April 2011

White to begin earning stripes?

See what I did there? OK, maybe it’s a bit of a stretch. My point is this: Alex White could be pitching for the Indians in the near future.

How soon? Well, I wouldn’t rule out this weekend, given the recent injury to Carlos Carrasco and his expected trip to the disabled list. Then again, Cleveland could just as easily go in another direction.

No one has said White will be the guy, but it hasn’t been ruled out. On Tuesday, Indians manager Manny Acta raved about White and the reports the big-league team has received from Triple-A Columbus. His slider has shown improvement and he has mowed down Triple-A hitters with ease.

The skipper had this to say on Tuesday:

“I’m anticipating that he’s going to be here to help us at some point. I can’t give you an exact date, but with the reports we’ve gotten, we wouldn’t be afraid to bring this guy up to compete up here. And, if he has any developing to do, it could be continued up here.”

One day later, Carrasco was unable to complete a bullpen session as planned. He never made it up on a mound, in fact. Now, the Indians need a starter for Saturday (unless rain toys with the schedule before then) and lefty David Huff and White are the top candidates for a callup.

White would be pitching on regular rest. Huff, who logged 94 pitches in seven innings on Tuesday, would be required to start on short rest. Both are pitching well enough in the Minors to receive consideration. Huff is on the roster and has big league experience. White is only four starts deep into his Triple-A career.

Decisions, decisions.

If it were up to me, I’d probably lean toward giving White a look. Like Acta said, given his potential and talent, he could continue his development with the Indians. He is considered a large part of the team’s future and was expected to be in the Majors at some point this season as it stood anyway.

Through four starts for the Clippers, the 22-year-old White has gone 1-0 with a 1.90 ERA, piling up 28 strikeouts against five walks and 19 hits allowed across 23 2/3 innings. This after White — the Tribe’s top pick in the 2009 Draft — earned the team’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year award last season.

There is one issue. White is not currently on the 40-man roster — Huff is. If Cleveland wants to promote White, the team would have to make a subsequent transaction, removing someone from the roster.

Now’s your time to play GM. Would you call up White?

–JB

Game 22: Royals at Tribe

Are you worried about Shin-Soo Choo?

Indians manager Manny Acta certainly isn’t. Acta said again on Tuesday that it is still far too early to make too much of Choo’s uncharacteristic .207 batting average. The Tribe’s cool, calm and collected skipper said he will only start having some concern if Choo’s average is still in the .200 range come the All-Star break.

I’ve seen enough ball to know not to get overly worked up over less than a month’s worth of stats, too. Then again, I also covered Aaron Hill and Adam Lind for a few years. They went from Silver Sluggers in 2009 to Tin Cans in 2010. Pitchers began to approach them differently, and they struggled to adjust.

Here’s hoping Choo does not fall into that category.

It is worth noting that Choo has had his share of tough slumps before. Early-season woes tend to stick out more on the stat sheet.

Last year, Choo had a 29-game stretch from April 30-June 2 in which he hit .233/.331/.397. He also hit just .230 from Aug. 26-Sept. 16 last season. In 2009, Choo had a 22-game run between April 14-May 8 in which he hit .234/.378/.390. In ’08, he hit .195/.292/.312 in a 25-game period from June 14-July 18.

From 2008-10, Choo finished with an average of .309, .300 and .300, respectively.

Like Acta said today, though: “Batting average isn’t evertyhing.”

Fine, turning to our friends at Fangraphs.com, you’ll see that Choo has a Z-Contact % of 77.9 so far this year. Wait, a Z-what-now? That’s the percentage of times a player makes contact with pitches in the strike zone. Last year, Choo was at 87.1 and he put up an 83.1 in ’09. In fact, the current figure is his lowest ever.

You’ve got to figure, like his average, that rate will increase.

Choo’s swing percentage is basically down across the board right now. He’s swinging at fewer pitches outside and inside the zone. He’s swinging at 41.2-percent of pitches overall — down from 45.1 overall last year.

Being more selective? Maybe. But it’s worth noting that Choo is seeing 60.4 percent of first pitches for strikes. That’s the highest that rate has been for him since 2006. Right now, pitchers are not afraid to pound the zone to get ahead on Choo early. And when he’s swinging at said strikes, his contact rate is down.

That’s not a good early trend.

But, again, I can’t emphasize this enough, and neither can Acta…

It’s still early.

Here are today’s lineups…

Royals (12-10) at Indians (13-8)
at Progressive Field, 7:05 p.m. ET

KANSAS CITY
1. Mike Aviles, 3B
2. Melky Cabrera, CF
3. Alex Gordon, LF
4. Billy Butler, DH
5. Jeff Francoeur, RF
6. Kila Ka’aihue, 1B
7. Alcides Escobar, SS
8. Matt Treanor, C
9. Chris Getz, 2B

Pitching: RHP Luke Hochevar (2-2, 5.12)

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

Pitching: RHP Justin Masterson (4-0, 1.71)

–JB

Game 18: Tribe at Royals

Indians general manager Chris Antonetti understands the perception. Players with big salaries, or nearing free agency if they’re performing well and there’s a market for them, hey, Cleveland will probably be looking for some trade partners come July.

That’s what they did with CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, etc;…

Right?

Well, not so fast. Antonetti, in Kansas City with the ballclub this week, took some time to clarify some things. Antonetti says perception is not necessarily reality. Had the Indians been in contention in 2008, for example, Sabathia would have likely stayed in a Tribe uniform for the entire season.

The team’s position in the standings has played a large role.

Here’s what Antonetti had to say…

“Going into the 2008 season, we had every expectation of contending. We were coming off a 96-win season and were one game away from the World Series. We traded CC that year, not because we wanted to trade CC, but because we weren’t a contending team.

“Had we been contending, CC would’ve stayed the year and finished as an Indian, and then gone to free agency. It was our competive position that really dictated those trades. Stepping back a year to 2007, when we were a contending team, we ended up acquiring guys.

“We acquired Lofton right around the deadline. Going back to ’05, when we were competitive, but not at the top of our division, we made the decision to keep guys. We had Kevin Millwood, who was leading the league in ERA at that point, we had a number of other veteran guys.

But, because we were a competitive team, we made the decision not to trade them. I think when you actually look at what has transpired in the past, our competitive position has largely dictated our activity at the deadline.”

That is why fans should not be expecting the Indians to be shopping guys like Fausto Carmona, Grady Sizemore or Travis Hafner at the Trade Deadline if Cleveland continues to perform at its current level. If anything, the Tribe might be more of a buyer come July if the team continues to have success with a shot at the top spot in the division.

Then again, it’s still too early in the season be be anointing the Tribe a “buyer” or “seller.”

“If the team is playing well,” Antonetti said, “we’d have to see where we were at that point, what our needs are, and what’s available. And, what the acquisition cost would be in terms of players and dollars. All of those things go into that decision.”

Antonetti said he hardly waits until July to approach ownership about the possibilities.

“We talk about different scenarios all the time,” Antonetti said. “It’s important for us, as we align and prioritize our scouting coverage, that we try to anticipate all the possible scenarios as best we can.”

Here are the lineups, a bit belated…

Indians (12-5) at Royals (11-6)
at Kauffman Stadium, 8:10 p.m. ET

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

Pitching: RHP Justin Masterson (3-0, 1.33)

KANSAS CITY
1. Chris Getz, 2B
2. Melky Cabrera, CF
3. Alex Gordon, LF
4. Billy Butler, DH
5. Jeff Francoeur, RF
6. Mike Aviles, 3B
7. Kila Ka’aihue, 1B
8. Matt Treanor, C
9. Alcides Escobar, SS

Pitching: RHP Luke Hochevar (2-1, 4.21)

–JB

Game 16: Battle at The K

Peering out of the visitors’ dugout at Kauffman Stadium and across the field to the other side, Indians manager Manny Acta sees a lot of similarities between his club and the Royals.

This goes beyond the one game that separates them for the top spot in the American League Central standings.

 “I dont care how early it is,” Acta said. “I’m excited for my ballclub and I’m happy for the Royals. I’m very happy for both towns, both franchises and the young players that we have. This is good for baseball. This is the way it should be.

“We are kind of in the same situation. We started a couple years ago. They have a lot of talented players, and a lot more coming.”

Entering Monday’s four-game series, the surging Tribe boasted an 11-4 record — the team’s best start since 2002. The red-hot Royals were 10-5. For a pair of clubs predicted to finish fourth and fifth in the division — and, hey, they still might — it has been a refreshing change of pace.

The last time the Indians and Royals were in first and second place (in any order) at the same time after playing at least 15 games was May 31, 1999. Admittedly getting a little ahead of ourselves here, but the last time they finished first and second in the division was 1995.

“I’m excited,” Acta said. ” That’s what baseball is all about. I know that last year at the end, we were fighting for fourth place. Now, three weeks into this season, we’re playing a series for first place.

“It’s early, yes. But I don’t care. I’m happy. I’m excited about my club and I’m happy for them.”

Here are today’s lineups…

Indians (11-4) at Royals (10-5)
at Kauffman Stadium, 8:10 p.m. ET

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

Pitching: RHP Carlos Carrasco (1-1, 5.03)

KANSAS CITY
1. Mike Aviles. 2B
2. Melky Cabrera, CF
3. Alex Gordon, LF
4. Billy Butler, DH
5. Kila Ka’aihue, 1B
6. Jeff Francoeur, RF
7. Wilson Betemit, 3B
8. Matt Treanor, C
9. Alcides Escobar, SS

Pitching: RHP Kyle Davies (1-1, 9.00)

–JB

Game 15: Sizemore, Talbot, lineups

Guess who’s back?

The Indians activated some guy named Grady Sizemore from the disabled list today. He’s going to play center field and hit out of the leadoff spot, a couple of roles he’s filled nicely in the past for the Tribe.

In a surprise move, though, it was right-hander Mitch Talbot who was removed from the active roster to vacate a spot for Sizemore. So Travis Buck and Shelley Duncan — both with options — can breathe a little easier. For a couple more days anyway.

Talbot was sent to the 15-day DL with a right elbow strain. Only a couple days ago, Indians manager Manny Acta indicated that Talbot was feeling fine and slated to pitch Tuesday in K.C. Chatted with Talbot today, and even he thought he might be able to go Tuesday as recent as a couple days ago.

So what was the change?

Well, the Indians got the results of an MRI performed on Talbot’s pitching elbow. They found a strain — no structural damage — and the pitcher is expected to be sidelined for at least 3-4 weeks. Acta said today that righty Jeanmar Gomez is expected to get the call from Triple-A Columbus to take Talbot’s place on Tuesday.

Right now, Cleveland is operating with 14 position players and 11 pitchers. The team will go back to the normal 13-12 alignment once Gomez joins the club. That likely means either Buck or Duncan will be heading to the Minors.

Buck got the nod in left field on Sunday after a 3-for-4 showing in Saturday’s win. It’s just a day off for Michael Brantley, who has served as the leadoff man and center fielder in Sizemore’s absence. Brantley will be the regular left fielder now that Sizemore is back with the ballclub.

Here are today’s lineups…

Orioles (6-7) at Indians (10-4)
at Progressive Field, 1:05 p.m. ET

BALTIMORE
1. Brian Roberts, 2B
2. Nick Markakis, RF
3. Derrek Lee, 1B
4. Vlad Guerrero, DH
5. Luke Scott, LF
6. Mark Reynolds, 3B
7. Felix Pie, CF
8. Matt Wieters, C
9. Cesar Izturis, SS

Pitching: RHP Brad Bergesen (0-1)

CLEVELAND
1. Grady Sizemore, CF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
4. Carlos Santana, C
5. Travis Hafner, DH
6. Orlando Cabrera, 2B
7. Travis Buck, LF
8. Matt LaPorta, 1B
9. Jack Hannahan, 3B

Pitching: RHP Fausto Carmona (0-2)

–JB

Game 13: O’s at Tribe

Ever wonder what goes into a lineup decision or sit there trying to decipher why a manager went to such-and-such pitcher to face so-and-so in a late-inning matchup? Well, for the most part, you’ll have to just keep wondering.

But, when it comes to Indians manager Manny Acta, I can provide you with some insight. When the time comes to consult statistics to help in the decision-making process, here is what Acta typically does…

“I don’t use last year or lifetime. I use the last three years,” Acta explained. “It really doesn’t do me any good if some guy was really good against a guy seven years ago. Or, if his lifetime is .300, but over the last three year’s it’s .210, I’d probably go more with that. Everybody has a preference. Some people use lifetime. I use the last three years.”

Now, understand, this line of thinking is not across the board. For instance, catcher Carlos Santana has a day off tonight for a couple of reasons. First, the man has played every game up to this point. Time for a breather. Second, he’s in an 0-for-20 slump. Good to time to clear his head.

There are times that Acta will consult stats, though. And he is a big believer in that approach.

“Everything is important. I take every single one serious,” Acta said. “I take very seriously the reports we get on the other pitchers and the stats to see which count a guy likes to throw over, which count a guy likes to throw certain pitches. That helps me in certainsituations where, ‘What’s the best time to put a play on?’

“We’ve got plenty of them, plenty of statistical analysis in the game nowadays. I look at as many as I can. I’m sure every team does the same thing to us.”

Acta laughed when asked if the Indians had any secret in-house stats.

“I don’t think there are secret stats anymore,” he replied. “It seems like every month a new one comes out. Me? I like them, but I don’t get caught up in every single one of them. It’s impossible. A lot of them, I don’t even know how they come up with them.”

On to today’s lineups…

Orioles (6-5) at Indians (8-4)
at Progressive Field, 7:05 p.m. ET

BALTIMORE
1. Brian Roberts, 2B
2. Nick Markakis, RF
3. Derrek Lee, 1B
4. Vlad Guerrero, DH
5. Luke Scott, LF
6. Adam Jones, CF
7. Mark Reynolds, 3B
8. Matt Wieters, C
9. Cesar Izturis, SS

Pitching: LHP Zach Britton (2-0)

CLEVELAND
1. Michael Brantley, CF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
4. Shelley Duncan, LF
5. Travis Hafner, DH
6. Orlando Cabrera, 2B
7. Matt LaPorta, 1B
8. Lou Marson, C
9. Adam Everett, 3B

Pitching: RHP Justin Masterson (2-0)

–JB

What does it all mean?

The Indians are off to their best start since 2002 and are undefeated on the road through four games for the first time since 1998. They’re in sole possession of first place for the first time since May 2008.

You can’t stop them. You can only hope to contain them.

Right?

Well, we’ll see.

It’s still extremely early in the baseball season, so it’s also extremely early to start drawing sweeping conclusions. The Tribe has played great through the first 10 games, but people, there are 152 to go. One Hundred And Fifty Two. That’s a lot of baseball left on the schedule.

Still, the Indians are giving Cleveland something to be excited about right now and that’s a great thing. Remove the wins and losses, and there are still positive trends that can be seen. The rotation has been going deep and the bullpen has been closing the door. The offense has shown versatility and the defense has been strong.

This from a team that many expected to finish fourth (at best) in the AL Central this season.

So, I asked you, the Indians fans, the following question today on Twitter: “Fan poll: Does the Tribe’s 8-2 start change your expectations for the team this season?”

As promised, here are some of the many responses I received…

@CarlosSolano1 Yes!

Great, but I was hoping for more than that.

@HeyHokie Yes. Not because we are 8-2, but because some of the question mark guys are showing consistency/improvement.

Looking at the big picture. I like it.

@stevebuffum Yes. Always thought season hinged on rotation: SP havebeen better than expect (JM, MT espec.), so my expect. have raised accord.

That’d be Justin Masterson and Mitch Talbot. You could make a case that any of the five starters — Fausto Carmona, Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin, too — represent the most important piece within the rotation.

@adamfriedrich not really, I am always optimistic…but can optimism become reality? If the new CC is for real, and our bullpen stays true…YES

Pitching. Pitching. Pitching. Indeed, that is the key for the Tribe. And an optimist among the Cleveland crowd? Surely you’re the only one, Adam.

@LindseyBaseball I optimistically had them around 88 wins, & in contention for the WC… This 8-2 start only makes me look less crazy! #Indians

All right. Lindsey is right there with you, Adam.

@BoudreausSock Change them? It merely validates them. :-)

C’mon, there have to be some pessimists out there…

@rmconstantino as much as mypessimistic side warns against it, yes it sure does change my expectations

Wow. Even the pessimists are sippin’ the Kool-Aid?

@obe459 No it doesn’t reallychange my expectation. Makes me believe they will win more than 75 games now but have a 8 game L streak too.

I assume you mean they are just as likely to have an 8-game skid. Fair enough. Time will tell and all that. But is there anyone out there not ready to say “yes” or “not” to this question?

@evilchameleon Ask this question again after the Baltimore series, and I’ll have an answer for you.

OK, so give it another week…

 @jeffgwise Not yet, really need 2 more weeks to see if the pitching will stay consistent. If so, then yes, expectations change.

Right, so two more weeks…

@CMB1979 Ask me after 40 games. The last time they were in 1st, Adam Dunn hit a walk-off and sent them to a 10 game losing streak.

Sooo, we’re going to need to wait a little more than a month…

@natejd37 expectations same for me-4th place with better record than last year. if tribe’s in 1st at END of may… then they’ll change

Got it. End of May. Then we’ll know if the Tribe is for real. Wait, Nate, you’ve got something to add?

@natejd37 i’m still enjoying every bit of it now though! #GOTRIBE! #BELIEVELAND

That’s right, folks. It’s a hot streak at the beginning of a long season. Enjoy this now. You never know what is going to happen next.

Here are today’s lineups…

Indians (8-2) at Angels (5-5)
at Angel Stadium, 10:10 p.m. ET

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

Pitching: RHP Fausto Carmona (0-1, 9.00)

@DJ84 this lineup is better than WS champ Giants.

Hey, how’d you get in here? Moving on…

LOS ANGELES
1. Maucer Izturis, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, 2B
3. Bobby Abreu, DH
4. Torii Hunter, RF
5. Alberto Callaspo, 3B
6. Mark Trumbo, 1B
7. Reggie Willits, LF
8. Jeff Mathis, C
9. Peter Bourjos, CF

Pitching: RHP Dan Haren (2-0, 1.15)

–JB

Game 10: Tribe at Halos lineups

Indians (7-2) at Angels (5-4)
at Angel Stadium, 10:10 p.m. ET

CLEVELAND
1. Michael Brantley, CF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3. Shin-Soo 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

Pitching: RHP Mitch Talbot (0-0, 4.15)

LOS ANGELES
1. Maucer Izturis, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, 2B
3. Bobby Abreu, DH
4. Torii Hunter, RF
5. Vernon Wells, LF
6. Alberto Callaspo, 3B
7. Mark Trumbo, 1B
8. Hank Conger, C
9. Peter Bourjos, CF

Pitching: RHP Tyler Chatwood (MLB debut)

–JB

Game 9: Tribe at M’s lineups

When Orlando Cabrera arrived at Spring Training, fresh off signing a one-year contract with the Indians, he made it clear from the start that he saw great potential in Cleveland’s young roster.

A little more than one week into this season, the Indians are off to a strong start, providing one of baseball’s early surprises. Cabrera, who has been to the postseason in six of the past seven years, has been impressed with his new ballclub, but the veteran infielder is quick to point out that the season is still young.

“It’s still early,” Cabrera said. “It’s too early to judge anybody in a good way or a bad way. But we’ve battled. We’ve got great hitters. They get up there and they try to do their job. We execute plays and our pitchers are throwing strikes, which is important. We’re playing defense behind them.

“Let’s see where that kind of game is going to take us. We can never anticipate what is going to happen in the future, but if we keep playing the way we’re playing right now, we can do a great job.”

The Tribe carried a six-game winning streak into Sunday’s tilt against the Mariners and, for the first time since the end of the 2007 tour, when Cleveland was 96-66, the Indians were at least four games over .500. After suffering through back-to-back seasons of at least 90 losses, Cleveland’s players are loving the fast start.

“It’s fun, man,” Indians closer Chris Perez said. “Especially being over here at the end of ’09 and all year last year, we didn’t have many streaks like this. And it’s not like they’re giving us games.”

For more on this and other topics, check Indians.com later.

Here are today’s lineups.

Indians (6-2) at Mariners (2-6)
at Safeco Field, 4:10 p.m. ET

CLEVELAND
1. Michael Brantley, CF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
4. Carlos Santana, DH
5. Shelley Duncan, LF
6. Orlando Cabrera, 2B
7. Matt LaPorta, 1B
8. Jack Hannahan, 3B
9. Lou Marson, C

Pitching: RHP Josh Tomlin (1-0, 1.29)

SEATTLE
1. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
2. Chone Figgins, 3B
3. Adam kennedy, 2B
4. Jack Cust, DH
5. Justin Smoak, 1B
6. Ryan Langerhans, CF
7. Luis Rodriguez, SS
8. Michael Saunders, CF
9. Chris Gimenez, C

Pitching: LHP Erik Bedard(0-1, 5.40)

–JB

Game 8: Tribe at M’s lineups

Not sure how I didn’t see it before, especially since I snapped this photo (right) and posted it on Twitter during Spring Training.

Look closely.

Notice anything odd?

That’s Indians closer Chris Perez. The right-handed stopper at the back-end of the Tribe’s bullpen. Right-handed. Right. Hand. Right?

Wrong.

Turns out that Perez is actually left-handed. That’s why he’s pictured there, signing a baseball with his left hand. It’s why he was in the visitors’ dugout prior to today’s game doing the same. It also explains his goofy personality and why he is such a natural fit for the oddball existence of a Major League reliever.

I asked Perez, “How does that happen?”

He shrugged between autographs.

Told him he should’ve tried throwing lefty.

“Yeah, I’d probably throw 150 mph with that arm,” he replied.

Here are today’s lineups…

Indians (5-2) at Mariners (2-5)
at Safeco Field, 9:10 p.m. ET

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

Pitching: RHP Justin Masterson (1-0, 1.29)

SEATTLE
1. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
2. Chone Figgins, 3B
3. Milton Bradley, LF
4. Jack Cust, DH
5. Justin Smoak, 1B
6. Miguel Olivo, C
7. Adam Kennedy, 2B
8. Brendan Ryan, SS
9. Michael Saunders, CF

Pitching: RHP Doug Fister (0-1, 3.18)

–JB

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 88 other followers