March 2011

Bastian’s 2011 Predictions

I woke up at 6 a.m. this morning, or 3 a.m. according to my body’s clock, which was still on Arizona time. Once my morning coffee was in hand, and I had some tunes picked out for the car, I made the two-plus hour drive from my home to Columbus.

Now, where I live, there’s not really a direct path to I-71. And I’m not against taking scenic routes, so I opted for some country roads due south.

Even passed the Magical Farms and saw hundreds of alpacas munching the morning away in the fields. Gotta say… didn’t expect that.

Eventually made my way to Huntington Park, which is a beauty of a Minor League stadium. Seriously. If you’re within driving distance, come see this park. They did a tremendous job. Unfortunately, after two innings were in the books, the Father Winter decided that he had seen enough baseball for one day.

The Indians and Clippers played to a 1-1 tie after 2 1/3 innings with a little over 5,100 fighting the elements so they could see a little ball. After the game, the Indians officially set their roster. As expected, Grady Sizemore, Joe Smith and Jason Donald landed on the 15-day DL. Trevor Crowe and Jared Goedert were put on the 60-day.

Goedert was technically recalled from Triple-A before being de-activated. The demotion of Jensen Lewis, the trading of Jayson Nix to Toronto and the 60-day trips for Crowe and Goedert cleared four spots on the 40-man roster. So, welcome aboard Travis Buck, Jack Hannahan, Justin Germano and Adam Everett.

As today’s title suggests, now is as good a time as any to roll out my annual predictions. Last year, I nailed one division winner (Philadelphis) and two other playoff teams (Braves and Yankees). Among award winners, I correctly predicted both Cy Young Award winners (Felix Hernandez and Doc Halladay).

So, hey, I got 31% of my predictions right. I don’t think that’s too shabby.

Let’s give it another go…

AMERICAN LEAGUE

East
1. Red Sox
*2. Yankees
3. Rays
4. Blue Jays
5. Orioles

Central
1. White Sox
2. Twins
3. Tigers
4. Indians
5. Royals

West
1. Rangers
2. A’s
3. Angels
4. Mariners

NATIONAL LEAGUE

East
1. Phillies
2. Braves
3. Marlins
4. Nationals
5. Mets

Central
1. Reds
*2. Brewers
3. Cardinals
4. Cubs
5. Astros
6. Pirates

West
1. Rockies
2. Dodgers
3. Giants
4. Padres
5. D-backs

*indicates Wild Card pick

WORLD SERIES

Phillies over Red Sox

(Same prediction as last year. It’s GOT to be right this time)

AWARD WINNERS

AL Most Valuable Player: Robinson Cano, Yankees
AL Cy Young Award: David Price, Rays
AL Rookie of the Year: Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays
AL Manager of the Year: Ozzie Guillen, White Sox

NL Most Valuable Player: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
NL Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
NL Rookie of the Year: Brandon Belt, Giants
NL Manager of the Year: Jim Tracy, Rockies

So there you have it.

Debate away…

–JB

Your 2011 Cleveland Indians

Monday morning was Decision Day for the Indians. One by one, the players remaining in position battles were called into manager Manny Acta’s office. There, he and GM Chris Antonetti delivered the news. Some good. Some bad.

The five spots still open were filled. The players who got the nod came with their own unique background.

There was the rookie (Vinnie Pestano). The undrafted free agent out of Harvard (Frank Herrmann). The veteran mulling retirement (Adam Everett). The non-roster reliever two years removed from pitching in Japan (Justin Germano). And the former top catching prospect and a key chip in the Cliff Lee trade (Lou Marson).

For every congratulatory high five, however, there was a handshake of support.

Shown the door were infielders Luis Valbuena and Jayson Nix, catchers Luke Carlin and Paul Phillips and reliever Jess Todd. All will likely head to Triple-A Columbus, with the exception of Nix. He is out of options and can decline an outright assignment. Before Nix is designated for assignment, the Tribe will try to find him a big league job via trade.

Your 2011 Cleveland Indians are as follows:

STARTING ROTATION

1. Fausto Carmona
2. Carlos Carrasco
3. Justin Masterson
4. Josh Tomlin
5. Mitch Talbot

“In order for us to have the success that we’re anticipating, we can’t afford to have one or two of those guys to go backwards in their development.” — Acta

BULLPEN

Closer: Chris Perez
Setup: Tony Sipp
Setup: Rafael Perez
Middle: Chad Durbin
Middle: Vinnie Pestano
Long: Frank Herrmann
Long: Justin Germano

“It should be a good mix. It gives Manny the opportunity to not only match-up right, left, but different styles of hitters, too.” – Antonetti

LINEUP (tentative)

1. Michael Brantley, CF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3. Shin-Shoo Choo, RF
4. Carlos Santana, C
5. Travis Hafner, DH
6. Orlando Cabrera, 2B
7. Austin Kearns, LF
8. Matt LaPorta, 1B
9. Jack Hannahan, 3B

“I feel a lot better this year because, going into the season last year, we had three guys in the lineup who were going to play for the first time in the big leagues on an everyday basis. We don’t have that case right now.” – Acta

BENCH

Outfield: Travis Buck
Utility: Shelley Duncan
Utility: Adam Everett
Catcher: Lou Marson

“The flexibility gives Manny more options. It gives him the ability to take advantage of putting each guy in a position to be successful, whether it’s an individual matchup with a particular pitcher or to help complement our pitcher that’s on the mound. We have the ability to go a number of different ways.” — Antonetti

DISABLED LIST (unofficial)

INF Jason Donald (fractured left hand)
CF Grady Sizemore (left knee injury)
OF Trevor Crowe (right rotator cuff)
RP Joe Smith (strained abdominal)

“It’s Spring Training. Inevitably, when you have 60 guys in camp, I’m sure that there will be a few guys that have some bumps and bruises along the way. Hopefully we can minimize the extent of those and the duration of those.” — Antonetti, earlier this spring

Check Indians.com for more.

Also, I appreciate your patience while I got the blog up annd running again. Had some technical difficulties over the past week or so while we were transitioning to a new blogging system. And, this is my last day in Arizona. I am flying back to Cleveland tomorrow and I will be back providing coverage from the exhibition in Columbus on Wednesday.

Stay tuned for more.

–JB

Morning maneuvering

The makeup of the Indians’ Opening Day roster became a little more clear on Friday morning, when the club made a handful of roster moves and decisions.

Cleveland named right-hander Josh Tomlin the team’s fifth starter, putting him in a rotation that also includes Opening Day starter Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Mitch Talbot and Carlos Carrasco.

Indians general manager Chris Antonetti noted that Orlando Cabrera will open as the team’s second baseman and Jack Hannahan (not currently on the 40-man roster) will make the club as the third baseman, barring any roster setbacks in the final days of camp.

Antonetti also indicated that outfielders Travis Buck and Shelley Duncan are in the plans for the Opening Day roster. Outfielders Jordan Brown and Chad Huffman — while still technically in Major League camp — are expected to be sent to the Minors to open this season.

Reliever Joe Smith (strained abdominal muscle) is “more likely” to open the season on the 15-day disabled list, according to Antonetti. That would leave Justin Germano, Frank Herrmann, Vinnie Pestano and Jess Todd battling for the three vacancies in the Tribe’s bullpen.

Like Hannahan, Buck and Germano are in camp as non-roster players. The team’s 40-man roster currently stands at 39, so two subsequent moves would be required if both Buck and Germano made the Opening Day squad. Antonetti said such moves would need to be completed by Thursday.

David Huff and Jeanmar Gomez, who were competing against Tomlin for the fifth spot, have been optioned to Triple-A Columbus, along with outfielder Ezequiel Carrera. Right-handers Anthony Reyes and Doug Mathis have been re-assigned to Minor League camp.

The Indians’ remaining decisions involve the bullpen, the backup catcher and the utility infielder role off the bench. Lou Marson is competing against Paul Phillips and Luke Carlin for the reserve role behind the plate. Adam Everett, Luis Valbuena, Jayson Nix and Cord Phelps are infielder still in camp.

–JB

The home stretch

Thumbnail image for ducks.jpgWhen the calendar flips to Wednesday, there will be one week left in Arizona for the Indians. The time has come for the club to get all its ducks in a row.

Cleveland likely has a pretty good idea who will be heading north with the big club, but a lot can change in a hurry. Pretty soon, though, the Opening Day roster will be finalized.

On Tuesday, the Tribe further trimmed its spring gathering by outrighting right-hander Jensen Lewis to Triple-A Columbus. He cleared waivers and was not able to decline the Minor League assignment.

That reduced the field vying for three available bullpen spots by one. Up and down the roster, there are decisions left to be made (or announced anyway). There are favorites, but holes remain at third base, on the bench and at the back end of the rotation and bullpen.

Here is a breakdown of what we know right now.

POSTION PLAYERS:

1B – Matt LaPorta
2B – Orlando Cabrera
SS – Asdrubal Cabrera
3B -
C – Carlos Santana
LF – Austin Kearns
CF – Michael Brantley
RF Shin-Soo Choo
DH Travis Hafner

Breakdown: The favorite for the starting third base job right now is veteran Jack Hannahan. He’d be a favorite for a utility infield role due to his ability to play all four infield spots with plus defense, but the left hand injury to Jason Donald has Hannahan as the top contender for the vacancy at third base. Other options include Jayson Nix and Luis Valbuena. Technically, the Indians have not said Orlando Cabrera is the starting second baseman, either. But clearly the signs are all there.

BENCH:

C-
OF-
INF-
UTIL-

Breakdown: Yep, it’s still wide open. Lou Marson is up against Luke Carlin and Paul Phillips for the backup catcher role. Travis Buck is the favorite for the extra outfield job. The Tribe could go a couple ways with the last utility role. They could carry a fifth outfielder who can double as a first baseman or DH, or they could carry an extra infielder. With Hannahan now pulled into the starting lineup mix, it’s not clear which direction the Indians are leaning.

ROTATION (not necessarily in this order):

1. Fausto Carmona
2. Justin Masterson
3. Mitch Talbot
4. Carlos Carrasco
5.

Breakdown: The Indians are on the verge of revealing their rotation and it says here that the fifth spot will go to Josh Tomlin. That said, Cleveland has not made anything official and David Huff and Jeanmar Gomez are still in the mix, as far as public knowledge goes.

BULLPEN

CL – Chris Perez
SU – Tony Sipp
SU – Rafael Perez
MR- Chad Durbin
MR-
LR-
LR-

Breakdown: Joe Smith (upper abdominal strain) is doubtful for Opening Day and Lewis is at Triple-A. That leaves Justin Germano, Doug Mathis, Vinnie Pestano, Frank Herrmann and Jess Todd battling for three spots. Germano and Pestano look to be leading the pack and Herrmann is right in the mix as well. Mathis and Todd are still under consideration as well.

Things to consider…

LIKELY HEADED TO DL:

OF- Grady Sizemore
OF- Trevor Crowe
INF- Jason Donald
RP- Joe Smith
SP- Anthony Reyes

OUT OF OPTIONS:

INF- Jayson Nix

NOT ON 40-MAN ROSTER:

C- Luke Carlin
C- Paul Phillips
INF- Adam Everett
INF- Jack Hannahan
INF- Cord Phelps
OF- Jordan Brown
OF- Chad Huffman
OF- Travis Buck
RP- Justin Germano
RP- Doug Mathis

Why do those things matter?

For Nix, he would have to be passed through waivers in order to be sent to the Minor Leagues. While on waivers, he’d be up for grabs for other teams. With Donald out, putting Nix on waivers risks losing a layer of depth for 2B and 3B. Before Donald’s injury, Nix looked to be on the bubble. Things might be different now. Depth is important.

As for the non-roster players, the Indians would need to make a subsequent transaction in order to add them to the 40-man. Now, the roster is currently at 39 due to the Lewis move, so there is room for one player (Buck? Hannahan? Germano?). Designating a player for assignment (i.e. removing them from the 40-man roster) first exposes them to waivers. Also, if a player is placed on the 60-day DL (Trevor Crowe is a candidate), that would free up a spot on the roster.

All of these things factor into the final makeup of an Opening Day roster. And, remember, the Opening Day roster only matters for one game. The roster could easily change a few days into the season and it will go through changes all season long. April 1 is only a date on the calendar. That’s why guys like Smith and Sizemore aren’t rushed back just to be in the lineup on Opening Day. It’s more important to be available for the bulk of the season, not for just the first game of the year.

Time to play GM again. Based on the current options and situation, how would your Opening Day roster shake out?

For the rest of the day’s news, check Indians.com.

–JB

Breaking down the bullpen

After a few lovely days back in Ohio with the MLBastian Family, I’m back in Arizona. Apparently I brought a little Midwest back with me, though. Today was ugly and rainy and the Indians’ game against the Royals was canceled as a result.

Ah, but poor weather does not stop the rumor mill now does it?

Early Monday morning, a report surfaced that the Indians had placed right-handed reliever Jensen Lewis on waivers. Now, some of you out there have contacted me asking why Cleveland “waived” Lewis, which makes it sound like he was cut or released. That is something entirely different.

Now, I am not sitting here claiming to be an expert on all the nuances of the MLB waiver system. I’m still learning about the whole process, but after six years in baseball I’ve got a pretty good feel for the general way things work. News of Lewis being exposed to waivers is news in the sense that there was news that Lewis was exposed to waivers.

Confused?

What I mean is a lot of players are placed on waivers in the latter stages of Spring Training. Similarly, lots of players are run through waivers after the non-waiver July 31 Trade Deadline. It is a way to gauge interest in players, putting them temporarily up for grabs to other teams, but it does not always mean the players will be moved.

In Lewis’ case, I can’t confirm whether he was or was not placed on waivers. What I can tell you is that it would make sense if he was. He is having a rough spring and he is out of options. If a team puts in a claim, maybe a deal can be worked out. If there is no claim, then Lewis can be sent outright to the Minor Leagues.

For now, Lewis is very much a member of the Indians. Will he be in the Opening Day bullpen? Well, if he was indeed run through waivers, that could be an indication that it’s more likely he’s got a bus ticket to Triple-A Columbus in his future.

Let’s look at how the bullpen shapes up right now…

LOCKS: Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, Chad Durbin, Tony Sipp

OPEN SPOTS: Three

OTHER CANDIDATES: Jensen Lewis, Joe Smith, Justin Germano, Frank Herrmann, Vinnie Pestano, Doug Mathis, Jess Todd

Smith is still fighting a strained upper abdominal muscle and appears doubtful for Opening Day. Lewis is out of options, but that issue might be in the process of being solved via the waiver situation. Lewis is still in the mix for an Opening Day spot, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that he’s more likely headed to Triple-A.

That would leave Germano, Herrmann, Pestano, Mathis and Todd for three spots (also assuming Smith won’t be ready). Germano and Mathis are in camp on Minor League deals, meaning someone would have to be removed from the 40-man roster for them to be added to the roster. Obviously, if Lewis is outrighted to the Minors (he can’t refuse such an assignment) that would vacate a roster spot.

Pestano seems to be a logical fit for the bullpen, especially if Smith isn’t ready to go. Indians manager Manny Acta raved about Germano on Monday and reiterated how important it is for the Indians to have a reliever or two capable of logging multiple innings. Germano, Herrmann and Mathis fit that mold.

Now is your time to play GM. With the current choices and situation, who would make your Opening Day bullpen for the Tribe?

For the rest of today’s news, check Indians.com.

–JB

Please stand by…

Thumbnail image for standbybars.JPGI asked the Indians if they could stop their whole Spring Training operation for a few days while I head home to see my family in Ohio, but apparently the show will go on without me here in Goodyear. I am leaving on a jet plan on Wednesday morning and I will return Sunday night. In the meantime, the blog will be quiet.

While I’m away, you can keep checking Indians.com for the latest Tribe coverage. There will be a team of writers filling in for me while I’m back home enjoying some down time with Mrs. MLBastian and MLBastian Jr. Come Monday morning, yours truly will be back grinding away here on the beat, getting ready for Opening Day.

But, before I go, here are some notes from Tuesday…

  • Center fielder Grady Sizemore (left knee) ran the bases again on Tuesday morning. He did three sets of home to first, home to second and second to home. He will do one more baserunning workout on Thursday, or Friday if he needs an extra day. The biggest obstacle left in his rehab progression is sliding.
  • If Sizemore passes his next baserunning tests with flying colors, he could make his Spring Training game debut for the Indians on Sunday, according to manager Manny Acta. At the latest, Sizemore said he hoped to be in a game situation by Monday. CLICK HERE for the latest on Sizemore Watch.
  • Righty Anthony Reyes made his Cactus League debut on Tuesday. He faced four batters, retiring two, walking one and allowing a double. Reyes was pulled after 22 pitches due to a pitch count, according to Acta. Earlier this spring, Reyes, who missed all of last season after elbow surgery, was shut down due to elbow soreness.
  • Third baseman Jason Donald remains sidelined with a bone bruise in his left hand. He took part in Cleveland’s morning workout on Tuesday with the exception of swinging a bat. He is unlikely to swing a bat until Thursday at the earliest. On Thursday or Friday, Donald might get into a Minor League or Cactus League game for late-inning defense. When he’ll be back in the starting lineup remains up in the air.
  • Right-hander Joe Smith is also still sidelined with upper abdominal soreness. Smith did note that he was able to throw a light round of catch on Monday. He hopes to be back on a mound for the Indians later this week. Smith said he will likely throw a bullpen session prior to being cleared for a return to Cactus League play.
  • Right-hander Mitch Talbot, who had a 17.55 ERA through three starts this spring, bounced back in a big way on Tuesday. He allowed one first-inning run over five frames, striking out three with no walks and six scattered hits. Talbot said it was a “big weight off his shoulders” to finally find a comfortable and reliable release point. He had been struggling with command of all four pitches this spring.
  • Even though it is only Spring Training, both Talbot and Acta said it was a bit of a relief to see an improved showing from the starter. Talbot said it helped having the knowledge that he already had a spot on the Opening Day roster. That allowed him to work through his mechanical issue without worrying about losing a Major League job.
  • Reliever Jensen Lewis had a tough outing against the Brewers. He entered in relief of Reyes with two outs and two runners on base. Lewis then allowed a three-run homer, issued a walk and gave up a single, and then surrendered another three-run homers. Acta said Lewis struggled with his fastball command.
  • Acta also noted that neither Lewis nor Smith have a guaranteed spot in the bullpen. Right now, the only locks are Chris Perez, Chad Durbin, Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp. That leaves four spots up for grabs. “[Lewis] and Smitty have a leg up,” Acta said, “but a leg up doesn’t mean you’re in. I think just about everybody is fighting for a spot.” It is worth noting that Lewis is out of player options.
  • Chatted some this morning with reliever Frank Herrmann about working with Mike Scott over the offseason on a revamped splitter. Herrmann said their meeting lasted a half hour at most, but Scott showed Herrmann how to simplify his splitter grip. The big challenge right now for Herrmann is to maintain the same arm action and arm speed as he does with his fastball, as to not give away when the split is coming.
  • The Indians have a scheduled team off-day on Wednesday. Players will be sleeping in, going golfing and doing a whole heckuva lot of nothing, for the most part. Not right-hander Josh Tomlin. He’ll be at the Indians complex for a 10 am PT Minor League start. He is vying for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Catch you guys on Monday. Try to survive without me…

–JB

Chisen-stalled

Chisenhall2.jpgLonnie Chisenhall will not be on the Indians’ Opening Day roster.

I’ve written it multiple times. The Indians have come out and said it multiple times. On Monday morning, Chisenhall was even sent back to Minor League camp.

None of this has stopped a lot of Tribe fans from flooding my inbox and my Twitter feed, outraged over the fact that Chisenhall was not given a chance to win the Opening Day job at third base.

If you’ve been following along — whether that’s here on the blog, over on Twitter or on Indians.com — you’ve no doubt seen me defend Cleveland’s decision to send Lonnie Baseball to the Minors to open this season.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. Would I like to see Chisenhall at third on Opening Day? Sure. Why not? He’s a highly-touted prospect who absolutely raked at the plate this spring, looking completely comfortable down the line on defense as well. But just because one player might generate a little excitment for a championship-starved franchise is not a reason to bring him north this soon.

That happens to be the way the Indians see it.

“That’d be short-sighted for us,” Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said on Monday morning. “We can’t just focus on generating excitement. Our focus is on winning championships. That’s what we want to get back to. Not just with Lonnie, but with any of our players, to the extent we can, we want to put them in a position to be successful when they get to the Major League level.”

This is a principle I agree with entirely.

When Chisenhall breaks into The Show, you want him at third base every day for the long haul. You don’t want him there, only to see him struggle in his first taste of the big leagues, forcing a demotion back to the Minors. Teams, not just the Indians, like to avoid shipping a young player back and forth if possible.

In some ways, this is where expanded rosters in September come into play. It helps contending teams boost their depth, but is also helps non-contenders give a taste of the Majors to some developing players. Chisenhall has not had that taste. He hasn’t even cracked Triple-A yet. He has exactly 27 spring at-bats, including four in a “B” game, under his belt.

That resume does not make him a realistic candidate for an Opening Day roster spot, no matter how strong a spring he has had up to this point. The Indians insist that there are areas that Chisenhall — just 22 years old still — needs to develop. Antonetti cited his offense against left-handed pitching and the fact that Chisenhall is still working on learning third base after years spent as a shortstop, as two examples.

“Really, all aspects of his game [need developing],” Antonetti said. “He certainly has strengths. With his swing, his balance, his ability to consistently put the barrel of the bat on the ball, are all strengths. He needs to a little more consistent against left-handed pitching. He needs to continue to have a better awareness of the strike zone. And then defensively, remember, it’s a guy who’s transitioned from shortstop to third base and he still needs to learn nuances at the position defensively.”

“He hasn’t had any Triple-A exposure yet. He’ll begin to learn more about himself and we’ll be able to learn a little bit more about him as well as he faces better pitching and better competition.”

When a team decides to send a player down in this manner, talk of delaying his arbitration clock naturally arises. By pushing back Chisenhall’s promotion to the Majors, Cleveland also potentially pushes back the possibility of him becoming a Super 2 player, meaning he’d need three full seasons to reach arbitration instead of just two.

I know some fans out there won’t buy this — and, hey, you’re entitled to your opinion — but Antonetti said the decision to re-assign Chisenhall to the Minors was in no way financially motivated.

“I can say that’s certainly not the case,” Antonetti said. “What we do is we try to rely upon our evaluators and our player development people. We meet at the end of the season every year to talk about every player in our system and where they are developmentally. Everybody to a person thought that he still had development left to do. I think if you look back to last year, if he was really that far ahead, then he would’ve been at Triple-A at some point last year.

“He still had development left to do where we felt he was best served developing at Double-A last year and he needs some some amount of Triple-A time. How much is going to be dependent upon a lot of things, primarily on his development and secondly on our Major League need.”

And that is the big question. How long will Chisenhall be at Triple-A? One month? Two? Until September? Could he crack the Major Leagues sooner rather than later?

“First thing, there needs to be an opportunity for him,” Antonetti said. “Second, if that opportunity is there, he needs to make sure that he’s done the things necessary from a development standpoint to position himself for that opportunity.

So what do you have to look forward to at third base for now? It’s been written to death that Jason Donald is the favorite for that job and nothing has changed. That said, if Donald’s current left hand issue continues to be an issue, Jack Hannahan seems like the next option for the hot corner.

Maybe that doesn’t excite you like a highly-touted prospect would, but if you take a close look at the situation, and the way baseball teams routinely operate, it is the route that makes the most sense. You don’t have to agree with it. But, that doesn’t mean it should stop you from understanding the reasoning behind it.

For the rest of today’s coverage, check Indians.com.

–JB

Red Cedar Faithful Rejoice!

tom-izzo.jpgThis has been a strange college basketball season for me and my fellow Michigan State fans and alums. Up is down. Down is up. The Spartans lived on the bubble.

I didn’t know what it was like to root for a program that might not make the NCAA tournament. I was actually pretty convinced MSU wasn’t going to get into the big dance this spring.

Naturally, it took until the end of the Selection Sunday show for the Spartans to find out that they did, in fact, get an invitation to the tournament this year. That’s 14 straight tourney appearances in a row!

I haven’t really followed the basketball season too much this year. Between heart-breaking loss after heart-breaking loss, and being busy with baseball, I just decided to take a step back and not let this season drag me down. But today I sported my Spartans hat and was thrilled when Tom Izzo and Gang Green from East Lansing got the nod.

Way to go, fellas. Now live up to your tourney rep!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I live in Ohio now. Time to stop rambling on here about my Big Ten school.

Well, hey, at least I ain’t rooting for Michigan. And, you know what? Big congrats to THE Ohio State University for getting the No. 1 overall seed. Well earned. And playing in Cleveland to start off? That should be a blast. Likewise, congrats to Akron on its tourney invite. Drawing Notre Dame IN Chicago is no easy task, though.

Can’t wait to fill out a few brackets.

But you didn’t come here to read about college basketball…

Sunday’s notes:

  • Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore took a major step Sunday morning in his recovery from microfracture surgery on his left knee. For the first time since the operation, Sizemore tested his knee with some baserunning. He said everything felt fine and he’s down to do more baserunning drills on Tuesday and possibly Thursday.
  • Following the two additional baserunning workouts, combined with more sprint and agility work, plus outfield drills and batting practice, Sizemore could be ready to play in games for the first time this spring. He said Saturday would be the earliest he might be able to get into a game. March 21 or March 22 at the latest, if all goes well. CLICK HERE for more.
  • Chatted with third baseman Jason Donald on Sunday morning about his left hand injury. He said he irritated the hand with a swing on Friday and an MRI exam on Saturday revealed a bone bruise. He is not allowed to swing a bat for three days. I’d say it’s at least another five days before he’s back in a game setting. Indians manager Manny Acta said “nothing has changed” with the third base situation. CLICK HERE for more.
  • Right-hander Joe Smith has not pitched since Wednesday and he was not listed to throw on either Sunday or Monday. He told me he’s been fighting upper abdominal soreness and that’s why he’s been out for a brief period here. Smith said, if all goes as planned, he hopes to be back on the hill by Tuesday or Wednesday.
  • Closer Chris Perez has been working on a changeup since late last season, but the right-hander is not satisfied with where he’s at with the new pitch. He said the changeup won’t be ready in time for the start of the season. At this point in camp, it’s time to focus on his two main weapons, the fastball and slider. Perez said right now he is concentrating on throwing his slider inside to lefties.
  • When Perez’s changeup is working properly, he said the idea is that the offspeed pitch would dive away from lefties, acting like a sinker. So far, the movement on the pitch has been inconsistent. He also said it is too “hard” at times, meaning there is not a big enough gap in mph between the fastball and changeup. Ideally, he said there should consistently be a 7-8 mph differential.
  • The Indians took it on the chin on Sunday, dropping a 7-2 decision to the Padres in Peoria in Cactus League play and losing 11-8 to the White Sox in a morning “B” game in Glendale. In the “B” game, Carlos Santana and Cord Phelps belted back to back homers. Hot-hitting Lonnie Chisenhall went 3-for-4. Pitching prospect Alex White allowed three runs in 2 2/3 innings.
  • Right-hander Carlos Carrasco worked three innings against San Diego, allowing three runs on six hits and ending with two strikeouts and one walk. He threw 54 pitches, including 36 strikes. Acta said he liked how Carrasco threw, but noted that the pitcher struggled with leaving a few breaking balls up in the strike zone.
  • Lefty David Huff had a rough (near) three-inning appearance against the Padres. More to the point, Huff was strong for two innings and then had his final frame fall apart on him. Overall, he allowed four runs (all in the seventh inning) on six hits in 2 2/3 innings. Acta said Huff has thrown “decent” this spring. Not a glowing endorsement for a guy vying for the fifth spot in the rotation.
  • Huff’s main competitors for that final starting job are Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez. Gomez is slated to pitch on Monday against the A’s. Ask me, and I’ll say Tomlin is the favorite to win the fifth spot right now. The field for the fifth spot will likely be narrowed by Acta in the next week.

Before I go…

The Indians media guide just didn’t seem accurate with a clean-shaven Chris Perez pictured on page 169. So I grabbed my black pen and corrected the issue.

PerezGuide.jpg

Be sure to keep checking the blog and Indians.com for updates from camp. Also, make sure you’re following along on Twitter (@MLBastian).

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

“It’s Spring Training.”

Talbot2.jpgI know how some die-hard fans can get at this point in Spring Training.

We’re about midway through camp, so it seems like a good time to study the box scores and see what jumps out. If somebody isn’t hitting well, or so and so is getting lit up on the mound, panic buttons start getting pushed.

I am here to once again talk you off the ledge. It is only Spring Training. Don’t believe me? Take it from Indians manager Manny Acta then…

“It’s Spring Training,” Acta said.

See?

Do you feel better now?

No? That 17.55 ERA for Mitch Talbot is still eating at you? How about we turn the mic over to Mr. Acta again…

“It is Spring Training,” Acta repeated, “and he’s got a spot on the club and he’s just getting himself ready.”

Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s get one thing clear. If Talbot were fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation, he might be in trouble. But that’s not his situation. He won 10 games a year ago as a rookie for a team that lost 93. So Acta believes Talbot has earned the right to open this season as one of the five starters.

That said, it is certainly worth pointing out that Talbot is out of player options. What that means is the right-hander would need to be exposed to waivers — up for grabs by other pitching-starved clubs — before he could be sent to the Minor Leagues. Cleveland is not going to mess with that scenario. It needs all the depth it can get.

The other thing to keep in mind is a player’s mind-set when he knows he has a spot guaranteed on the Opening Day roster. Spring Training is no longer a time to come out fighting. It is suddenly a time to work on things. Don’t like how that pitch is moving? Keep throwing it until you get it right — no matter the results.

So, yes, Talbot has allowed 14 runs (13 earned) on 15 hits, including three home runs, in just 6 2/3 innings with four walks and two strikeouts. But he will be on the 2011 Cleveland Indians Opening Day roster whether that pitching line makes you panic or not. He’ll likely have three more starts to sort out his current flaws.

And by saying all of this, I am certainly not saying that Acta and the rest of the Indians brass would not like to see better results. Of course they would.

“Obviously, we want to see him throw more strikes,” Acta said. “That’s what he’s working on.”

For Acta, the most discouraging development in all of this — Talbot isn’t alone in this, either — is the fact that a few pitchers have logged fewer innings that originally planned. On Friday, Talbot was originally down to pitch four frames against the Mariners, but his rough three-inning showing forced the Tribe to cut his outing short.

That’s “the only thing that bothers me a little bit about these type of outings,” Acta said.

Other notes from Friday…

  • The roster received its first trimming on Friday morning, when Drew Pomeranz, Nick Hagadone, Bryce Stowell, Kelvin De La Cruz, Jared Goedert, Corey Kluber, Hector Rondon and Chun Chen each cleaned out their lockers. The Indians now have 54 players in camp. There are 29 cuts to go.
  • General manager Chris Antonetti raved about Pomeranz’s poise on the mound and said it was made clear that the young lefty’s fastball “can play” on the big league stage. Antonetti said Pomeranz will likely open the year with Class A Kinston. Pom Wonderful’s curveball has looked sharp, so the goal this season is to further develop his changeup.
  • Antonetti noted that Hagadone is still being stretched out as a starter, but the organization has yet to determine whether he will spend the bulk of this season in a rotation or working out of a bullpen. The GM said the team will make a decision on Hagadone’s role later in camp. Antonetti was impressed with Hagadone’s fastball command and his “above-average” breaking ball.
  • Stowell had some serious command issues early on this spring, but Antonetti said there was nothing physically wrong with the hard-throwing righty. Command is actually the biggest area that Stowell needs to developn. The GM noted that Stowell “didn’t demonstrate that arm strength in Spring Training that he’ll have during the course of the season, but that’s not really a concern.”
  • First baseman/designated hitter Nick Johnson arrived in camp on Friday. He also had stitches removed from his surgically-repaired (four times) right wrist in the morning. He said there is no timetable for his return, but Antonetti noted that the goal is to hopefully have Johnson in Minor League games some time in April. Right now, Johnson said he will work toward regaining his range of motion and “getting the stiffness out” of the wrist.
  • Johnson’s in camp in a Minor League deal. If he makes the Major League roster, his salary jumps to $750K. The Indians have a $2.75 million club option for 2012, but only if Johnson is selected to the Major League roster. Johnson’s deal also has another $1.75 million in incentives for the 2012 season.
  • Right-hander Anthony Reyes (elbow soreness) completed a 31-pitch live batting practice session on Friday morning. In all, including his time in the bullpen, Reyes estimated he threw around 60 pitches. He threw all of his pitches and reported no issues. Acta said Reyes will throw a bullpen session Sunday with the goal of appearing in his first spring game on Tuesday.
  • It remains to be seen if the Indians have enough time to stretch Reyes out in time for Opening Day. It just doesn’t seem possible, though. Said Antonetti: It’s hard to say. With where we are in the calendar, it would be really close at this point. So I’m not sure from a volume standpoint how quickly we could progress him to five or six innings.”
  • Center fielder Grady Sizemore (left knee) was at the plate during Reyes’ live BP session. He took 10 swings, fouling off four, missing two, sending one off the wall in left and another up the middle on the ground. Sizemore also took part in regular batting practice prior to the session with Reyes.
  • Acta continued to rave about how Sizemore has looked swinging a bat. Cleveland is simply waiting for Sizemore to get up to speed — pun intended — with his running. If everything goes according to plan, Sizemore will likely begin running bases on Sunday. It is possible that playing in games could come next week.
  • Outfielder Chad Huffman had been out with a strained right hamstring, but he made it back into a game on Friday against the Mariners. That’s a good thing, because Huffman is trying to work his way into the picture as a serious contender for an Opening Day roster spot. Given the makeup of the roster, he is likely up against Shelley Duncan for a corner outfield/first base/right-handed DH role off the bench.
  • Recently-signed reliever Chad Durbin made his Cactus League debut for the Indians in the fourth inning of Friday’s game against Seattle. He didn’t allow any hits in his lone inning of work, but a walk came back to bite him. Durbin walked Dustin Ackley, who later came around to score on a sacrifice fly. Ain’t that always the way.
  • Two more small items before I go. 1) The Indians signed Carlos Santana, Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez to contracts for the 2011 season. Every 40-man roster player is under contract for this year now. 2) Outfielder Jordan Brown will not be with the team this weekend. He is attending to a family situation.

In closing, to stick with the theme of today’s blog lead, this is for all the fans drooling over themselves in light of prospect Lonnie Chisenhall’s .478 spring batting average and demanding he be promoted now. A couple days ago, Chisenhall showed great maturity in saying, “It’s only 20 at-bats.” He knows it’s only Spring Training, too.

Here’s what Antonetti had to say about it today: “We’ve been very encouraged by what Lonnie’s done in camp. But, we try to be mindful of a guy’s history coming in, and the opinions of our scouting and player development people based upon their entire body of work with him, and not just evaluate it off 25 Major League Spring Training at-bats.”

Be sure to keep checking the blog and Indians.com for updates from camp. Also, make sure you’re following along on Twitter (@MLBastian) and check out the “Jordan Bastian” fan page on Facebook for links to stories, blogs, photos and more. You can view more spring photos by checking out the stream on yfrog.com as well.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Luis muy bueno

LV.jpgA few days ago, when a strong wind was ripping through the Ballpark at Camelback Ranch, Indians manager Manny Acta was ready to add a few asterisks to some wind-aided blasts that left the yard.

On Wednesday afternoon, after Luis Valbuena belted a homer down the right-field line at Goodyear Ballpark, Acta was more than willing to point to the official scorebook. In there, Valbuena has a team-high three blasts this spring.

The scoreboard does not account for wind.

“He’s hit three,” Acta said. “Three home runs. Two, two days ago and one today. That’s the way they’re in the [scorebook].”

It’s fair to point out that Valbuena is hitting just .211 for the spring so far. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s also fair to point out that Acta has been impressed with what he’s seen from the infielder at the plate to this point.

“He’s swung the bat well so far in Spring Training,” Acta said. “I’m happy for him. I think people saw a glimpse of what he can do here two years ago. He did have a rough year last year, but it is 2011 and so far he’s swung the bat well for us.”

Two years ago, Valbuena hit .250 with 10 home runs, 25 doubles, three triples and 31 RBIs in 103 games with the Indians as a rookie. In 2010, though, Valbuena hit just .193 with two homers and 24 RBIs in 91 games with the Tribe.

This spring, Valbuena (thanks to Getty Images for the photo) is vying for a utility infield role off Cleveland’s bench. Jason Donald is the front-runner for the job at third base, Asdrubal Cabrera is locked in at short and Orlando Cabrera is the leading candidate for the regular role at second. That leaves Valbuena fighting for a reserve role.

There is also a good chance he winds up playing shortstop for Triple-A Columbus.

“We hope that by the end of Spring Training every one of our decisions are tough to make,” Acta said. “That’s what we want. That’s called progress and depth.”

Notes from Wednesday…

  • Catcher Carlos Santana made his debut as a first baseman for the Indians in Wednesday’s 9-2 loss to the Padres. He had nine total chances (six throws and three grounders) and did not look bad. In the fifth, Santana even attempted to start a double play by throwing to second base. All in all, a decent debut at a spot he’ll man a handful of times throughout the upcoming season.
  • Acta had nothing but good things to say about Santana’s first taste of first: “He looked good, man. It’s only one game, but he looked comfortable and made some good plays, including trying to turn that double play, which is probably the toughest play there is on the field.”
  • Right-hander Carlos Carrasco returned to the team on Monday after being with his wife in Florida for the birth of their daughter. On Wednesday, in his first start back with the club, Daddy Carrasco allowed two runs on four hits in three innings. He struck out three and walked none. CC (am I allowed to call him that?) allowed back-to-back homers in the second to Aaron Cunningham and Anthony Rizzo.
  • David Huff the Magic Dragon did fare as well in his outing on Wednesday. Huff allowed four runs — all in the fifth inning — in a two-inning appearance. He was down to log three frames, but threw too many pitches and had his outing cut short. The lefty, who is in the mix for the fifth spot in the rotation, gave up four hits with one walk.
  • Outfielder Chad Huffman has hit .571 in the six spring games he’s played so far, but he has not suited up since Saturday. Turns out Huffman is battling a strained right hamstring and will miss at least “a couple more days,” according to Acta. Huffman, who hits right-handed andcan play the corner outfield spots as well as first base, is competing for a spot on Cleveland’s bench.
  • Third baseman Jason Donald participated in a full workout on Wednesday morning. His left hand? “It felt pretty stinkin’ good,” Donald beamed. He said the improvement from Tuesday to Wednesday was great and he is ready to play in games again. Acta said Donald will indeed be in the lineup come Thursday. Donald was hit on the back of the left hand by a pitch on Saturday.
  • Anthony Reyes Watch: The right-hander threw  in a bullpen session on Tuesday and reported no issues on Wednesday. He has been coming back from right elbow soreness. Reyes said he is scheduled to throw off a mound again on Friday. Acta noted that it will be a live batting practice and he’ll face center fielder Grady Sizemore.
  • Speaking of Sizemore, his sprint and agility work has progressed as hoped, with increased intensity and more drills over the past week. Sizemore continues to take part in outfield drills and batting practice and he will likely begin a baserunning progression some time this weekend. Could games be next week? Stay tuned.
  • Chatted with third base prospect Lonnie Chisenhall this morning and he is not getting too caught up in his hot start at the plate this spring. Neither should you. “It’s only 20 at-bats,” said Chisenhall. Granted, he’s hitting .550 with two homers in those 20 at-bats, but it’s not going to make Cleveland suddenly abandon its development plan for the youngster. The best part about it is Chisenhall’s hot hitting is happening now, in front of Acta and other big league staff members, and not after he left for Minor League camp.
  • Jayson Nix had been mentioned as a candidate for third base when Spring Training began, but there is nothing to indicate that he is seriously in the running for that job. Nix has taken most of his reps during workouts at second base and that is where he has played during games (he started there again on Wednesday). Nix said this week that he’s been told that he will play mostly second, but third isn’t entirely ruled out. Acta added earlier this week that Nix is competing with Orlando Cabrera for the second base job. Cabrera looks like the favorite for that role, though.
  • On Thursday, the Indians take on the Cubs in Mesa, which is where I got my first taste of the big leagues. I wrote a little bit about it in this week’s Inbox (CLICK HERE to read it). Pitchers making the trip for the Tribe will be Justin Masterson (starting), Jeanmar Gomez, Frank Herrmann, Joe Martinez, Vinnie Pestano, Yohan Pino and Zach Putnam.

Be sure to keep checking the blog and Indians.com for updates from camp. Also, make sure you’re following along on Twitter (@MLBastian) and check out the “Jordan Bastian” fan page on Facebook for links to stories, blogs, photos and more. You can view more spring photos by checking out the stream on yfrog.com as well.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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