February 2012

Belle of the ball

I first heard it over a walkie talkie. Static followed by, “Albert Belle — 9 a.m.” It almost sounded like a warning. Lock the doors. Hide your kids. Big, bad Albert Belle was heading to Goodyear to flex his biceps and smash thermostats.

But, see, the Albert Belle we all remember is from another era. That menacing, intimidating beast of a slugger that collected 102 extra-base hits in 1995 — but walked away empty handed in MVP voting because he rubbed too many people the wrong way — is not the same man that was convinced to make the journey to Indians camp this spring.

This version of Belle was still softspoken as he ever has been, but he was cool and collected, and sported a wide smile for much of the morning as he reunited with old friends. He’s now a married father of four young daughters, which he says is a harder task that handling a Roger Clemens fastball.

Belle hasn’t picked up a bat since he retired in 2001 — “I’d rather pick up a golf club,” he said. — and he is only a causual observer of the game he once dominated. He attends one D-backs game a year and keeps tabs on the Tribe from afar. As for getting back into baseball, well, he’s not thinking too much about that right now, but it has rattled around in his brain.

You could tell that coaching is something he might enjoy. Why else would he have wandered into the clubhouse, pulled some young hitters aside and discussed the art of making a pitcher give you the pitch you want. Belle has a wealth of baseball knowledge and a repuation as being one of the hardest workers behind the scenes during his prime.

That 1995 team boasted one of the all-time great lineups. It’s a shame they didn’t win the World Series, because they’re often overlooked in the “Who had the best lineup of all-time” debate. Belle left via free agency after ’96 and, while he said he has no regrets, he also said he wishes his time in Cleveland would have lasted longer.

As the Indians like to say these days…

What if?

Some notes from Tuesday…

  • That ’95 class reunion keeps coming together for the Tribe this spring. On Tuesday, Belle stood with Carlos Baerga and Kenny Lofton (the two that prodded him until he agreed to come to Goodyear), as well as Sandy Alomar Jr. and Mike Hargrove for a rare photo opportunity.
  • Jason Bere, who pitched for and against the Indians in his career, is in camp as a special assistant this spring. When he saw Lofton, Belle and Baerga (“Seven-eight-nine!” beamed Lofton), Bere picked up his fungo bat and mimicked the three different stances each player used in their careers. As Bere headed off, he said, “I never saw the ’27 Yankees play, but the ’95 Indians? Whoa.”
  • One player who really wanted to meet Belle, and had the chance, was infielder Jason Donald. He said he used to try to swing like Belle during backyard whiffle games as a kid. After he introduced himself to Belle, he mimicked the slugger’s old stance, too. “He liked it,” Donald said. “He thought it was funny.”
  • Other things did happen on Tuesday, like live BP sessions for a few more pitchers. This time, the cage was around home plate because hitters were allowed to swing. Some arms that got their first taste of batters up there hacking included Justin Masterson, Vinnie Pestano, Tony Sipp, David Huff and Joe Smith, among others.
  • Indians manager Manny Acta said last week that he’d announce his Opening Day starter after the early portion of pitching workouts. Acta noted on Tuesday that he plans on making that announcement on Thursday — one day after the first intrasquad game. Masterson or Ubaldo Jimenez will get the nod.
  • The first spring game (Saturday against the Reds) will feature Huff as the starting pitcher. Huff, who is working on fine-tuning the mechanical adjustments he began making last year, is in the running for the fifth rotation job. The top two other candidates are Kevin Slowey and Jeanmar Gomez.
  • Acta said Duncan made a case for being on the roster again this year with his overall work last season — not just with his performance in September. Acta added that the Indians won’t be handing Duncan an everyday job based on such a small sample size. Right now, that means Duncan is in the mix as a backup LF/DH/1B. Could he work himself into the starting LF mix? It’s certainly a possibility.
  •  Pestano said today that his main goal this spring is to try to improve with his slider. Against lefties, the goal would be to have it break in the direction of the hitter’s back foot. Last year, lefties hit .280 (.812 OPS) against Pestano compared to a .118 (.410) showing from righties. Pestano wants to fix that obvious discrepancy.
  • An important step for Lonnie Chisenhall this spring will be to show he is continuing to improve against left-handed pitching. That was an issue last season, but one that became less of a problem late in the year. Acta believes consistent playing time lended to Chisenhall’s improved showing down the stretch.
  • The first intrasquad game will be held at the Goodyear complez on Wednesday. Pitchers scheduled to appear include Jeremy Accardo, Nick Hagadone, Frank Herrmann, CC Lee, Chris Seddon, Tyler Sturdevant, Robinson Tejeda and Josh Tomlin. Thursday’s intrasquad game will be at Goodyear Ballpark.
  • The Indians know their two catchers will be Carlos Santana and Lou Marson, barring injury. What isn’t clear is who is third on the depth chart right now. Acta said it will be up to the other catchers in camp, specifically, Luke Carlin, Matt Pagnozzi and Michel Hernandez.

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Photo of the Day

“A day in the life,” joked lefty Tony Sipp.

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Make sure you’re reading Indians.com and following me on Twitter (@MLBastian). To see more of my Spring Training photos, CLICK HERE.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Men in the Middle

The on-field relationship between a team’s second baseman and shortstop is a very important component for any ballclub. That being the case, having second baseman Jason Kipnis and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera working together from the get-go this spring is great for the Indians.

The Indians believe Kipnis will be their second baseman for years to come and Cabrera is in the plans for short for at least these next two years (maybe longer if they ever get a multi-year deal worked out). Last year, they had to learn to work together on the fly after Kipnis was called up in July and, even then, their time together was sporadic due to some injury bugs.

Knowing they’ll be the combo all spring and all season — barring injury, of course — mans they can dedicate this spring to knowing the ins and outs of being double-play partners.

“That’s very important,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “That’s one of the reaons why they’re paired up in some of those working groups. It will be important throughout spring that they spend time together on the field. That’s always important.

“It’s tough to ask a guy to come right in the middle of the season and get familiar with his partner when these guys have never played on the same club.”

Cabrera said the best advice he can give Kipnis is just to relax and try to find a comfort zone at second base and in working with the acrobatic shortstop. Cabrera noted that the young second baseman is a fast learner, too.

“He’s a good guy to play with,” Cabrera said. “I think if we pull everything together, we’re going to be a good middle infield this year. .. He listens. He’s a good guy. He tries to get better every day.”

No word yet on whether Cabrera will be teaching Kipnis any bare hand or behind-the-back techniques.

Some notes from Monday…

  • Acta had joked all spring to this point that he would give us one or two lineup spots each week leading up to Opening Day. Well, Manny finally caved under our persistent pestering and revealed the bulk of his tentative batting order: 1. Brantley, 2. Cabrera, 3. Choo, 4. Santana, 5. Hafner, 6. Kotchman, 7. Kipnis.
  • Obviously, there are two spots missing. That is because one outfield job is up in the air right now and Cleveland has not decided whether Lonnie Chisenhall or Jack Hannahan will be the starting third baseman. Given that, it is certainly possible that Kipnis could be pushed down to eighth.
  • During a chat with Asdrubal this morning, he indicated that his agent and the Indians simply are “not on the same page” right now when it comes to long-term contract talks. That’s why they settled on the one-year deal before coming to Spring Training. Cabrera insists he’s interested in a multi-year deal with Cleveland.
  • In discussing Cabrera’s offensive potential and expectations this season, Acta noted that one area the team wants to see improve is his on-base percentage. That said, Acta believes — in light of the injuries and his emergence as a run producer last year — some of the drop-off in OBP in 2011 can be attributed to the shortstop putting more on his shoulders.
  • Setup man Vinnie Pestano said this morning that his goal is to someday be a closer in the Major Leagues. He isn’t interested in achieving that goal right now, though. Pestano said the best situation for the team is to have closer Chris Perez (strained left oblique) healthy and working the ninth. Pestano is confident that CP will be ready for Opening Day.
  • Perez said he injured his side as a result of going too hard in his first bullpen session of the spring. Pestano said that’s a common misstep for many relievers early on each year. Catcher Lou Marson said he will sometimes force pitchers to slow down their pace by standing up or taking a few seconds before throwing the ball back.
  • Right-hander Austin Adams is not among the pitchers throwing live batting practice sessions this week. Adams has a sore right shoulder and has been shut down for the time being. He’ll be re-evaluated in the next few days before beginning his throwing program again.
  • Righty Carlos Carrasco, who has Tommy John elbow surgery at the end of last season, has built up to a distance of 60 feet in his comeback program. Carrasco is expected to miss most, if not all, of this season. That’s a big arm to throw back into the mix for the 2013 season.
  • Talked to INF/OF Russ Canzler today and he’s excited about the chance he has this spring to show the Indians he’s ready for the Majors. Canzler bats righty and can play first and third base, left and right field and DH. That’s not a bad option for the bench, but he has lots of competition.
  • Canzler was not blindsided by the news that he had been traded. After the Rays knocked him off the 40-man roster (after signing Carlos Pena and Jeff Keppinger), they told Canzler they were going to try to trade him. He’s come to Cleveland’s camp with three gloves and an intriguing bat.
  • Have noticed for a while now that the bats in Shin-Soo Choo’s equipment bag are always neatly wrapped in white cloth sleeves. He said he simply likes to keep his bats as clean as possible before using them on the field.
  • Had a nice discussion with catcher Luke Carlin this morning about his being in the soon-to-be-released book by pitcher/author Dirk Hayhurst. “Out of My League” — which tells the story of Hayhurst’s 2008 season in the Padres system — hits stores Tuesday. Carlin was along for much of the ride and a big part of Hayhurst’s second book. I’ll be writing more on that topic in the coming days.

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Photo of the Day

Legends of the Indians Beat: 63 years of combined Tribe coverage

Sheldon Ocker (Akron Beacon Journal) & Paul Hoynes (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

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Make sure you’re reading Indians.com and following me on Twitter (@MLBastian). To see more of my Spring Training photos, CLICK HERE.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

(Don’t) Swing Away

Today was Day 1 of Manny Acta’s famous — well, around here anyways — “tracking” program. For the first couple days of live batting practice sessions, which has the pitcher throwing to hitters without any screens on the field, batters are not permitted to swing.

The technique serves a couple purposes. For one, the pitchers are always ahead of the hitters this early in camp. So this gives hitters the chance to stand in, watch different pitches and work on their timing. Beyond that, it gives the pitchers the first chance to locate with a batter standing at the plate. It’s a whole different feel without a body in the box.

The shot above is of Indians starter Josh Tomlin throwing with Shin-Soo Choo up to bat. Tomlin was among the eight arms that took part in today’s live BP rounds. The others included Jeremy Accardo, Nick Hagadone, Chris Seddon, Jeanmar Gomez, Frank Herrmann, Robinson Tejeda and Tyler Sturdevant.

There will be three days of these live BP sessions. Highlights for Monday include Ubaldo Jimenez and Kevin Slowey, among others. I’m also interested in getting a better look at Minor Leaguers C.C. Lee and Scott Barnes. Arms of note throwing Tuesday include Justin Masterson, Joe Smith, Tony Sipp, Vinnie Pestano and Rafael Perez.

Obviously, I’m burying the lede here, but if you’re a frequent visitor here, you surely saw the previous post. A noteable pitcher whose name was NOT listed for the three days of live BP was closer Chris Perez. It was learned this morning that he has a strained left oblique that could need 4-6 weeks of recovery.

Perez and the Indians are optimistic that he will be recovered and ready in time for Opening Day, so that is presumably a bullet dodged for the Bullpen Mafia. That said, you never know what the next five weeks might hold.

Some notes from Sunday…

  • If you haven’t read the story on Indians.com, or the previous blog post, let me bring you up to speed: Perez injured his oblique around pitches 25-30 during his first mound session of the spring on Thursday. The moral of the story, per head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff, is CP went too hard too soon out of the gates.
  • The timetable isn’t entirely clear, but CP said he hopes to be back by March 15. It’s worth noting that a player’s desires and approval by a medical staff do not always align. Perez is doing rehab now and hopes to add some more exercises to the mix in the next eight or nine days. Then, there is the matter or the throwing program after that.
  • Acta said that if — and he stressed the IF — Perez’s injury lingers and costs him more time than expected, right-handed setup man Vinnie Pestano would be the first in line to fill in as the team’s closer.
  • Acta also noted that Chris Ray, Dan Wheeler and Jeremy Accardo all have closing experience. This is not to say they’d be in the mix for a closing role if Perez were out. Acta was merely pointing out the wealth of late-inning experience in camp this spring. I mean, they’d have to make the team before anything else is even considered.
  • Herrmann was snapping off splitters today, which was a great sign. The pitch came and went for him last season. He’s entering his second season using the pitch with more of a comfort level with it. That’s also great, because it’s his best weapon against lefties, who hit .353 against him in 2011. Righties hit .231 against him.
  • Chatted some with Hagadone today as well. He’s itching to work his way into the bullpen mix this spring. Given his strikeout ability, he’s an intriguing option. Acta said the key is showing that he can command his fastball this spring. Hagadone said he’s also happy to be past the days of wondering if he’ll start or work as a reliever.
  • From the “let’s make something out of nothing” department, Jack Hannahan was working out with the “A” team during infield drills today. It was first baseman Casey Kotchman, second baseman Jason Kipnis, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and Hannahan at third. It was Day 1 of fundamentals, so I’m sure Lonnie Chisenhall will rotate into that same group at some point. Stay tuned.
  • Acta noted that the Indians have a pair of intrasquad games on the schedule right now. Tentatively, there will be a 4 1/2 inning game on Wednesday at the complex and a 5 1/2 inning game on Thursday at Goodyear Ballpark. I’ll give more details when I can about scheduled pitchers and lineups.
  • Acta also noted that the team will likely play a handful of extra games this spring to help out with the high volume of players. Right now, there is one game already lined up. Cleveland will host the White Sox in a 10 a.m. MT “B” game on March 5 at the Indians player development complex.
  • Will probably do a feature on this at some point, but talked to infielder Cord Phelps some about his busy offseason. He spent a lot of time in San Francisco and made a trip to Hawaii. He also met up with a couple friends in Israel. Two of his college buddies did a 12,000-mile dirt bike journey from South Africa to Jerusalem and Phelps met them at the finish line. “It was inspiring,” Phelps said.
  • The Indians’ renion tour continued on Sunday, when Carlos Baerga arrived in camp as a gues instructor. Baerga was all smiled as he talked about how “special” it was to be back an a Tribe uniform coaching younger players. With Kenny Lofton, Mike Hargrove and Sandy Alomar Jr. also on hand, the ’95 squad is coming together nicely.
  • Don’t look now, but Baerga said he’s trying to convince Albert Belle to join them all in camp, too. Baerga joked that he might have to put Belle in a cage and have him dragged down here, but one way or another he wants to try to convince the ol’ slugger to make the trip.

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Caption Contest

The Winner

@DaffyDano “No, we’re safe.  Albert can’t hurt us in here”.

Runner-up

@iLoved5thGrade What do you think they call it ? I don’t know… I think it’s a Kipnis.

Honorable Mention

@SteveMcLove “And this, next to the Bengal Tiger cage, is where the rare wild LouMar is locked up when he’s not eating baserunners alive.”

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Thanks for playing.

Make sure you’re reading Indians.com and following me on Twitter (@MLBastian). To see more of my Spring Training photos, CLICK HERE.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Chris Perez sidelined with oblique injury

The Indians have lost closer Chris Perez for the time being, but the club is hoping there is still enough time for him to return to the bullpen prior to Opening Day in Cleveland.

On Sunday, the Indians revealed that Perez is sidelined with a strained left oblique and the pitcher will likely need at least four to six weeks to recover from the injury. That does not necessarily mean that the closer will be unavailable for the April 5 opener against the Blue Jays.

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Indians head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff, when asked if Perez was doubtful for Opening Day. “We’ll have to see how things go and how he responds with his throwing sessions once he gets back on a mound.”

It is not clear when Perez will be cleared to resume throwing off a mound, but the Indians are hopeful that he can begin game action before camp breaks at the end of March. Soloff said it helps that the 26-year-old pitcher is a reliever, so he will not need as much time to build up his pitch count before rejoining the bullpen.

“That’s definitely a positive,” Soloff said.

Perez indicated that he injured his left side on Thursday around pitches 25-30 near the end of a 10-minute bullpen session — his first mound workout of the spring. At first, Perez thought it was a cramp. The pitcher ended his session early and the team discovered he had strained his left oblique.

For right-handed pitchers, oblique issues most commonly effect the left side, according to Soloff.

“His body was clearly not ready for the intensity of that bullpen session,” Soloff said. “We’re hoping to have him in games towards the end of spring. It will be largely based on his responses.”

Perez interpreted Soloff’s comments to mean he was too aggressive in his first mound workout of the spring.

“What he means by that is it was the first day, I was going 100 percent,” Perez said. “He probably wanted me to go 75 or 50 percent, but that’s not who I am. I get work in throwing 100 percent. I’m not going to go throw a bullpen at 50 percent and miss all my spots and pretty much just waste a day.

“I was doing what I normally do when I throw a bullpen. I felt a cramp, so I think I was a little dehydrated. It is what it is. I pulled it. I’m physically ready to go. I could play tomorrow if it was Opening Day and this didn’t happen. I’m physically ready to go. It wasn’t because I came in out of shape or anything.

“I’ve been the same since I’ve been here. It’s just one of those fluke things and we have to move past it.”

Perez noted that his personal goal is to return to the mound for Cleveland by March 15. In the meantime, he is working through three-hour rehab sessions with the goal of adding in more exercises in the next eight or nine days. From there, Perez would resume a throwing program.

“Opening Day is not out of the question for me,” Perez said. “Four to six weeks is on the long side for me of when I want to be back out there. Obviously, I have to listen to my body. Now, it’s just go out and bang out my rehab.”

When he does return to the mound, Perez said he might have to take things slower at first.. <p> “Lonnie wants me to learn to kind of take my time out there,” Perez said. “It’s kind of a process. I’m still kind of young. I’m by no means a veteran in this game. I’m still learning my body and learning what I need to do to get ready for Opening Day.”

Perez added that he only need about six spring outings to be ready for the start of the season a year ago. <p> Last season, in his first full tour as the Tribe’s closer, Perez posted 36 saves in 40 opportunities and fashioned a 3.32 ERA across 64 games. The closer was named to the American League All-Star team and ended the 2011 season ranked fourth in the league in saves.

Behind Perez on the bullpen depth chart are setup men Vinnie Pestano and Tony Sipp, along with Rafael Perez and Joe Smith. The Indians entered Spring Training with the last two relief jobs up for grabs and a bevy of arms in the running for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Frank Herrmann and Nick Hagadone represent options currently on Cleveland’s 40-man roster. Some non-roster candidates include Dan Wheeler, Chris Ray, Robinson Tejeda, Chris Ray and Hector Ambriz, among others.

The closer joked that the setback might actually be beneficial for him.

“Me personally, I think Spring Training is too long anyways for relievers,” Perez quipped. “So maybe this will be a little blessing in disguise. I can come back with eight or nine days left, get my five appearances and be ready to go.”

–JB

In the running

Kenny Lofton was in camp today with the Indians, in uniform, wearing his familiar No. 7 and helping out with the outfielders. The 44-year-old then did something that did not necessarily fall under his guest instructor job description.

Lofton lined up with the position players after the first full-squad workout and took part in some sprint drills. Next to Lofton was Minor League outfielder Thomas Neal, who has a few more pounds of muscle on his frame than Kenny. On a few laps, Lofton was running a step or two ahead of Neal.

Hours later, Neal took to his Twitter account (@TdaddyNeal) and wrote:

“Just woke up from a nice little 2 hour nap. Trying to keep up w/ @Kenny_Lofton7 during sprints will do that 2 you LoL!!”

Indians manager Manny Acta did not see Lofton challenging his much younger counterparts, buthe heard all about it.

“He told me he was putting some pressure on someof those guys,” Acta said with a grin.

About the only missing from the scene was Lofton sprinting by everyone else while wearing pajamas.

Lofton looks to be in such good shape, the sprints had us joking that maybe he’s actually in camp as a non-roster invite. I mean, news did just break that Grady Sizemore is doubtful for Opening Day, meaning there is a vacancy in the starting outfield.

Might Lofton secretly be trying to make a comeback?

“Don’t put anything past the guy,” Acta joked.

I’ve always liked the idea of having players like Lofton in camp during Spring Training. Never hurts to have former stars on hand to help out with instruction. Lofton’s focus is on baserunning and outfield techniques… and on trying to out-run a few of the kids along the way.

Some notes from Saturday…

  • Beyond Lofton, the Indians also plan on having former Tribe infielder Carlos Baerga in camp this spring as a guest instructor. There have also been rumblings that Albert Belle might make an appearance. We’ll see.
  • Saturday’s workout seemed shorter than full-squad practices of years past, but Acta said that was by design. He said the way things lined up, it made sense to have an abbreviated workout today for the first full camp. On Sunday, there will be a lot more on the schedule.
  • Sunday’s schedule will include some live batting practice sessions, with Indians pitchers throwing off mounds and hitters standing in. But, the hitters won’t be swinging. The hitters will not be permitted to swing in that setting for 1-2 days. Acta has instituted this “tracking” approach since taking over as manager.
  • We chatted with Sizemore this morning and he is understandably frustrated over his latest setback. Sizemore said he tried to push through his lower back injury for 4-5 days after initially tweaking it, but the discomfort only intensified. That’s why he’s shut down from doing baseball activities and from continuing his right knee rehab for now.
  • We also discussed the situation with Michael Brantley, who could move to center field or stay in left. He wouldn’t admit to being more comfortable in one spot over the other, choosing to only say he’s willing to do whatever the team wants. He’s saying the right things, but I believe center would be his preference. That’s just me speculating.
  • Brantley noted that he’s at full strength after his offseason of rehab for his right hand. He took part in all of Saturday’s workout and was happy to hear that Acta named him the team’s leadoff man. Brantley noted that he put on a few pounds this winter, but it is “good weight” — mostly due to lower half workouts over the winter.
  • Acta said the field is wide open for the lone outfield opening. The manager did not rule out the possibility of throwing Matt LaPorta into the mix for the starting job in left feld. Right now, it is really hard to say who might be the leading candidate for the third job, but it was interesting to hear LaPorta is in that mix.
  • Russ Canzler has experience in the corner outfield spots, but the Indians see him more as a first baseman. Canzler spent Saturday’s workout focusing on first base. He’ll get reps in the outfield and is certainly in the mix for a bench job with the club. In my opinion, he is probably not high on the outfield depth chart right now.
  • As previously noted, Jason Donald will see action in the outfield as well this spring, but that won’t be until deeper into the schedule. The plan early on is for him to evenly distribute his reps between second base, shortstop and third base. He bounced between short and second during Saturday’s workout.
  • Donald said the idea of playing the outfield was fun for him. He had limited action out there during instructional league and said it reminded him of his days as a safety on his high school football team. Donald said he’s willing to fill whatever role the Indians need in order to gain at-bats and help the team.

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Photo of the Day

Indians third basemen Lonnie Chisenhall and Jack Hannahan await a grounder off the bat of third base coach Steve Smith’s fungo bat.

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Caption Contest

What’s Shin-Soo Choo saying to Asdrubal Cabrera?

The Winner

@skydancing8 hi, Maggilo Ordonez, I’m Choo…. Oh wait, nice mullet asdrubal.

Runner-up

@literateartist “Yo, I heard about this game show called ‘Minute To Win It.” Now if you could pile those cups on those cones…”

Honorable Mention

@footwedge15 “dont look but one of the 100 new guys in camp is staring at me behind us

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Thanks for playing.

Make sure you’re reading Indians.com and following me on Twitter (@MLBastian). To see more of my Spring Training photos, CLICK HERE.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

“Think happy.”

Last spring, when I asked catcher Carlos Santana what he thought his biggest key to success was, he replied: “Think happy.” Great advice.

And would just look at Ubaldo smiling. That’s the general feeling early on in Spring Training. Everyone’s happy to be back together and back to baseball. But, these are the best of times, and these are the worst of times.

I’m posting this Happy Ubaldo photo first, because it’s best for you fans to focus on happy thoughts right now.

“I was hoping not to talk to you guys until at least when we broke camp,” head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff told reporters this afternoon.

Uh oh.

It was an unexpected turn that the Indians decided to reveal today since, well, we would be wondering why Grady Sizemore wasn’t out on the field when we showed up tomorrow. Sizemore is injured. Again. This time around, however, it does not involve his surgerically-repaired right or left knee.

Roughly two weeks ago, Sizemore suffered a lower back strain while fielding ground balls in the outfield. In his right knee rehab, he had progressed to hitting and throwing with no restrictions. He as up to a walking/jogging routine and had added agility drills to his weekly routine. Grady was way ahead of last year’s pace.

Then, he tweaked his back and Soloff believes it is unlikely that Sizemore will be ready for Opening Day. It’s deja vu all over again.

Sizemore has been shut down from baseball activities and his knee rehab has been put on hold until his back is completely healed. There is no established timetable for his return to baseball drills, meaning there is no way of knowing right now just how long Sizemore might be sidelined.

Read MLB.com columnist Anthony Castrovince’s take on the matter.

The Indians knew the risk involved when they declined Sizemore’s option and re-signed him at a lower cost with incentives. That inherent risk is a big reason why Cleveland spent the winter collecting  experienced outfielders like baseball cards. The team feels it is better prepared to withstand such a loss this season.

That brings us to…

Some notes from Friday…

  • The most likely solution now seems to be sliding left fielder Michael Brantley to center field (I swear I wrote this same sentence last spring). Many people view Brantley as a center fielder anyways, so having him move up the middle makes sense, and it’s what the Tribe did for much of last season.
  • Indians manager Manny Acta said that Brantley is an option, but not the only option. He quickly rattled off the names of Ezequiel Carrera, Ryan Spilborghs, Aaron Cunningham and Felix Pie as center field alternatives. Acta said they will assess the outfield alignment throughout Spring Training.
  • If Brantley does shift to center again, that means left field is open. Options for that spot include Shelley Duncan, Fred Lewis and the outfielders I listed in the above bullet point. Lewis has experience in center field in his career, but he’s really a left fielder at this point in time.
  • Of all the guys mentioned, Duncan, Carrera and Cunningham are on the 40-man roster. Duncan and Cunningham are out of options, which is always factored into the equation at the end of camp. Spilborghs, Pie and Lewis are all non-roster invitees.
  • Outfielders not mentioned by Acta or GM Chris Antonetti included Thomas Neal, Nick Weglarz, Chad Huffman, Russ Canzler and Trevor Crowe.  Neal and Weglarz seem to be in the Triple-A mix. Huffman, Canzler and Crowe seem to be bubble candidates for bench jobs. Of those three, Canzler might have a leg up. Hard to tell right now.
  • As for the leadoff spot, it doesn’t sound like Acta was considering Sizemore for that role even before the back injury came up. Acta said on Friday that Brantley is his leadoff man. Acta joked that he’s giving us 1-2 lineup spots each week until Opening Day. So we’ve got 1. Brantley, 2. TBA, 3. TBA, 4. Santana, 5. TBA, 6. TBA, 7. TBA, 8., TBA, 9. TBA. Speculate away.
  • As for Brantley’s health status, Soloff noted that the outfielder recently progressed to his hitting program without any issues. Brantley had right hand surgery in August. Soloff said Brantley’s only restriction come full-squad workouts, which start Saturday, will be a heavy work volume. The team will keep a close eye on that.
  • Former Indians outfielder Kenny Lofton arrived in camp on Friday. While he looks like he could still put on a uniform and step into the lineup, he’s in camp as a guest instructor, not as a non-roster invitee. Lofton did the same thing last spring. He’ll focus on baserunning and outfield techniques.
  • Right-hander Carlos Carrasco has been hanging around the complex in uniform, working through his rehab. Carrasco had Tommy John elbow surgery last season and is not expected to pitch for the Indians in 2012. That’d be a great arm to get back for the 2013 rotation.
  • Forgot to mention: during our sit-down with pitching coach Scott Radinsky on Thursday, he was asked if there was any one pitching coach he had that stands out in his mind. Radinsky had high praise for Dave LaRoche, who he credits for helping him stay in the big leagues. As it happens, Andy LaRoche — Dave’s son — is in camp with the Indians as a non-roster invitee.
  • Caught up some with righty Jeremy Accardo, who I know from my days on the Blue Jays beat. I asked him if inconsistency with his splitter over the last four years explains his career showing since his 30-save season in 2007. He said Acta asked him the same thing. This spring, Accardo is going to try to get back to being a fastball-splitter pitcher. Over the past few years, he leaned heavily on his slider and cutter.
  • Also spent some time chatting with Shin-Soo Choo, who talked a lot about the military training he took part in over the offseason. Part of it included 15-mile hikes with a 55-pound pack on his back. He said the long marches gave him a lot of time to reflect on his life and the past year. Check back on Indians.com in the coming days for a feature on that topic.

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Photo of the Day

Indians catcher Carlos Santana

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Twitter Caption Contest

Indians righty Justin Masterson showing David Huff how to pitch left-handed?

Gold, Jerry. It’s gold!

@gosche15 “I’m thinking I’ll take the number 1 and 5 spots”

Silver

@bookelly73 Huff thinking, “Sure, go ahead and throw with that surgically repaired left shoulder.  I could use a rotation spot.”

Bronze

@mhess52 “Then just shave your head and you can achieve the level of Mastiness that I have come to enjoy.”

Apologies to @bookelly73, who I originally named the winner. @gosche15 was a late entry and, well, it made me chuckle a little more than all the others. And since this is my game, and my rules, I’ve edited the post and declared a new winner!

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Thanks for playing.

Make sure you’re reading Indians.com and following me on Twitter (@MLBastian). To see more of my Spring Training photos, CLICK HERE.

First full-squad workout in the morning. Stay tuned for more…

–JB

The new Boss in town

He was The Godfather of The Bullpen Mafia, but Scott Radinsky has moved up in Cleveland’s chain of command.

After working as the team’s bullpen coach, Radinsky is now the Tribe’s pitching coach. He assumes the role held by The Departed Tim Belcher.

(Sorry, couldn’t resist the last pun)

Belcher is still with the organization, but he stepped down from his post as the Indians pitching coach at the end of the year.

Asked if he could still be considered the bullpen’s Godfather, Radinsky laughed.

“I hope so, man,” Rad said with a grin. “I told them they’ve got a made man inside now.”

All jokes aside, Radinsky — also the lead singer of the punk band Pulley — isn’t expecting a tough transition to his new role. He and Belcher worked well together and shared duties in many ways. Radinsky knows he’s the man in charge of the staff now, but he doesn’t expect much to change.

“It’s business as usual,” Radinsky said. “It’s a very similar approach, just a different voice and maybe a different style. But it’s a very easy transition, I think, for everybody in that clubhouse, including myself.”

Radinsky likes the spot his staff is in at the start of this camp, too. The rotation has four spots locked in and four arms with big league experience vying for one job. The bullpen has five jobs accounted for and a bevy of experienced arms in the running for the two vacancies. That is depth that has Radinsky smiling.

“It’s exciting for me,” Radinsky said. “It’s not like in the past where weve had like two or three spots open and we didn’t knowwho was going to take them and were hoping on this guy or that guy. I think we’ve got some legitimate choices.”

Indians Players Got Jokes

A trio of Indians players had a pile of baseball cards strewn across a round table in the clubhouse this morning. Sharpies in hand and laughing, they pulled out a few select cards and taped them to the cubby doors above Josh Tomlin’s locker.

One was of Nolan Ryan. The added caption read: “A Tough Texan — Unlike Josh.”

Ouch! But it gets better…

There was one card featuring Howie Kendrick with the added caption: “Don’t Be Scared.” Then, there were two cards with photos of Mark Trumbo hitting. One read: “Appreciate It!” And the other had “Thank You!!” written on the front.

Apparently, Tomlin is still taking heat for what happened on July 26.

With the score caught in a 0-0 deadlock in Cleveland, Tomlin chose to intentionally walk Kendrick with two outs in the seveth inning. Trumbo came up next and drove in a pair of runs with a double. The Indians lost to the Angels, 2-1.

Some notes from Thursday…

  • Chatted some today with catcher Carlos Santana, who was thrilled to have a normal offseason this year. Last year he was coming back from the knee injury. The year before it was a hamate bone issue. This winter, he trained in the D.R. with an Indians strength coach and has shown up to Spring Training in great shape.
  • In a wide-ranging 25-minute discussion with reporters, Radinsky said this about Ubaldo Jimenez: “I think we’re going to see a different guy than what we saw when we got him last year.” That belief — shared by Ubaldo and manager Manny Acta, among others — is based on the work he did in the D.R. this winter as well. CLICK HERE for a story I did today on The Big U.
  • Radinsky also noted that Tomlin looked great and completely over his right elbow issue during Thursday’s 10-minute bullpen session. Rad described Tomlin as a great student and feels the pitcher is more than capable of improving on his 12-win showing for the Tribe last season.
  • One of the throwing groups today included CC Lee, Scott Barnes, Austin Adams and Danny Salazar. Lee and Barnes are closest to the Majors. Lee has a sidearm style — not as low to the ground as Joe Smith — and he throws hard. Could be a bullpen option at some point in 2012. Barnes, who had a knee injury last year, is in a position to possibly  help the Major League rotation at some point this summer, too.
  • Zach McAllister is working on getting more tilt with his lead arm and leg during his delievery. It’s similar to the changes made by lefty David Huff last season. During a chat with GM Chris Antonetti during the bullpen sessions, the GM praised the consistent mechanics Huff was displaying early in camp.
  • All of the Indians spring invites — rostered and non-rostered — have arrived to camp. On Thursday (report date for position players), Casey Kotchman, Trevor Crowe and Felix Pie all arrived. Position players did not technically have to be at the complex until Friday for physicals. Saturday is the first full-squad workout.
  • Quote of the day came from Radinsky, when I asked him what starter Derek Lowe adds to the pitching staff. Radinsky quipped: “He adds some age and some height.” Lowe does add more than that, though. Said Rad: “This guy is just coming in here full of excitement. I think he’s going to be a big-time plus for us, and another guy who adds durability, experience and the possibility of throwing 200 innings.”
  • Not often you hear of ballplayers getting involved too much in politics. It was interesting to hear that Indians players Shelley Duncan and Travis Hafner attended Wednesday night’s republican debate in Phoenix with their wives. Duncan posted a photo on Twitter  of them all standing with Ron Paul. Both guys are big into politics, especially in this election year.
  • Been fun reuniting in a way this week with righty Jeremy Accardo and outfielder Fred Lewis. I covered both guys in my days as the Blue Jays beat reporter for MLB.com. Something I didn’t know about Lewis, though, is he is cousins with former Indians outfielder Matt Lawton. Also, Lewis discovered he loves bowling this offseason.
  • MLB Network announced on Thursday that the Indians’ March 7 game against the D-backs will include live in-game audio from mic’d up players and coaches. The game will be aired on MLBN at 3 p.m. ET that afternoon. As many as six players on each side will be wearing microphones during the game.
  • Some people believe I have been claiming that Cord Phelps’ new beard is better than the beard that closer Chris Perez always rocks. Perez still ranks No. 1 in my beard book. Phelps, on the other hand, has been the talk of the team for having grown the best bear over the offseason. Catcher Luke Carlin posted THIS PHOTO on Twitter. Check it out for yourselves.

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#LouMar Contest

During the 2011 season, one of my favorite tings that happened on Twitter was fans coming up with #LouMar jokes in the same vein as all the Chuck Norris jokes. So, I thought this was as good a time as any to get some rolling again. I posted the above photo of catcher Lou Marson on Twitter with the caption: “He doesn’t wear shin guards to protect his legs. He wears them to protect the baseballs.”

Later on I asked fans to submit their own #LouMar-isms. Here are some responses.

The winner

@titoman13 #LouMar know’s who’s on first

Some others

@wdfichtel There is no all-time steals list, only a list of players Lou Marson chooses to ignore.

@Yocklin Fielder and Pujols didn’t come to Cleveland because they were afraid of Lou Marson

@MichaelZwilling Lou Marson is so intimidating, his reflection wont even look at him

@B_Gumbo30 Sharks have a whole week dedicated to Lou Marson.

@rkumpf Lou Marson doesn’t wear protective catching gear.  The protective catching gear wears Lou Marson.

@BuZzKill_Dan Lou Marson doesnt wear a face mask to protect his face from the ball… its used to protect the ball from Lou Marson

@JR_65M The craters in the Moon weren’t caused by astroids. They were #loumar HRs.

@sickle135 when the Dos Equis guy is thirsty he drinks whatever LouMar tells him to drink

@bobbyhuey the Boogeyman checks under his bed for @LouMar6

@Seel_Deal when Bruce Banner gets mad, he turns into The Hulk. When The Hulk gets mad, he turns into Lou Marson!

@titoman13 #LouMar scared the “devil” out of the rays name

Congrats to @titoman13 for making the cut twice.

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Thanks for playing.

–JB

Spring workouts begin

The three-day progression for the official start of Spring Training always amuses me.

There is the report date, when players have to be in the area, but they don’t have to be at the complex. Then, there is physical day, when the players are poked and prodded and the workout is still informal. Then, finally, there is the first official workout. It’s when Spring Training really starts, even though it has already started.

That day arrived on Wednesday and manager Manny Acta got downright poetic about it.

“I’m a sports guy and I respect every sport,” Acta said. “But wasn’t that beautiful? The crack of a fungo bat. A white ball rolling over green grass. A pitcher covering first base. And then watching the bullpen sessions. That was beautiful.”

It was, except for the part where Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer and I stood by a row of empty mounds, wondering where the heck the bullpen sessions were taking place. Whoops. They were down on the Minor League side on the first day. Note to self: head to those mounds on Thursday. [Sigh]

Pitchers played catch and ran through mound sessions and fielding practice. Catchers went through drills on a field of their own. Pretty soon we’ll have hitters stepping in for live BP and, before you know it, intrasquad games and Cactus League contests will follow.

Position players do not technically have to report to Arizona for the Indians until Thursday, but most are already on hand for the Tribe. The only players not in camp yet are Casey Kotchman, Trevor Crowe and Felix Pie. The next three days will follow the same progression of events. By Saturday, the full-squad workout will be in full swing.

Some notes from Wednesday…

  • The Indians officially announced that they signed INF Cristian Guzman to a Minor League contract that includes a non-roster spring invite. Acta said he is in the mix as a utility man for shortstop and second base, and he’ll see some reps at third base, too. Acta did not seem overly concerned that Guzman missed all of 2011.
  • Some players in the mix for utility infield jobs off the bench include Jason Donald (the “leading candidate” according to Acta), Jack Hannahan (if he isn’t the starting third baseman), Jose Lopez, Andy LaRoche and Guzman.
  • As for Donald, he can play third base, shortstop and second base. Acta said Donald won’t be seeing much time in the outfield early in in camp, given the high volume of outfielder in the fold this spring. Donald could see some action in the outfield deeper into the spring games schedule, though.
  • Having Donald as an emergency outfield option would help with the lefty-heavy lineup. If Grady Sizemore needs a day off, or Michael Brantley isn’t in the lineup, Donald would seems a solid fit versus lefty pitching. Last year, Donald hit .377 (.949 OPS) against southpaws.
  • That said, Cleveland will probably have a right-handed-hitting outfielder on the bench. Options include Ryan Spilborghs, Aaron Cunningham, Shelley Duncan and Matt LaPorta. Yes, LaPorta is in that mix, according to Acta. He said LaPorta is competing for a backup role as a player capable of helping out at first base, left field and DH.
  • That would seemingly put LaPorta in direct competition with Duncan. As I’ve noted before, Duncan does not have options and LaPorta does. All things being equal, it seems a safe bet that LaPorta will be playing first base for Triple-A Columbus when this season begins. Barring injury, of course.
  • The deal with RHP Jon Garland is off. The Indians had agreed to sign him to a Minor League contract with a non-roster spring invite, but the pitcher did not take a physical with the team as planned and he needs more time to rehab his throwing shoulder. The simple fact is Garland wasn’t ready to compete for a job with the Tribe.
  • Acta joked that he would reveal one or two lineup spots to us each week until Opening Day arrived. On Wednesday, he said catcher Carlos Santana is in the plans as the cleanup hitter once again. As for expectations, Acta said he feels Santana has the ability to hit .280-.300 with 25-30 homers and 80-90+ RBIs.
  • Word is that Ubaldo Jimenez added eight pounds of muscle over the offseason. Sounds like he is in The Best Shape of His Life and The Ball Was Coming Out of His Hand Good. Ah, two of my favorite Spring Training cliches. Joking aside, Ubaldo is healthy, in great shape and itching to get going.
  • One key for Ubaldo this season will be consistency with his landing foot. He had varying strides and footfalls last season and the Indians, and the pitcher, feel those mechanical issues contributed to his drop in velocity.
  • Indians righty Justin Masterson underwent surgery on his left shoulder in October and has no restrictions heading into Spring Training. In fact, Masterson said he was able to begin his offseason throwing program even earlier than he had in years past. Part of that was out of necessity, since the doctors wanted to have him throw before one of his checkups.
  • Closer Chris Perez said he does not plan on toying around with his changeup, which he did last Spring Training. The result last year was some pain in his right forearm and a whole lot of frustration. “It got me off on the wrong foot,” said Perez. He’ll be sticking with his money makers this spring.
  • The winner of the 2012 Offseason Beard Growing Competition is infielder Cord Phelps — by a mile. Duncan came into camp with a strong beard, but Phelps’ new lumberjack look made him barely recognizable when he arrived to Goodyear.
  • Congrats to the Chisenhalls on a welcoming a new baby boy into their family. Lonnie said he and his wife ushered little Cutter Chisenhall into the world in January. Great name. Sounds like a ballplayer.

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Twitter Caption Contest

The Winner:

@Cravanicus “Fence goes flying in 3… 2… 1…”

Some others:

@MichaelZwilling you see what Verlander did last year, boys? Nothing compared to the numbers this arm is putting up this year

@SizemoreFan Justin Masterson shows teammates his planned interpretive dance piece for his upcoming “So You Think You Can Dance” audition.

@Whittness You put your right arm in. You put your right arm out. You put your right arm in and you shake it all about…

@KCandtheSun “Look, I recently got into P90x. If ANY of you want to mess with me this year, you’ll have to deal with these pythons, mkay?”

@poisonwilliam Pitchers, Catchers, and rubber bands have reported.

@bHottleWinning Indians players circle around masterson? for the annual dance off.

@jalong82 Union work.

@PitchersHit8th “This move is called “The Sprinkler”.

@Cleveland_CPA starting the giant mower. It can cut the whole outfield in 10 seconds.

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Thanks for playing.

–JB

It’s not how you start…

The buzz word inside the Indians’ clubhouse right now is not “competing” or “contending.” No, the expectations right now are all centered around “winning” and making the playoffs.

It’s not just the players saying what they think they should say. Teams that know they have no shot don’t go into Spring Training selling fans pipe dreams about deep postseason runs. Those teams tend to lean more on phrases like, “We are hoping to be a competitive team this year.” Translation: Wait ’til next year, or maybe the year after that.

These Indians really feel they have a shot to take the American League Central crown. They said similar things last year, many people rolled their eyes, and then the Tribe stormed out to that 30-15 start and held on to first place until July 22.

“That’s what was expected out of our club the beginning of last year,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “That’s why guys went out there and believed in themselves. Obviously, some things happened. You can believe all you want. You still have to win.”

Asked by one reporter if the team could go back and analyze that 30-15 start to find out what was working for the club, Acta cut off the question and replied:

“We’re talented. We have some talent here. It wasn’t anything different that we did in Spring Training or anything like that. Our focus is to win and when you’re in a rebuilding process you can see it from year to year. We’re talented. It’s not a fluke when you spend as long as we did in first place.”

Injuries or not — and that certainly took a toll on the Tribe in 2011 — Acta would’ve preferred to see more consistency over the course of the entire season. That is what the manager is hoping to witness in 2012.

“Everybody would like to win right off the bat,” Acta said. “It’s what comes after that. How many teams start 30-15? You’re not going to see that very often. We’d still like to have a goodstart — that sets the tone. But it’s such a long season. That’s why we downplayed allthat all the time. It’s 162 games.

“What I want to see is consistent baseball throughout the year. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how we start or how we finish. We want to be in the playoffs.”

Some notes from Tuesday…

  • It didn’t take long for the Indians to find a taker for the lone empty locker in their clubhouse. Veteran infielder Cristian Guzman was sitting at that stall on Tuesday morning. After missing all of last season — he said his surgically-repaired right  shoulder needed the year to rest — Guzman is trying to make a comeback. He took a physical with the team on Tuesday and is hoping to have a Minor League deal be made official on Wednesday. Acta would not comment on the possible signing.
  • The Indians completed a minor trade on Tuesday, sending Minor League lefty Kelvin De La Cruz to the Rangers in exchange for cash considerations. The Tribe designated De La Cruz for assignment last week to clear room on the roster for 1B Casey Kotchman. Last spring, De La Cruz did standing back flip on the first day of camp. No word on whether De La Cruz was doing back flips over the news that he had been dealt.
  • 3B Lonnie Chisenhall will be wearing No. 8 this year — the same number worn by one of his childhood heros, Cal Ripken Jr. Chisenhall said he and 2B Jason Kipnis had a “gentlemen’s bet” over No. 8, which both of them wanted. The first player to reach the Majors would get to weat the number. Chisenhall got the call on June 27 last season and Kipnis followed suit on July 22. Chisenhall wore “27” last year.
  • Acta said he’s be lying if he said results did not enter into the equation for the evaluation of the fifth starter competition. Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff and Zach McAllister have been named as candidates for the job. If you ask me, Slowey and Gomez seem to be the front-runners.
  • Gomez said a big part of his offseason was spent resting his right knee, which gave him some trouble throughout last season. Huff said he continued to work on getting comfortable with the changes he made to his delivery last year. Slowey cited a lack of consistency when asked about his 2011 struggles.
  • Slowey deflected questions about his issues with working as a reliever last year with the Twins. Reports were that he and the Minnosota brass were at odds when the team wanted him to work out of the bullpen. Slowey said he wanted to leave the past in the past, adding that he was looking forward to trying to convince the Indians to trust him with the fifth rotation job.
  • Acta said the Indians have identified some mechanical issues experienced by veteran sinkerballer Derek Lowe in his subpar 2011 showing with the Braves. Acta also noted that the Tribe wants to see Lowe get back to throwing his bread and butter pitch — the sinker — more often this year. I did a blog post on the very subject recently. CLICK HERE to give it a read.
  • Acta and GM Chris Antonetti have been holding two-on-one meetings with all the pitchers and catchers. They’ll do the same with the position players when they all are in camp. They use the meetings to go over goals and expectations for the coming season, and to discuss the players’ roles and chances of making the team. The first official workout for pitchers and catchers is Wednesday.

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Photo of the Day

Reunited and it feels so good: Carlos Santana & Michael Brantley.

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Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Pitchers & catchers report, stretching commences

The Indians have been at this Goodyear complex for four Spring Trainings now. This spring marked the first time that the club had to have a handful of players double up to share lockers. That is due to the high volume of players brought into camp this spring.

As of this writing, there are 61 players in the fold. That could rise to 62 if the Indians sign pitcher Jon Garland, though it’s beginning to look doubtful given how long that process is taking. Garland reached an agreement on a Minor League deal last week, but did not take his physical on Monday as expected. The locker that I’m pretty sure was set up for him was also cleaned out this morning.

An update on that front isn’t expected until later this week.

I’m getting off topic. Where was I? Ah, yes, the five dozen players in camp.

Some of the younger players on the cusp of the big leagues might have been a little miffed at times this offseason as news rolled in of Minor League signing after Minor League signing. Reliever Vinnie Pestano said he remembers that type of feeling from his days as a Minor Leaguer trying to earn his shot with the big league club. A funny thing happened, though. Pestano started to understand the approach.

“When you’re coming up through the system,” Pestano said, “and you see them signing guys and stuff like that, you think, ‘Well, when am I going to get my shot? When’s my turn? I’m trying to get to the big leagues and they just signed a guy for the exact same spot that I do.’ So you’re like, ‘What the heck do I have to do now?’ I think last year was the first year I understood how important that depth is, how important that experience is to have. All the guys we brought in, they’ve been around a little bit. It’s not their first rodeo.

“I think all those guys are going to push all the guys around them. To have that many guys in camp, and to have the experience that we have in this locker room, as opposed to last year, it’s a huge turnaround. You don’t really know how important that experience and that depth is until you need it. And with what happened last year, we had all those guys that came up, and now they’re experienced, too.

“I think we’re in a great spot depth-wise. We have a lot of great position battles in camp and I think everybody’s going to use that to push themselves to get better.”

Some notes from Monday…

  • Indians manager Manny Acta said he knows who will be the Opening Day starter (mandatory “barring injury” disclaimer), but he’s not telling. Yet. It’s going to be either Justin Masterson or Ubaldo Jimenez, but Acta and the rest of the Tribe brass want to get through the early stages of the throwing program before announcing the decision. So expect that news within the next two weeks.
  • Acta was in meetings for most of the morning and afternoon, but he said all the pitchers and catchers reported on Monday as requird. He said he would have heard about it if there were any players dealing with any type of delays getting to camp. There is a significant number of position players already on hand as well. They aren’t required to report until Thursday.
  •  Acta said there is no favorite for the fifth spot out of the gates. The field is Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff and Zach McAllister. Pure speculation and reading between the lines on my part here, but Acta’s comments made it seem like Slowey and Gomez were a little ahead of Huff. McAllister has the least experience of the four.
  • As for the third base competition between Jack Hannahan and Lonnie Chisenhall, Acta said that’s a decision that will likely take until the final days of camp. The team knows what it has in Hannahan, so the evaluation is more related to Chisenhall. The biggest factor will be improvement with his plate discipline. Acta stressed that the team needs to evaluate each at-bat — not just the on-field results.
  • Acta also noted that he is viewing Casey Kotchman as the everyday first baseman. This was slightly new, because at the time of Kotchman’s signing it sounded as if he might sit against lefties. Now, he might sit sometimes against lefties, but it just won’t be a platoon-type scenario with switch-hitting catcher Carlos Santana.
  • What does it all mean? It means Santana could see more time as a DH this year on the days he’s not behind the plate. Cleveland wants to get Lou Marson in there against left-handed pitching, given that he hit .297 against LHP in 2011. Santana hit .318 against lefties last year. Kotchman, a lefty hitter, fared well against both righties (.313) and lefties (.289).
  • Could this mean that DH Travis Hafner (another lefty hitter) might see more days off against left-handed pitchers? It’d appear so, if the plan is to get Santana in the DH slot more often. Consider that Hafner hit .233 vs. LHP and .302 against RHP last year. Over the past three years combined, Hafner has a .240/.298/.382 slash line against LHP compared to a .290/.387/.483 slash line against righties. Hmmm.
  • Acta confirmed that there are indeed two spots open in the bullpen as we’ve all been writing. He indicated that right-hander Frank Herrmann might  have “a bit of a leg up” for one of the available relief jobs. Barring a disastrous spring, I still think that Herrmann and non-roster invitee Dan Wheeler seem like the favorites for the last two spots.

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Photo of the Day

Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera sporting a nice mullet under that Indians cap. This photo spawned plenty of other reactions on Twitter, too. You can CLICK HERE to see some other photos I posted today.

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Indians Player Twitter Power Rankings

I was a little underwhelmed by the tweets this week from the Indians players. That said, less tweeting might mean more working as Spring Training begins. Nothing wrong with that. Even so, felt it was time to shake things up. Vinnie Pestano continues to hold down the top spot, though. It’s his birthday today. I couldn’t unseat him. Lou Marson soars from being unranked to being No. 2 on my list. His tweets might be sparse, but they’re short, to the point and often hilarious. Well done, LouMar.

Week 5: Major League Rankings

1. @VinnieP52 (Vinnie Pestano) – Last week: 1 (5)
2. @LouMar6 (Lou Marson) – Last week: 5
3. @thethree8 (Joe Smith) – Last week: 3
4. @TheJK_Kid (Jason Kipnis) – Last week: 2
5. @ChrisPerez54 (Chris Perez) – Last week: 4

Sixth Man: @tcrowe4 (Trevor Crowe) – Last week: NR

Top Twitter Prospects

1. @C_M_Cook (Cole Cook) – Last week: 2
2. @TDaddyNeal (Thomas Neal) – Last week: 1
3. @EBerger18  (Eric Berger) – Last week: 3

–JB

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