound. In 26 1/3 Minor League innings this season, Wood issued 18 walks between stints with four Cleveland affiliates. Through two relief outings for the Indians, the right-hander has three walks and one strikeout.
"You want to get physically where you want to be first, get your stuff back," Wood said. "And then you can work from there. Right now, I feel like, 'All right, my stuff is where I want it to be.' Now I need to start doing other things better, like controlling the running game, working on command. That's going to happen with getting to pitch more."
In 2011, Wood appeared in 55 games for the Royals, posting a 3.75 ERA with 62 strikeouts and 32 walks in 69 2/3 innings. Kansas City exposed him to waivers over the winter, and Cleveland claimed the sidelined reliever on Nov. 2, giving him a chance to continue his recovery with a new team this season.
"I couldn't be more thankful to an organization," Wood said. "At that point, I was five months out of surgery and I was just hoping to get a chance somewhere. It was a lot of hoping, not thinking that it was going to happen. I'm glad they did. I'm hoping they're glad they took a chance on me, because I'm certainly very thankful that they did."
Tribe had inside info on infielder Ramirez
CLEVELAND -- The Indians did not doubt that infielder Jose Ramirez would be able to handle the big league stage, even without having any Triple-A experience under his belt. Much of that faith stemmed from the vote of confidence that came from the player-development team.
The combination of Ramirez's poise and style of play convinced the organization to summon him from Double-A Akron for Cleveland's stretch run.
"He plays like he feels like belongs," said Indians vice president of player development Ross Atkins. "I think that was probably the overwhelming sentiment that gave us the confidence that his performance would be the same in Double-A as it is here in the Major Leagues, or at least very close to the same."
Indians manager Terry Francona joked that the 20-year-old rookie was "all over the place" during his first Major League start on Monday. Ramirez collected a pair of hits, scored one run, was picked off at first base and made a throwing error, along with some solid defensive plays.
In the third inning against Kansas City, Ramirez sprinted from first to third base on a ground ball to Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas. That mad dash forced an extra throw by Kansas City's defense, created an error and led to an unlikely run for the Tribe.
"He also could've been thrown out," Atkins said with a laugh. "But he plays the game with very little fear. Everyone has some level of caution and fear, but he's not afraid to make a mistake."
In 113 games at Akron this season, Ramirez posted a .272/.325/.624 slash line to go along with three home runs, 16 doubles, six triples and 38 RBIs. Along the way, he also collected 38 stolen bases, scored 78 runs and walked (39) nearly as often as he struck out (41). In the field, Ramirez bounced between second base, shortstop and third for the Aeros.
Atkins said Ramirez could have a future as a regular second baseman or shortstop, or as a utility man for the Indians, depending on the club's needs. His future with the club might be undetermined, but there is one thing Atkins knows for sure.
"It's always fun to watch someone who plays with a lot of confidence," he said, "and plays almost as if they're playing in their backyard. It's certainly not something that you teach, but he doesn't view this level to be really significantly better than anywhere else he's ever played."
McAllister's mechanics appear source of woes
CLEVELAND -- Pitching has carried the Indians into contention in this season's second half, and the club's arms will continue to play a key role down the stretch. That is why the recent showing from right-hander Zach McAllister has been troubling for the Tribe.
McAllister fell victim to a big offensive inning in Tuesday's 6-3 loss to the Royals, marking the third consecutive subpar performance for the starter. Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said some mechanical issues are to blame for the pitcher's recent slide.
"Mechanically, he was kind of spinning off a little bit," Callaway said on Wednesday morning. "The last few outings, I don't think he's had a great feel for his mechanics. His changeup hasn't been very good, he's been kind of peeling off toward first base and leaving balls up, and it's kind of cost him. It's just a bad three starts mechanically."
Through 21 starts this season, McAllister is 7-9 with a 4.11 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 118 1/3 innings. Over his past three turns, the right-hander went 0-2 with an 8.78 ERA, allowing a .309 opponents' batting average in 13 1/3 innings. In his previous seven starts, McAllister went 3-2 with a 3.66 ERA and a .224 opponents' average across 39 1/3 innings.
Big innings have been mostly to blame.
In Tuesday's loss, McAllister allowed three runs on three hits without recording an out in the sixth inning against the Royals. In his previous start, on Sept. 4, it was another three-run, three-hit burst that sent McAllister to the showers. On Aug. 30, McAllister was tagged for four runs in a disastrous third inning against Detroit.
"Lately, it seems like it's four or five batters where he can't make an adjustment," Callaway said. "And it ends up hurting him. This is a big situation and he wants to compete so bad. Maybe he's just over-competing instead of just doing what makes him successful, just making pitches and keeping the ball down."
Quote to note
"That's the only team I had played for. I came up with them. I was with them for seven years. That was all I knew. I think it actually made me a little more comfortable, because I've seen those guys in the Minor Leagues and played with them on the back fields in Arizona. I've known those guys for a long time. I think, in that sense, it actually made me relax a little."
-- Indians reliever Blake Wood, on Tuesday's outing against the Royals, his former team
• The Indians entered Wednesday with a 9-6 record against the Royals, but Kansas City has proven to be a tough opponent this season. Twelve of the teams' 15 games had been decided by three or fewer runs, with six of the contests being decided by one run.
"They've got a lot of fight," Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall said. "They never give up. We've had a hard time with them this year. We've played good games. We know what we're getting when they come into town."
• Entering Wednesday, Indians center fielder and leadoff man Michael Bourn has posted a .216/.277/.290 slash line over his past 60 games (241 at-bats), dating back to June 29. In the 55 games he played before that (228 at-bats), Bourn hit .303/.348/.390 for the Tribe. Since Aug. 24, he had a .172 average over 16 games.
• The Indians wrapped up their series with a noon ET contest against the Royals on Wednesday. Heading into the contest, Cleveland boasted a 29-19 (.604 winning percentage) ledger in day games, marking the third-best record in the American League and the fifth-best day-game record in the Majors.