KANSAS CITY -- Given the speed within their lineup, the Indians know that the stolen bases will continue to pile up as the season moves deeper into the summer.
Indians manager Terry Francona is more concerned with Cleveland's success rate when attempting to steal and how well his club runs from first to third base on singles. To this point, the Indians have excelled in both of those areas.
"That's what we care about more," Francona said.
Entering Thursday's game against the Royals, Cleveland had advanced from first base to third base (or home) on a base hit a Major League-leading 61 times this season. The Rockies and Cardinals ranked second with 55 such sprints apiece, and the Angels (54) ranked second to the Indians in the American League.
Told that his team led the Majors in that category, Francona nodded.
"It feels like we do and I'm glad that's the case," Francona said. "That's a good way to play, especially with all the left-handed hitters we have. First and third is way better than first and second."
The Tribe headed into Thursday's action ranked second in the American League with 64 stolen bases and the team's 80-percent success rate was fourth in the league. Speedsters Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs have not stolen as many bases in the first half as expected, but Francona said pitchers have paid close attention to them.
As a result, pitchers have gone with slide steps more often, which sometimes leads to elevated pitches to hitters such as Asdrubal Cabrera or Jason Kipnis.
"I'll take the trade-off," Francona said. "If a pitcher wants to slide step every pitch, Kip or Cabrera is going to get one of those flattened out fastballs or hanging breaking balls and do some damage."
Giambi's hitting has been timely for Indians
KANSAS CITY -- An examination of Jason Giambi's overall statistical line does not tell the whole story. If you suggest to Terry Francona that the veteran slugger is struggling, the Indians manager will make sure to point out Giambi's underlying production.
When he has come up with a hit, Giambi has made it count for Cleveland.
"He bears down so well in those at-bats," Francona said. "Very seldom do you see him leave the strike zone. He gets a pitch to hit and he gets in deep counts. And the more pitches he sees, the more dangerous he becomes."
Heading into Thursday's game against the Royals, the 42-year-old Giambi was batting just .208 with a .751 OPS this season. Over his past 20 games, however, the designated hitter was hitting .283 with a .411 on-base percentage, .609 slugging percentage and a 1.010 OPS.
The recent surge comes after Giambi hit .150 with a .543 OPS over his first 18 games. In the 20 games since those struggles, he has piled up four home runs, three doubles, eight walks, eight runs and 10 RBIs through 56 plate appearances.
Giambi also entered Thursday hitting .308 with runners in scoring position and two outs, and .360 with runners in scoring position as a whole.
Among American League hitters with at least 125 plate appearances this season, Giambi ranks sixth with an average of one RBI per 4.82 at-bats. The top five on that list include Baltimore's Chris Davis (3.67), Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (3.85), Boston's David Ortiz (4.32), Boston's Mike Carp (4.68) and Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion (4.77).
"He doesn't have to hit .300," Francona said. "When guys are on base, I think he's a better hitter. I think that's just years of [experience]. When he sees guys on base, very few times has he left a guy on third with less than two outs. That really gets under his skin. He doesn't like that."
Francona is always quick to praise Giambi's veteran leadership, too.
"I can't tell you how many times I look up," Francona said, "and something will go maybe haywire, and the first guy on that step is Giambi, like waiting to reassure or correct. It helps me a ton, because when it comes from the manager, it's panicking or over-managing. When it comes from a teammate, it's being a good teammate. But, it's got to come from the right guy."
Indians express concern for Royals' Gordon
KANSAS CITY -- The Indians were still expressing concern about Alex Gordon one day after the Royals left fielder exited Wednesday's game with a hip injury and a possible concussion.
Gordon fell awkwardly and slammed the back of his head on the left-field wall while attempting to catch a Jason Kipnis' fly ball in the sixth inning of Cleveland's 6-5 loss. Kipnis wound up with an unlikely inside-the-park home run, but the Tribe was hardly celebrating the rare feat.
"You could tell our whole team was worried," Indians manager Terry Francona said on Thursday. "You're so excited to see your guy run around the field, but at the same time, there was no jumping around. And everybody was looking out to make sure [Gordon] was OK. That's how we all felt. That's not a good feeling, seeing somebody laying there."
Gordon was being evaluated on Thursday to determine the extent of his injuries.
Shortly after crossing home plate, Kipnis apologized to Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez for initially celebrating the home run. The Indians second baseman did not realize Gordon was still down on the ground in left field when he scored.
"All of us respect Alex over in this locker room," Kipnis said. "So we all wish him the best and a speedy recovery from whatever it was. We heard it was a bruised hip and a concussion. We hope he's all right. You never want to see a play like that happen, but at the same time it was a big play in the game for us. Emotions just kind of come out at the time."
Kipnis' inside-the-park homer was the first for an Indians hitter since Jhonny Peralta accomplished the feat on July 18, 2010, against the Tigers. On that play, outfielder Ryan Raburn -- now with Cleveland -- crashed through the bullpen door in center field at Progressive Field while the baseball ricocheted back into center field.
"I remember that," Raburn said with a chuckle. "I can't believe that gate [opened]. Well, I hit it pretty hard, though. It was closed. I just busted it open when I hit it. That was just one of those many, many things that went wrong when I was [in Detroit]."
• Due to the late game on Wednesday night -- Cleveland's 6-5 loss to the Royals ended at 2:18 a.m. ET -- Francona gave shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and first baseman Nick Swisher a break on Thursday. Cabrera, who recently returned from a right quad injury, was in the lineup as the designated hitter. Swisher, who has battled left shoulder soreness this season, was out of the starting lineup.
• Indians right-hander Zach McAllister, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained right middle finger, said he felt fine during his mound workout on Tuesday and plans on throwing another bullpen session on Friday. McAllister has only thrown fastballs, changeups and cutters to this point. He is not sure when he will test out his breaking ball.
• Indians sinkerballer Justin Masterson has already reached 10 wins and 125 strikeouts this season. He joins Gaylord Perry (1972, 1974), Sam McDowell ('69, '70), Luis Tiant ('68) and Bob Feller ('40, '41, '46) as the only Indians pitchers to achieve those benchmarks prior to the All-Star break, dating back to at least 1916.
• The Indians still have three more series left before the All-Star break, but the team has already established franchise marks for offensive strikeouts (700) and pitching strikeouts (683) in a first half. The previous mark for a Tribe offense was 681 strikeouts (2008 and '09) and the previous mark for a pitching staff was 667 (2000).
• Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis went 1-for-4 with a single and a walk against the Royals on Thursday, extending his hitting streak to 15 games, in which he's hit .462 (24-for-52). He has also reached base via a hit, walk or hit-by-pitch in 35 consecutive games, hitting .376 (47-for-125) with six homers, 13 doubles, one triple, 24 walks and 30 RBI in that span..
Quote to note
"When you know you need to sleep, you can't. I was watching some political show and the remote was about four feet from me. It was like, 'Screw it, man. Too far.' So I learned some stuff about that guy [Edward] Snowden."
--Francona, on trying to sleep Wednesday night