March 2012

Who’s your Vladdy?

The Indians did indeed hold a workout for free-agent Vladimir Guerrero earlier this week at their baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.

Cleveland general manager Chris Antonetti confirmed as much in a sit-down with reporters on Tuesday morning. Beyond that…

“I wouldn’t read too much into it at this point,” Antonetti said.

The GM said it was actually Guerrero who contacted the club and asked if they’d have any interest in working him out. Antonetti — not one to leave any stones unturned — obliged.

“He has interest in continuing to play,” Antonetti said. “We have an academy in the Dominican. He asked if we would be interested in seeing him work out, so we worked him out. That’s really the extent of it.”

At this point, past injuries have essentially rendered the 37-year-old Guerrero a pure designated hitter. He appeared in 137 games as a DH for Baltimore last season, hitting .290 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs. The Indians already have a well-paid full-time DH with a laundry list of recent health woes in Travid Hafner.

In theory, Cleveland could put Hafner and Vladdy into a DH platoon, but that would strike a decisive blow to the versatility manager Manny Acta wants available on his bench. The only way I could see adding Guerrero making sense was if he could handle playing left field.

Asked if Guerrero could play any outfield, Antonetti’s reply was: “He hasn’t played outfield recently.”

Antonetti noted that the Indians had Guerrero track down some fly balls during the workout to see what type of shape he was in for playing the outfield. The GM said Guerrero looked “no different than how he has over the last few years.” That’s hardly a ringing endorsement.

So, as Antonetti suggested, I wouldn’t make too much of this at this point in time. If we’re a month into the season, and injuries haunt Cleveland’s roster once again, and the team is in dire need of offense, well then, hey, sure I could see the Tribe getting more serious about taking a flier on an experienced hitter like Vlad.

Asked if Guerrero stepped into the box to face “Rob” (Indians pitcher Roberto Hernandez/formerly Fausto Carmona), Antonetti allowed himself to crack a smile.

“Good ol’ Rob did not pitch to him,” said the GM.

And a big thanks to friend John Lott of the National Post in Toronto for the great photo of Guerrero from a couple years back.

Some notes from Tuesday…

  • The Indians “reduced their roster” — don’t go calling them roster cuts unless you want to get Manny Acta angry — by three players on Tuesday. The Tribe optioned 3B Lonnie Chisenhall and 1B Matt LaPorta to Triple-A, and also re-assigned OF Chad Huffman to Minor League camp.
  • Removing Chisenhall from camp cleared the way for Hannahan to win the starting nod at third base for the Indians. Not a big surprise there, but Cleveland insisted it was a competition. Chisenhall (16 Ks against 1 walk this spring) did not show the type of plate discipline the Indians wanted to see from him this preseason.
  • For all of you upset about Chisenhall’s demotion, keep in mind that the kid is still only 23 years old. He’s actually the third-youngest player on the team’s 40-man roster. The fact that he’s already in the mix for a big league job is impressive, but he is still in need of some offensive development.
  • The Indians know Hannahan is one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball and they love having him out there, along with Casey Kotchman at 1B, for their groundball-happy pitching staff. That said, Hannahan is eager to prove that he really did turn a corner down the stretch last season in the batter’s box.
  • Acta said LaPorta had a real opportunity to win a job on the Opening Day roster as either the starting left fielder or a backup outfielder/first baseman/DH off the bench. LaPorta hit .167 with 11 strikeouts and one walk in 14 games for the Tribe this spring. Cleveland needs to see more consistency from him before calling him back to the Majors.
  • Huffman had a better shot at making the team as a backup outfielder last spring than he did this spring. Still, given the way the outfield competition has gone, Huffman certainly could have played himself into the mix. Instead, he hit .231 and will likely wind up back in Columbus to start the year.
  • Ubaldo Jimenez started against the White Sox on Tuesday and was solid for the most part. He went five innings, giving up three runs (two earned) with three strikeouts and no walks. The Big U sat around 91-94 mph for the most part and ended with eight groundouts. He logged 90 pitches (54 strikes) and registered 11 first-pitch strikes among the 21 hitters he faced. Ubaldo had six 3-ball counts.
  • Acta raved about Ubaldo’s secondary pitches and Jimenez said he was pleased with his ability to avoid falling behind in the count as often as he has in other spring outings. He breezed through the first three innings, but ran into a 26-pitch wall during the fourth.
  • Center fielder Michael Brantley returned to the lineup on Tuesday after having last played a game on March 19 due to a right hamstring injury. He went 0-for-2. Outfielder Fred Lewis, who had been battling a sore right elbow, also returned to game action on Tuesday.
  • Shelley Duncan went 0-for-4 and saw his spring average drop to .195 on Tuesday, but Antonetti said Duncan had stepped forward as a leading candidate for the left field job. The average isn’t quite there, but Duncan has made consistently solid contact and leads the team with five home runs and 15 RBIs this spring so far.
  • The Associated Press reported the details of Hernandez’s restructured contract on Monday. Good ol’ Rob will have a base salary of $2.5M in 2012 with another $2.7M available through incentives. He can make $200K each for 20, 23 and 26 starts, $200K each for 150, 170 and 185 innings, and $250K every 15 days on the roster from 95-165 days. Hernandez’s original deal was for $7M this season. His 2013 club option has been reduced to $6M with any bonuses reached tacked on, and another $3M possible through incentives based on innings pitched. That option was originally $9M. The 2014 club option was eliminated. Of course, Hernandez is on MLB’s restricted list and he won’t see a penny until he’s back with the Indians and activated.
  • Antonetti said he has a couple pitchers in mind for the two available bullpen jobs, but he’s not ready to tip hishand just yet. The GM then went on to note that some of the candidates have performed better of late after poor starts to the spring. That, to me, might be in relation to Dan Wheeler.
  • Three of the other candidates — Jeremy Accardo, Robinson Tejeda and Henricus van den Hurk — each pitched on Tuesday. Accardo turned in another shutout frame to lower his spring ERA to 1.29 ERA. Tejeda and van den Hurk? Two runs allowed apiece. Right now, I’ve got to think Accardo, Nick Hagadone, Frank Herrmann and Wheeler are the top choices.
  • Antonetti and Acta have both stated that they want to see Jeanmar Gomez, Kevin Slowey and David Huff each pitch once more before announcing who has won the fifth starter job. Antonetti said they will take the best arm — regardless of their contract situation (see: $1.25M owed Slowey in 2012). With that said, it’s easy to think Gomez will land the job.
  • A couple Indians-related notes out of Rockies camp: Casey Blake was released on Tuesday and Colorado is moving former Tribe prospect Alex White to the bullpen. Blake is 38, missed time last year and this spring due to neck issues, and hit .150 in Cactus League play. I really don’t see him as a fit for the Indians at this point. As for White — part of the Ubaldo trade — many evaluators believed from the start that he was a future reliever, not starter.

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Backed into a (hot) corner

Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan hasn’t seen the field in a game in more than a week, throwing a bit of a wrinkle into the competition at the hot corner.

Then again, manager Manny Acta said weeks ago that the third base battle was more about Lonnie Chisenhall competing against himself, rather than against Hannahan.

In that way, Hannahan’s minor back injury gave Chisenhall more of a chance to prove that he belongs in the big leagues. As it’s turned out, Chisenhall has hit .205 to this point with 16 strikeouts against one walk.

The Indians know what they have in Hannahan. He’s one of the best defensive third basemen in the league and he looked to have turned a corner offensively down the stretch a year ago. Sure, he’s hit only .222 this spring, but he’s only had 18 at-bats for the Tribe. If he’s feeling better Monday, Acta said he’ll likely be back in the lineup.

The way I see it, Hannahan’s play over the final two months last year, combined with his stellar defense, has brought him the first month of this season. It looks like Chisenhall still needs some development — the type that requires everyday at-bats in Triple-A — before rejoining the Indians this summer. Keep in mind, Chisenhall is still only 23 years old. He’s still very much in the plans as the future starter at third.

As for Hannahan, he feels there are a couple of reasons for his hot finish last year.

First off, he began using a heavier bat, which he believes helped his mechanics. There was also the birth of his son, though. When Johnny burst onto the scene three months premature in August, Hannahan was hitting .213. When Hannahan rejoined the lineup after some time off to be with his wife and son, the third baseman hit .368 the rest of the way.

We caught up with Hannahan this morning and followed up with him to see how his wife and son are doing, now months removed from Johnny’s birthday. Johnny is up to 16-plus pounds and their family is doing great. For more, read this story I wrote today for Indians.com.

Some notes from Sunday…

  • The battle for the fifth rotation spot continued on Sunday with Jeanmar Gomez throwing five innings in a Cactus League game against the Cubs and Kevin Slowey logging six in a Minor League game. Gomez gave up three runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and three walks. Slowey was charged with three runs on five hits with three strikeouts and no walks in an 81-pitch effort.
  • Gomez threw 80 pitches, including 47 for strikes. His fastball and slider command was inconsistent, which led to the most traffic he’s seen on the bases this spring. Still, Gomez limited the damage for the most part and Acta was impressed with the right-hander’s performance. Gomez threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 26 batters he faced and only had three three-ball counts (they led to the three walks).
  • Acta continues to be careful not to tip his hand about the rotation makeup, but it sure feels like Gomez has the edge right now. He has a 1.69 ERA this spring after having his 13-inning spring scoreless streak snapped by the Cubs. Acta once again said Gomez could also be in the bullpen mix if he does not win the rotation job.
  • Gomez and David Huff are the only two pitchers (of the three fifth candidates) Acta has mentioned as possibilities for the bullpen. Asked if Gomez would make the team one way or the other, Acta said it’s still too early to say. The manager did note that the rotation decision would be made before the two bullpen spots are decided.
  • We chatted with utility infielder candidate Andy LaRoche this morning, one day after he left a game after being kneed in the head while breaking up a double play. LaRoche, who’s hitting .368 this spring, said he was feelign fine and he passed concussion tests. He hits righty and can play first, second and third. He appears to be up against Jose Lopez for a bench job, though Lopez seems to have the upper hand at the moment.
  • Talked to reliever Vinnie Pestano this morning and he noted that his main focus this spring — beyond simply getting ready for the season — has been on improving against left-handed hitters. To do so, Pestano has been going heavy on sliders versus lefties, even in counts that would normally warrant a fastball. Practice makes perfect.
  • Injry updates: Center fielder Michael Brantley (right hamstring) took part in Sunday’s workout, but Acta said he remains a couple days away from resuming playing in a game; closer Chris Perez (left oblique) felt fine on Sunday, one day after his Minor League outing, and he’s scheduled to throw in another Minor League game on Monday.
  • The bullpen race continues to be wide open. Veteran right-hander Dan Wheeler and young lefty Nick Hagadone — two among the long list of candidates — each logged a scoreless frame against the Cubs on Sunday. Hagadone has been solid all spring. Wheeler has had four scoreless outings in a row after a rough start to camp. He might be making it interesting at the right time.
  • Indians DH Travis Hafner continues his strong spring on Sunday with a 2-for-3 showing, raising his Cactus League average to .353. He is healthy and his swing has looks quick this spring. I’m not saying the Pronk of old is back, but Hafner looks to be in a great spot with the season’s start looming.
  • As a team, the Indians are hitting just .246 this spring, which is the lowest mark for the club in the past 12 years. The next lowest is .260 by the 2007 team. “That’s my consolation prize,” Acta said with a chuckle. “I think we all know what happened that year. ” Yup, they came within one win of the World Series. Acta did quickly add that the Indians do want to see better results at the plate.
  • It is at least worth noting that lineup regulars like Hafner, Shin-Soo Choo (.300), Casey Kotchman (.296) and Brantley (.280) have hit well this spring. Jason Kipnis (.262) has been coming along of late and Shelley Duncan, while hitting only .235, has been great in the run production department. The projected starting lineup (Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Choo, Carlos Santana, Hafner, Kotchman, Kipnis, Duncan and Hannahan) has hit .258 this spring.

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Center of attention

The Indians have been taking a hard look at Jason Donald in center field this week. First and foremost, the Tribe just wants to know if Donald is a realistic alternative as a backup outfielder. Hey, more depth around the diamond is not a bad thing.

When discussing Donald, though, manager Manny Acta has said a few times that testing him in the outfield could also help the team in the event that it “wants to get creative at the end” of camp. To me, that means getting creative in the construction of the bench.

There are four available bench jobs. Here’s what we know: Lou Marson will be the backup catcher, Shelley Duncan is on the roster one way or another and Donald has a leg up for a utility job off the bench. As things stand right now, Duncan looks like the front-runner for the vacancy in left field.

Duncan won’t win any Gold Gloves for his defense, and he might not win a batting title (or even lead the team in average), but what he potentialy offers is the right-handed power Cleveland needs. This spring, he’s hitting .235 with a team-leading five homers, 15 RBIs and 23 total bases. That’s a snapshot of what he could be capable of doing for the Tribe in an everyday role.

That still leaves two bench jobs up for grabs. The Indians need a fourth outfielder and maybe another utility infielder. The way I see it, Jose Lopez (batting .394 this spring) is the front-runner for one of the two jobs. He hits righty, offers some power, and can provide depth for first, second and third base, along with DH.

This brings us to that fourth outfield job. Now, Cleveland entered camp with a long list of candidates, but the truth of the matter is none have really impressed in the batter’s box. Well, to be more specific, none who offer experience in center field have emerged as a favorite to win the job.

Aaron Cunningham has led the way with a .219 average this spring. Felix Pie (.190) and Ryan Spillborghs (.182) have disappointed at the plate to this point. Sure, spring is not a big sample size, but this is also a competition. The Indians wanted to see someone run out and WIN the job this month.

Consider what Acta said earlier this week: “You hit, we find a place for you. You need to hit. … We need to see some stuff here, some offense, some production. … You need to do some other things to win a job, if you’re competing for a job. It’s totally different if it is your job and you come over here and you don’t hit. It is your job. But if you’re trying to get a job, you need to get out here and do some stuff for us.”

You know who has hit? Russ Canzler. He’s hit .324 this spring, leading Acta to say that it’s easy to see that the offseason acquisition would just crush Triple-A pitching if he was he was sent back to the Minors. But, Canzler can’t play center field… and neither can Duncan.

This leads us back to the original question: can Donald really handle center field?

If Duncan wins the left field starting role, it’s conceivable that the Indians could slide Canzler to the bench to handle Duncan’s former role as a right-handed backup for first base, left field and designated hitter. And, if Donald — already a backup for second, shortstop and third — can truly play left and center field, well, maybe there’s your answer.

Given the poor offensive production of the other backup center field candidates in camp, I’d wager that the Indians are at least considering this scenario. A bench of Donald (2B/SS/3B/LF/CF), Canzler (1B/LF/DH) and Lopez (1B/2B/3B/DH) might actually work, if the Indians want to “get creative at the end.”

Some notes from Saturday…

  • Indians closer Chris Perez threw in a game on Saturday for the first time since injuring his left obique early in camp. Perez needed just 7 pitches (4 strikes) to breeze through a trio of Minor League hitters. He came out of the brief showing fine and will be re-evaluated on Sunday. He’ll likely pitch in another game on Monday (or Tuesday at the latest). Could be a Cactus League outing, or another Minor League game to keep him in a controlled environment.
  • Perez might have thrown a few more pitches had it not been for a spectacular running catch in deep center field by Trevor Crowe. Minor Leaguer Tyler Holt launched a 1-0 pitch to the warning track, where Crowe corraled the long fly. He did so wearing No. 4 — rather than the No. 80 he had in camp with the Tribe.
  • Indians lefty David Huff has thrown three innings in each of his past four appearances. Turns out Huff isn’t only a candidate for the fifth rotation job. Acta said the team hasn’t ruled out bringing him north as a long reliever. I mean, fair enough, considering the rest of the bullpen candidates haven’t exactly run away with the two available jobs.
  • I’ve got to think Jeanmar Gomez and Kevin Slowey are the top candidates for the fifth spot. Maybe that means Huff is either in the bullpen with the Tribe or starting with Triple-A Columbus. Gomez will pitch on Sunday in a Cactus League game, while Slowey will throw in a Minor League game.
  • Cristian Guzman’s chances of making the Opening Day roster were slim from the start, but they’re shot now for sure. The veteran infielder is sidelined at least a week with a right hamstring injury, according to Acta.
  • Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was back in the lineup on Saturday after missing a couple of days with a sore right shoulder. Nothing to worry about, said Acta. If it were the season, Cabrera would be playing through it.
  • Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan (back tightness) took part in Saturday’s workout and could return to game action on Sunday. Center fielder Michael Brantley (right hamstring) is still a couple days away from that step. Outfielder Fred Lewis has been sidelined for the past week with right elbow soreness.
  • Indians infielder Andy LaRoche was kneed in the head while sliding into second base on Saturday, but Acta said he’s fine. Acta also said he’s been very impressed with LaRoche this spring. He’s quietly hit .389. Lopez and LaRoche are essentially fighting for the same bench job.
  • Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis singled in the first inning on Saturday and then left the game. Lopez replaced him in the field in thehome half of te first. Acta said Kipnis was perfectly fine, calling it a “manager’s decision.” He wanted to continue to get a look at Lopez while giving Kipnis a shorter day.
  • Matt LaPorta got the nod in left field for Saturday’s game against the Dodgers. Like Canzler, LaPorta is up for a bench job as a right-handed option for first base, left field and DH. LaPorta, though, is hitting .172 on the spring right now. LaPorta said Saturday morning that he feels fine back in the outfield, where he played some for the Indians a couple years ago.
  • The Indians got their first look at Henricus van den Hurk on Saturday. The newly-acquired reliever logged two-thirds of an inning, striking out two, hitting one and giving up a hit. With his pitch count up and his command erratic, he was pulled with two on and none out in the seventh.
  • Reliever Frank Herrmann, who has battled through a rough spring, entered ater van den Hurk and gave up a triple that tacked two runs on Henricus’ line. Herrmann then went on to give up a run of his own, watching his spring ERA rise to 7.36.
  • Indians sinkerbaler Derek Lowe looked more than ready for the season, turning in six solid innings against L.A. The veteran righty allowed two runs (one earned) on seven hits, ending with four strikeouts and no walks.

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

A blip on the radar (gun)

The day after his ugly start on Saturday, Ubaldo Jimenez had a meeting with Indians manager Manny Acta. The Tribe’s skipper wanted to discuss the performance and he wanted to ask the pitcher face to face is there was anything to be worried about.

“[I wanted] to make sure everything was OK,” Acta said. “And to see where he was at and what he’s trying to accomplish. Obviously, the last outing, the velocity wasn’t where we wanted it to be. We talked about it and he said he was fine, that he was OK, to not worry about it. That it’ll be there.”

The start in question was a 3 2/3 inning disaster against the Reds. Ubaldo piled up 80-plus pitches, surrendered six runs on five hits, issued four walks and yielded a home run. Reports were that Jimenez’s pitch velocity was around 89-92 mph for the most part during that outing.

Needless to say, all eyes were on Ubaldo during Thursday’s start against the Padres.

Jimenez still labored with his command, but his overall showing was an improvement. Over four innings, Jimenez gave up one run on four hits with one walk and four strikeouts. The right-hander logged 76 pitches (43 stikes) and got more efficient as the afternoon went on.

Inning to inning, Ubaldo’s pitch counts were 24 (12), 19 (12), 17 (8) and 16 (11). His long blemish came courtesy of a leadoff homer from Chase Headley in the fourth. After that blast, Jimenez got through the next three outs on just 11 pitches (9 strikes), striking out two in the process.

Ubaldo told me the homer angered him and he stopped messing around after that. I suggested he pitch angry from now on.

As for the much-documented pitch velocity, Jimenez was sitting around 92-95 mph on the afternoon. He was mainly around 93 mph with his heater. It’s not the 97-98 mph fastball that Jimenez boasted a couple years ago, but it’s early and he remains hopeful that his pitch speed will get better as we get deeper into the summer.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” Jimenez said. “Sometimes you do [think about it], because sometimes you don’t feel like it’s coming out of your hand good. So you wonder about it like, how hard am I throwing? But, today, that wasn’t the case. I was thinking about throwing strikes and I felt really good with my mechanics. I think it’s getting better and better.

“For right now, [the velocity] is not too important. I know it’s going to be there. If I’m 100 percent, I know my velocity is going to be there. Right now I’m just trying to work on having command with my fastball and trying to get my breaking ball over for a strike.”

That was still an issue on Thursday. Jimenez bounced a lot of breaking balls and wasn’t sharp with his fastball command early on. Overall, he slipped into eight three-ball counts, though five of those came in the first two innings. He only threw seven first-pitch strikes among the 16 batters he faced as well.

“It has to [get better],” Acta said. “I don’t think any pitcher at this level can survive pitching 3-1, 3-2 all the time. But, that wasn’t our concern. My concern was I was wanted to see better stuff than what I saw in the last outing, and I saw that.”

Some notes from Thursday…

  • The Indians made another round of roster cuts — err, reductions — on Thursday, optioning Zach McAllister and Cord Phelps to Triple-A and reassigning Trevor Crowe and C.C. Lee to Minor League camp. With McAllister no longer in camp, the fifth starter race is officially down to Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez and David Huff.
  • Acta on McAllister: “He just needs to continue to be consistent with his secondary pitches, and with the progress he has made over the last year and a half. We are extremely happy with the progress he has made. He’s a guy that we feel is going to be dependable in the near future for our rotation.”
  • Acta on Lee: “It was good to give him an extended look. We told him to be ready and continue to work, especially against left-handed hitters. Despite his arm angle, he’s got good enough stuff to get righties and lefties out. We just told him that. He doesn’t want to be labeled as a right on right guy and we don’t think he’s a right on right guy. He learned a ton here in camp. I’m sure he’s going to contribute at some point.”
  • Acta on Crowe: “It’s the best I’ve seen him in the three years I’ve been here. I told him that. Unfortunately, it’s a different situation. He fell behind a little bit, because of his injuries and performance over the last two years, but this is the best I’ve seen him. he worked very hard during the offseason. He really swung the bat well and looked under control and more mature. It was just unfortunate that we had so many guys in camp and he’s had his opportunity before.”
  • We chatted some with center fielder Michael Brantley this morning about his right hamstring injury. He said it’s “nothing serious” and noted that he began some exercises as part of his rehab program on Thursday. In a few days, he should be able to resume baseball activities. The Indians are hopeful that he’ll be fine for Opening Day.
  • Indians utility man Jason Donald — a virtual lock for a bench job — played center field for seven innings on Thursday against San Diego. He can play second base, shortstop and third base, so adding some outfield makes him all the more valuable. The Indians will get a look at him in left, too. They just want to make sure using him as an outfielder is a realistic possibility.
  • There is nothing new on the Roberto Hernandez front in terms of when he might obtain a visa and be able to rejoin the Indians. Acta did note, however, that Hernandez is scheduled to work through an 80-pitch sim game on Friday at the team’s baseball academy in the D.R.
  • Pitcher Rick VandenHurk arrived in Arizona on Thursday and will be with the team for Friday’s workout. And, it turns out, VandenHurk has requested that we refer to him by his given first name of “Henricus.” Oh, and his last name is actually “van den Hurk.” So welcome to the Indians, Henricus van den Hurk. He was claimed off waivers from Toronto on Wednesday and will be thrown into the Tribe’s bullpen competition.
  • No official word yet on when closer Chris Perez (left oblique) will pitch in a Cactus League game for the first time, but he felt fine on Friday after throwing a 20-pitch live BP session one day earlier. He wasn’t listed for Friday’s game on the board in the clubhouse, though Friday or Saturday was the expectation for his spring game debut.
  • Here’s what Acta had to say Thursday about the left field competition: “You hit, we find a place for you. You need to hit. We can’t have a pecking order for defensive left fielders here. We need to see some stuff here, some offense, some production. The majority of them can get out there and play left field and catch a routine fly ball. We need to see some more. If you just hit, and you don’t play defense, then you show some defense. But if you can stand back there and catch a fly ball, you need to do some other things to win a job, if you’re competing for a job. It’s totally different if it is your job and you come over here and you don’t hit. It is your job. But if you’re trying to get a job, you need to get out here and do some stuff for us.”
  • With that in mind, Shelley Duncan — a.k.a The Dunc Tank — launched his team-leading fifth home run of the spring in Thursday’s win over the Padres. He also has 14 RBIs in 12 Cactus League games. His average isn’t spectacular (.250), but he’s doing all he can to hit his way into the Tribe’s starting lineup. Maybe he’s that power-hitting righty all the fans have been begging for over the past couple years.
  • A couple other players having strong springs are RF Shin-Soo Choo and DH Travis Hafner. Choo went 2-for-3 with two doubles on Thursday to raise his spring average to .306. Hafner went 1-for-4 with a home run and is now hitting .345 on the spring.
  • And, if I’m going to praise Jose Lopez when he does well, it’s only fair to point out when he has a clunker of a game. As the starter at second base, Lopez went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and he made an ugly error in the field. That’s four errors already this spring for the utility man.
  • Bullpen Watch: Relief contenders Nick Hagadone and Dan Wheeler each logged an inning on Thursday. Hagadone gave up one run on two hits with a walk and saw his ERA jump to 2.25 on the spring. Wheeler turned in one shutout frame to slice his spring ERA down to 10.29. Yeah, you read that right.
  • Since I wrote about the plate discipline issues of Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall one day ago, it’s worth pointing out how they each fared on Thursday. Kipnis drew a walk in his only plate appearance, giving him 12 Ks against 2 walks this spring. Chisenhall went 2-for-5 with three strikeouts. He has 15 Ks against 1 walk this spring.

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Zoned out

At the onset of Spring Training, the phrase that was floated more than a few times in regards to Lonnie Chisenhall was “strike zone discipline.”

As in, the Indians wanted to see improved strike zone discipline from the third baseman as camp progressed. It was an area he struggled with last season and, so far, it’s again an area he’s struggling with this spring.

After a two strikeout performance in Wednesday’s loss to the Giants, Chisenhall upped his spring total to 12 whiffs against only one walk for Cleveland. That’s not exactly what the Tribe was hoping to see at this point in the schedule.

That said, the Indians have seen similar struggles from fellow youngster Jason Kipnis. Like Chisenhall, Kipnis has 12 strikeouts and only one walk as of this writing. Kipnis has a spot on the team as the starting second baseman. Chisenhall, on the other hand, is competing with Jack Hannahan for the regular role at third.

Indians manager Manny Acta isn’t getting too worked up over the strikeouts just yet.

“It’s kind of hard to work and evaluate that when those guys are not going out there every single day,” Acta said. “At the beginning of camp, it was every other day. Now, you’re trying to find playing time for the other guys.

“It’s a process for them. They’re young kids. They’re not going to get better at it  overnight. We’re going to have to be patient.”

Fair enough, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Some notes from Wednesday…

  • Hey! I’m back! After a handful of days off — I went to Cleveland, where the warm weather followed — I’m back in Arizona for the stretch run. It was great to go home to see Mrs. MLB and MLB Jr., though. Our boy finally figured out how to climb out of his crib, so yeah, it’s the end of our world as we know it. He’s in a toddler bed now. Glad I was home for that milestone for the little man. Also had fun just relaxing on our back porch, enjoying the lovely weather. And got caught up on the Walking Dead. I can’t believe they killed off so and so whose name I won’t mention in case you haven’t watched it yet!
  • The Indians made a minor move on Wednesday, claiming righty Rick VandenHurk off waivers from the Blue Jays. He wasn’t having a great spring, but it’s another body to throw into the fold for depth. He’ll compete for a bullpen spot. VandenHurk is out of options and is on the 40-man roster.
  • To clear room on the 40-man, Cleveland designated Kelvin De La Cruz for assignment. Talk about a rough spring for the poor lefty. He was originally DFA’d early in camp to officially put Casey Kotchman on the roster. Then, KDLC was traded to Texas for cash. He made one spring appearance for the Rangers and, THEN, Texas sent him back to the Indians for cash. The original cash actually turned into a player to be named later named Davis Stoneburner — a Minor League infielder. Hey, maybe the Tribe will trade De La Cruz to Texas again. We’l find out within the next 10 days.
  • Closer Chris Perez threw 20 pitches in a live BP session this morning. He looked and felt good and his next step is to pitch in Cactus League games, beginning on Friday or Saturday. If all goes well, he could make five or six appearances in preparation for Opening Day.
  • Kevin Slowey was solid through three innings for the Indians on Wednesday, but then he fell apart in his fourth and final frame. Slowey ended with four runs allowed on five hits, included a monstrous homer to Brett Pill. The righty walked three, struck out two and threw a wild pitch.
  • Asked about the fifth starter competition, here was Slowey’s evaluation: “”Obviously, Jeanmar is throwing great. I don’t think there’s anybody who would tell you otherwise. As for the rest of us … certainly each one of us is working towards that. But, if you look at the way Jeanmar’s been throwing, it’s tough not to say, man, that guy’s really getting the job done.”
  • Indians relievers Rafael Perez (left shoulder) and Robinson Tejeda (right calf) returned to Cactus League play on Wednesday. They each logged one shutout inning against San Francisco. Perez struck out two and posted zeros the rest of the way. Tejeda gave up a hit and a walk, but escaped unscathed. Perez is a lock for the ‘pen, if healthy. Acta said he thinks there’s still time for Tejeda to make a push in the competition for the two available bullpen jobs.
  • Center fielder Michael Brantley remains sidelined with a right hamstring injury. Acta said after Wednesday’s game that Brantley would likely be shut down for three to five days before being cleared to resume baseball activities. Cleveland is optimistic that the injury isn’t serious and that Brantley will be ready to go come Opening Day.
  • Left Field Watch: Shelley Duncan belted his team-leading fourth homer of the spring in Wednesday’s game; Aaron Cunningham went 1-for-4 and is hitting .214 on the spring; Felix Pie went 1-for-1 off the bench, but is batting .200 in Cactus League play.
  • Bench Watch: Jose Lopez just keeps getting it done this spring for the Indians. He came off the bench on Wednesday and went 1-for-1 with an RBI single. He’s hitting a healthy .440 in Cactus League play. I’m not sure how they can keep “Lopey” — as Acta calls him — off the roster if he keeps this up.
  • Bullpen Watch: Jeremy Accardo, who is vying for a relief role as a non-roster invitee, turned in another blank frame on Wednesday. Accardo spun one shutout inning, scattering two hits with no further damage. He has pitched soundly this spring to the tune of a 1.50 ERA.
  • Sinkerballer Justin Masterson, the Indians’ Opening Day Man, pitched four innings in a Triple-A game on Wednesday afternoon. We weren’t given his line, but it was noted that he logged 81 pitches in the unofficial outing.
  • Backup catcher Lou Marson has been on a role this spring, hitting .400 to this point. Acta said the team will always “find at-bats for people that are helping us win” but right now Marson projects to mostly start against left-handed pitching. On those days, catcher Carlos Santana would likely spell Travis Hafner as Cleveland’s designated hitter.

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Indians Player Twitter Power Rankings

A couple days late with the rankings this time around, but I get a mulligan since I was back home on Monday. Shook things up again this week. After watching THIS clip of Kipnis and Vinnie Pestano, I felt they were worthy of a first-place tie. I had high hopes for Duncan, but he flopped in his first week atop the big league board.

Week 7: Major League Rankings

t-1. @TheJK_Kid (Jason Kipnis) – Last rank: 4
t-1. @VinnieP52 (Vinnie Pestano) – Last rank: 2
3. @ChrisPerez54 (Chris Perez) – Last rank: 6
4. @thethree8 (Joe Smith) – Last rank: 5
5. @tcrowe4 (Trevor Crowe) – Last rank: 3

Sixth Man: @shelldunc (Shelley Duncan) — Last rank: 1

Top Twitter Prospects

1. @C_M_Cook (Cole Cook) – Last rank: 1
2. @TDaddyNeal (Thomas Neal) – Last rank: 2
3. @NickBartolone (Nick Bartolone) – Last rank: 3

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Barnes’ door is open

Scott Barnes did not come into camp with a chance to win a spot on the Indians’ Opening Day roster. What he did have was a chance to impress the Tribe brass and the young lefty did precisely that over the past few weeks.

Barnes’ final act came on Wednesday, when he took the mound against the Giants, his former team. All he did was blank them over three frames with four strikeouts. On Thursday, Barnes emptied his locker, packed his bags and headed down the hallway to the Minor League clubhouse after being optioned to Triple-A Columbus.

With seven shutout innings in Cactus League play under his belt, and no issues with the knee injury he suffered last season, Barnes was thrilled with how things went for him this spring. In Cactus League play, Barnes logged seven shutout innings.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better spring myself,” Barnes said. “Not knowing what to expect going into it and the way everything played out, I’m really happy with the way things ended up.”

When it’s all said and done, Barnes might end up in Cleveland at some point this summer. Had it not been for his freak knee injury last July, there’s a good chance he would’ve risen to the Majors already. Barnes needed season-ending surgery, though, so this year is now the more realistic target.

“We made sure,” Acta said, “especially [GM Chris Antonetti] made sure, that we let him know how happy and how impressed we were by the Spring Training he had. He was able to pitch the last few outings without minding his knee at all, which was something we were worrying about when he cameinto camp.

“Guys coming out of surgery, they usually worry about the knee or the shoulder — whatever it was. Especially yesterday [against the Giants], he showed no signs of even minding that knee, so he was pretty impressive.”

Some notes from Thursday…

  • Barnes wasn’t the only Minor Leaguer sent packing on Thurday morning. The Indians also optioned outfielders Thomas Neal and Nick Weglarz to Triple-A Columbus. Right-hander Danny Salazar was optioned to Class A Carolina as well. The roster now stands at 55.
  • Actually, never mind, it’s back up to 56. On Thursday, the Indians reacquired lefty Kelvin De La Cruz from the Rangers in exchange for cash considerations. Earlier this spring, Texas acquired De La Cruz from Cleveland in exchange for cash. I believe it was the same amount of cash headed in both directions. So, yeah, welcome back, Kelvin.
  • To clear room on the 40-man roster for De La Cruz (side note: the lefty was designated for assignment to clear room for Casey Kotchman, and that’s when the Rangers traded for the pitcher), the Indians placed righty Carlos Carrasco (right elbow) on the 60-day disabled list. Carrasco will miss most or all of this season while he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
  •  Sinkerballer Justin Masterson had his best outing of the spring on Thursday against the White Sox. he logged four no-hit, shutout innings, ending with four strikeouts, one walk and five outs created with grounders. Masterson threw 55 pitches (33 strikes).
  • Masterson noted that he threw “a couple handfuls” of changeups against Chicago. “Usually my quota is like two a year, so I filled it in pretty quick,” he said with a laugh. Masterson threw some in counts he wouldn’t throw them during the regular season. He just wanted to work some with the pitch.
  • What does Acta want to see from center fielder Michael Brantley this season? He’s hoping for a .340-.350 on-base percentage. As for last year? Acta said he throws about a month and a half out the window, because Brantley was playing through pain — pain that eventually led to wrist surgery. “I saw the pain that he was playing through and everything that it took just for him to get ready,” Acta said. “It’d be unfair for me to think that the last month and a half, Michael Brantley is that guy.”
  • Acta said “it’s no secret” that a few bullpen candidates (Frank Herrmann, Dan Wheeler, Chris Ray) have not been pitching great so far this spring. Jeremy Accardo and Nick Hagadone have looked the best so far. Acta said with the experienced arms, the Indians are taking track record and health into the equation, not just spring results.
  • Combined the six bullpen candidates (Herrmann, Wheeler, Ray, Accardo, Hagadone and Robinson Tejeda) have posted an 8.31 ERA, giving up 24 earned runs on 43 hits over 26 innings. Accardo and Hagadone have been the best of the group, each having a 1.80 ERA in five innings apiece. Accardo and Ray each logged one clean inning on Thursday.
  • Acta added that any opt out clauses that the relief options have will not be a big factor in the roster decisions at the end of the spring. Wheeler will earn a $100K bonus and have an out out of 6/1 if he isn’t on the roster 5 days before Opening Day. Ray can be released by request if he isn’t on the 40-man roster by 4/3. Accardo has an opt out of 6/1 if he’s not on the roster by then.
  • As for the outfield race, Acta said “not one guy has stood out” in terms of breaking away from the pack. Well, some of them had something to say about that on Thursday. Shelley Duncan belted a 2-run homer (his third homer of the spring), Ryan Spilborghs had a couple run-scoring hits and Russ Canzler brought a few baserunners home as well.
  • Canzler got the nod in left field on Thursday and Acta said he’ll continue to see some reps out there. Canzler’s ability on offense is forcing the Indians to take a close look at him this spring. Said Acta: “He’s an interesting guy. He’s a pretty advanced bat. You can tell that if he gos down to Triple-A, he’s just going to crush it again.”
  • Acta has been impressed with Canzler’s ability to use the whole field when he hits. The Indians wanted to see if he was pull happy and that hasn’t been the case this spring. The manager said Canzler does a great job of using his hands and he’s been impressed with the first baseman/outfielder’s approach.
  • Duncan got the nod at first base with Kotchman (back tightness) out of the lineup for the sixth straight game. After doing some dry swinging on Wednesday, Kotchman advanced to soft toss during Thursday’s workout. He’s still day to day with no real clarity over when he might return to games.
  • Walking wounded updates: closer Chris Perez (strained left oblique) felt fine on Thursday and he’s a go for a bullpen session on Friday morning; lefty Rafael Perez (sore left shoulder) threw a seven-minute simulated game on Thursday and could make his game debut soon; right-hander Robinson Tejeda (calf injury) also threw a sim game on Thursday and could be back in games within the next week.
  • Jose Lopez continues to push hard for one of the Tribe’s available bench jobs. He launched a three-run homer during Thursday’s game against the White Sox. If Jack Hannahan wins the third base job, and isn’t on the bench, I believe Lopez has a great shot at being on the Opening Day roster. Bats righty and plays first, second and third base.
  • The Indians announced on Thursday that their Opening Day tilt against the Blue Jays on April 5 is soldout. That makes it 20 straight sellouts for Cleveland, including 19 in a row at Progressive Field. The season opener is scheduled to start at 3:05 p.m. ET.
  • Former Indians outfielder Kosuke Fukudome was in the lineup for the White Sox on Thursday. Masterson induced a groundout against Fukudome in their only meeting. After his outing, Masterson referred to Fukudome as his “second favorite Japanese player.” No. 1? Takashi Saito.

PLEASE NOTE: I am flying back to Ohio on Friday morning for a five-day recharging period back home with my family. As much as I love the daily grind of the beat, it’s time to take a little break to spend time with Mrs. MLBastian and MLBastian Jr. I will be back on Tuesday night for the Spring Training stretch run.

In the meantime…

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

–JB

The Lowe down

Veteran starter Derek Lowe didn’t always throw a sinker, but he knows exactly where he’d be today if he hadn’t started dabbling with the pitch as a Double-A farmhand in Seattle’s system some 18 years ago.

“You’d see me working at McDonald’s super sizing your value meal,” he quipped.

In 1994, when Lowe was with Double-A Jacksonville, pitching coach Jeff Andrews began working with the right-hander on a two-seamer. Lowe’s four-seam fastball was “straight as a string” and he was searching for a way to set himself apart from the pack of pitching prospects fighting to climb the organizational ladder.

“I was kind of at that crossroad of needing to come up with something to separate yourself from the next guy,” Lowe said. “That’s the only reason why I made it this far.”

This far is 15 seasons, 2,515 2/3 innings, 166 wins, 85 saves and one World Series ring on his Major League resume. Along the way, Lowe has created 5,045 grounders — the most of any pitcher from 1997 (his first season) through 2011.

Now, at 38 years young, Lowe is on a mission to prove he can regain the form he had from 2002-10, when he won at least 14 games seven times in nine seasons. Last year, Lowe went 9-17 for the Braves and was shipped to Cleveland in a trade over the offseason.

Lowe’s mechanics were off, his sinker faltered as a result and he relied more on his secondary pitches than he had in previous seasons. This spring, and this season, Lowe’s goal is to get back to what got him this far. He’s trying to return to being the sinker-first starter that can eat up innings and wear out the infield grass with grounders.

In Wednesday’s 2-2 tie with the Giants, the pitcher looked like vintage Lowe in four innings for the Indians. The sinkerballer scattered two hits and allowed one run with one walk and no strikeouts. Within that, though, he forced eight of the 15 hitters he faced to put the ball on the ground. Seven resulted in outs.

“The hitters will tell you how good your stuff is,” Lowe said. “That’s the bottom line — if they’re hitting the ball on the ground, if you’re getting funky swings.”

Some notes from Wednesday…

  • A report by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com on Wednesday indicated that the Indians have restructured the contract of pitcher Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona). GM Chris Antonetti would not comment on the report, but he and manager Manny Acta did discuss the latest in the Hernandez saga. CLICK HERE for today’s story on Indians.com.
  • Didn’t get a chance to talk to Josh Tomlin after his outing on Tuesday (3 IP/7R), but caught up with him for a bit this morning at the complex. Tomlin explained that he feels he sometimes throws too many strikes, meaning there are situations when he could benefit from throwing a ball intentionally to set hitters up or tempt them to chase. Tomlin felt he was in the zone too much without enough varied looks on Tuesday. He noted that he didn’t throw many high strikes to help change the hitters’ eye levels. These are all things he’s working on right now in preparation for the season.
  • Closer Chris Perez (strained left oblique) played catch at a distance of a 150 feet on Wednesday — the final step in his flat-ground progression. He said he should be able to throw in a bullpen session on Friday. If he continues to progress as hopes, Perez thinks he can get five or six Cactus League appearances in before Opening Day.
  • First baseman Casey Kotchman remained out of the lineup on Wednesday due to lower back tightness. That’s five days in a row. Kotchman was able to stretch and throw during Wednesday’s workout and Acta noted the first baseman took some dry swings in the cage. Could be a few days before he’s back in the lineup, though.
  • One pitcher doing some impressing this spring is Minor League lefty Scott Barnes. On Wednesday, he worked three innings, striking out four, allowing one hit and yielding no runs. He hasn’t allowed a run this spring. Acta said Barnes doesn’t figure into the spring rotation competition, but he’s definitely on the radar for this coming season.
  • With Kotchman still out, the Indians had a chance to bring an extra Minor League first baseman to Wednesday’s game. Acta had Beau Mills (2007 first rounder) join the team in Scottsdale. The manager said, given the first base situation in Cleveland, the Indians have hardly given up on Mills, who had a nice bounceback season last year. Mills will likely get a few more ABs with the big club as the spring moves along.
  • Asked again if any outfielders were moving ahead of the pack for the open left field job, Acta quipped: “They’re all tied for last right now. All of them are tied for last. They’ve all made the same type of impression, but just not good enough to come out and say such and such has won the battle. It’s early.”
  • If you missed MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” special highlighting the Indians on Wednesday, fear not, it will air again a few times on Thursday. Fire up your DVR, or set an alarm, because it will be on again at 3 a.m., 6 a.m. and 12 p.m. (all times ET).
  • Utility man Jason Donald — a favorite to win one of the open bench jobs — has started at second, short and third so far this spring. Acta said Donald will see some time in the outfield during the second half of the spring schedule. Barring injury, it says here that Donald is going to be on the team.
  • Acta indicated that a wave of roster cuts are expected to come down on Thursday. Right now, the Tribe has 59 players in camp and something has to give. I’d expect some of the Minor Leaguers on hand for experience will be sent down the hall at the complex. Acta said they don’t call them “roster cuts,” though. “They’re transitioning to the other side,” he said.
  • Acta does not want to get into a situation where any starting pitcher has his own personal catcher. The manager said Carlos Santana will start the bulk of the games behind the plate and Lou Marson will be worked in mostly against left-handed pitching. As for pitchers sometimes being more comfortable with certain catchers, Acta quipped: “It’s not about being comfortable. It’s about winning ballgames. I’d rather sleep on a very uncomfortable bed if I’m promised that I’m going to win 100 games.”

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

I got Yu, babe

Ryan Spilborghs walked out of the batting cage in the tunnel behind the left-field wall at Goodyear Ballpark, in full uniform with bat in hand, and headed into the makeshift press conference room that was set up for Yu Darvish.

With more than 100 reporters on hand —  beat guys from the Indians and Rangers, national writers from U.S. outlets, columnists and a huge throng of media from Japan — Spilborghs wanted to peak in on the spectacle. He leaned around the corner in the back, watching the show.

I asked quietly, “Are you going to ask a question?”

He replied, “Yeah, ‘How scared would you be to face Ryan Spilborghs?'”

Such good-natured jokes seemed a bit warranted given the sheer size of the event. It’s much like the Dice-K Mania that spread a few years ago when Daisuke Matsuzaka made his trek from Japan to Major League Basebal. Darvish pitched three innings of spring baseball and we were asking hitters for detailed analysis.

In that way, it was a bit much. Whether it’s a Minor League pitcher in camp for experience, a veteran arm prepping for a season with loads of job security, or a blockbuster free-agent signing like Darvish, it is extremely difficult to take much away from three innings in the preseason.

“He’s just getting in shape,” manager Manny Acta reminded. “So it’s unfair to judge him on just one outing in Spring Training.”

Still, this was the Indians first look at Darvish, who was making his second spring start. In that way, it was an important day for Cleveland, which will surely see the Japanese righty throughout the season. He throws “at least seven pitches,” according to MLB.com Rangers beat man T.R. Sullivan, and it seemed like the hitters saw most of them.

Jason Kipnis said he struck out on a splitter. Jack Hannahan saw some two-seamers (sinkers), but doubled on a four-seamer. Darvish showed off a slow sweeping curveball that can keep hitters off his heater. He’s got a slider and a changeup, and mixes in a cutter as well.

“In Spring Training, we’re all still working on stuff,” Kipnis said. “It’s nice just to get a pitcher that you haven’t seen before and you know you’re probably going to see during the season. So it’s good to get a first look at him and kind of get something in the back of your head for when you do face him in the season.”

Hannahan noted that Darvish was missing with his sinker, so the Indians third baseman tried to work into a count where he’d get a meaty four-seamer to hack at. That’s what Hannahan received and he led off Cleveland’s two-run third inning with a two-base hit.

In all, Darvish allowed two runs on three hits in three innings. He struck out two, walked four and ended with 61 pitches (29 strikes). Hannahan mentioned that the pitcher’s four-seamer came in straight, which made it easier to handle than the other dancing pitches.

“In this league, it doesn’t matter how hard you throw,” Hannahan said. “If your fastball is straight, it’s going to get hit. But, he’s got that big, slow curveball that I think is going to keep guys off-balance and keep guys honest.”

Each position player we talked to was taken aback when they saw the horde of media awaiting them when they came off the field. When we asked Kipnis if he had a minute to chat, he repied, “with all of you?” When we were done dissecting Darvish’s outing, I jokingly asked Kipnis, “So, just how frightened were you?”

Kipnis laughed.

“Yeah, I shouldn’t have even brought a bat up there,” he quipped.

Some notes from Tuesday…

  • Indians manager Manny Acta isn’t about to call any of the fifth starter candidates a favorite at this point, but he sure doesn’t shy away from raving about Jeanmar Gomez. “He’s throwing the ball the best out of those guys,” Acta said on Tuesday. “It’s still very early, but he’s not hurting his chances, for sure.”
  • In Tuesday’s 8-8, 10-inning tie against the Rangers, Gomez entered in relief of starter Josh Tomlin and turned in three shutout innings. That gives Gomez seven shutout innings (eight if you include an intrasquad game) on the spring. Acta said he has been impressed with Gomez’s fastball command, slider improvement and ability to not be bothered by entering games in relief to this point in spring.
  • Gomez is up against Kevin Slowey, David Huff and Zach McAllister for the lone vacancy on the starting staff. McAllister also pitched on Tuesday, turning in two shutout innings of his own. McAllister is clearly on the club’s radar, but I think he’s a long shot to win the job. Gomez, Slowey and Huff offer more experience, giving that trio a clear edge.
  • As for Tomlin, he really labored after turning in a quick 1-2-3 first inning. The right-hander gave up seven runs (four earned) on eighthits in his three innings of work. Acta noted that Tomlin was supposed to pitch four innings, but his pitch count forced them to cut his outing short.
  • Closer Chris Perez (strained left oblique) had a quiet day of rehab at the complex on Tuesday morning, but he told me he’s scheduled “to throw 150″ on Wednesday. He didn’t specify whether he meant miles per hour or distance — or both. I’m going to assume he meant long toss from a distance of 150 feet. Live batting practice off a mound seems to be in his near future.
  • Indians first baseman Casey Kotchman (lower back tightness) told me Tuesday morning that he was feeling much improved over the past couple of days. He’s still day to day — or “blink to blink” as he quipped — though it’s not clear when he might get back into game action. The Tribe will see how he’s feeling on Wednesday morning.
  • Indians relievers Raffy Perez (sore left shoulder) and Robinson Tejeda (strained right calf) continue to work through their respective throwing programs. Perez threw off a mound on Monday and has live BP in his near future. Tejeda threw off a mound on Tuesday. He’ll probably have another couple mound sessions before returning to games.
  • One more on the injury front: outfielder Felix Pie (neck stiffness) did not play in Tuesday’s game, but Acta said he was available, if needed. Pie crashed into a wall trying to make a catch on Sunday and has been sidelined since. He will be available to play on Wednesday in Scottsdale.
  • Acta walked away impressed with the Indians’ offense on Tuesday, when Texas ran out to a 7-0 lead in the third inning. The manager said the hitters “could’ve rolled over” but they kept fighting and chipping away, scoring two runs in each of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings. Asdrubal Cabrera, Lou Marson and Kipnis each had two RBIs in the game.
  • You know who else remains hot at the plate? Non-roster invitee Jose Lopez. He went 2-for-4 to raise his average to .467 this spring, and he made some nice defensive plays at first base. It says here that Lopez is making a realy strong push for a utility role off the Indians’ bench.
  • Worth noting: Lopez is among 3 players in camp who fit the criteria for a new aspect of the latest CBA. Lopez, Cristian Guzman and Dan Wheeler — all in camp as NRIs — would be in line for a $100,000 bonus and an automatic opt-out clause (effective June 1) if they are not placed on the active roster by March 30 (five days before MLB’s Opening Day). It’s a new little wrinkle that will surely play a role in roster decisions as camp nears its close.
  • On Wednesday, the Indians head to Scottsdale to take on the Giants. Listed as available to pitch for the Tribe are Derek Lowe (starter), Scott Barnes, Vinnie Pestano, Danny Salazar, Chris Seddon, Tony Sipp and Joe Smith.
  • MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” Spring Training tour made its stop in Goodyear to visit the Tribe over the past couple of days. The Indians will be featured in an hour-long show on MLBN at 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Tune in for interviews, a breakdown of the roster and a look at the season ahead.

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Photo of the Day

Indians reliever Frank Herrmann, deep in thought while filling out his NCAA tourney bracket on Tuesday morning.

Herrmann is representing the Indians in an MLB.com tourney challenge featuring players from each team. A Harvard product, Herrmann went with his heart with his university’s first-round pairing with Vanderbilt.

“I had to pick Harvard,” Herrmann explained. “Vandy could go on a run, but if Harvard pulls off a win, and I didn’t pick them, I’ll never hear the end of it.”

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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

Dad Day at the ballpark

It was just another typical day in Indians camp. You know, pitchers playing catch, hitters taking BP, Tony La Russ and Dave Duncan wandering between practice fields while they watched the morning workout.

Wait… what?

Talk about a pleasant surprise in Goodyear. Duncan and La Russa — the long-time pitching coach & manager partnership — are currently in career limbo. Duncan is on a leave of absence from his role as the Cardinals pitching coach and La Russa has retired from managing.

Duncan stepped away from his post to tend to his wife, Jeanine, who has been battling brain cancer. He said she has been responding well to treatment of late, making for a “positive situation” right now for their family. Both Dave and Jeanine are currently in Arizona to spend time with their son, Indians outfielder Shelley Duncan, and his wife.

“We came out to Arizona for a couple of reasons,” Dave Duncan said. “Mostly to see Shelley, but his wife is pregnant with twins, so my wife really wanted to get together with his wife and do a little baby shopping.”

As a bonus, Dave finally got to watch his son play in a big league game. Given their respective careers in the game, that type of situation had never presented itself. On Monday, Dave Duncan sat with La Russa, Indians GM Chris Antonetti and assistant GM Mike Chernoff in a suite during Cleveland’s game.

With his dad watching, Shelley went 1-for-3 with two RBIs in a 3-2 win over the D-backs. Shelley ripped an RBI single into left field in the first inning and displayed some patience with a bases-loaded walk in the fourth. This spring, Duncan is competing to be the Tribe’s regular left fielder.

Dave Duncan is happy to see Shelley get that chance.

“I just like to see him get an opportunity,” said the elder Duncan. “You get the opportunity, and if you make the best of it and it works out that you play more, great. If you don’t take advantage of that opportunity, then you play a different role.

“I think he understands that and will do whatever he has to do to be an asset to the Cleveland Indians.”

Some notes from Monday…

  • The Associated Press is reporting that pitcher Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona) has reached an agreeement with D.R. prosecutors to have the charges against him dropped in return for completing a work program. That is all I know at this point. The Indians have yet to comment on the matter.
  • Ubaldo Jimenez worked three innings in his third outing of the spring for the Indians. His pitch count improved with each frame: 20 (12), 19 (9) & 18 (13). Jimenez scattered three hits, gave up one run, walked two, struck out one hitter and escaped a bases-loaded jam unscathed. He stuck with mostly fastballs, splitters and sliders.
  • On Sunday, Kevin Slowey mentioned that he is trying to find ways to create more grounders this year. I followed up on Monday for a little more detail, given that he is a flyball pitcher. He explained that his sinker runs more than dives, so he needs to create more downward action with his mechanics. That involves accelerating his arm more out in front of his body to a better downward plane. He was happy with Sunday’s results. Of the 15 hitters he faced, eight put the ball on the ground.
  • Also chatted briefly with lefty David Huff, whose stat line wasn’t the prettiest on Sunday: 3 IP, 7 H, 5 R (4 ER), 1 BB, 2 K. He said the bulk of his struggles came in the first inning, when he had trouble adjusting to the strike zone that was in play. He didn’t want to use that as an excuse, but Huff said he was able to adjust better in his next two innings. Huff added that he was also encouraged by the fact that, when he missed his spots, he missed down in the zone. “I can live with that,” he said.
  • Closer Chris Perez enjoyed catching up with Dave Duncan, who was his pitching coach in St. Louis earlier in the pitcher’s career. Perez said Duncan had a style that relied less on mechanical adjustments and more on approach and mentality. It’s obviously worked for Duncan for a long time. Perez added that Tribe pitching coach Scott Radinsky is similar in style that way.
  • As for that pesky left oblique, Perez continues to make progress in his return to pitching. On Monday, he played catch from 120 feet, which is generally the final flat-ground benchmark before bullpen sessions are resumed. It’s baby steps, but Perez is passing all the tests with no issues so far.
  • Indians first baseman Casey Kotchman (back tightness) and outfielder Felix Pie (stiff neck) were still unavailable on Monday. Manager Manny Acta noted that Pie, who crashed into a wall on Sunday, might be cleared to resume playing on Tuesday. Acta added that it isn’t as clear whether Kotchman will be ready to go on Tuesday, but he’s still considered day to day.
  • Another one from the Department of Health: Indians lefty Rafael Perez threw another bullpen session on Monday with no leftover issues from the sore shoulder that’s bugged him so far this spring. Facing live hitters is the next step, after a couple of days off, according to Acta.
  • I had hoped there’d be a fun story behind Justin Masterson wearing No. 63 — since he’s worn it since his Boston days — but it turns out that there really isn’t much to it. It was simply the number the Red Sox assigned him when he was promoted. Masterson kind of liked it. Saw it as an offbeat number for an offbeat kind of guy.
  • The Indians announced on Monday that they agreed to a two-year player development extension with Class A (short season) Mahoning Valley. The Scrappers will remain a Cleveland affiliate at least through the 2014 season.
  • There was some confusion on the field in the first inning on Monday. With a runner on second base and no outs, Jimenez kept stepping off the rubber. It was clear that there were some signals getting mixed up. Acta headed to the field, called all the infielders to the mound and looked a little heated during his chat. Acta said after the game they were trying to practice an in-game strategy that they’d only done in fundamentals practice, but the signs were getting mixed up on the field. This is why it’s called Spring Training, folks.
  • Mighty Russ Canzler — who needs a nickname, by the way. Rusty Canzler? Russ Yes-He-Canzler? No Fuss Russ? I’ll keep working on it. — continues to impress with the bat. In Monday’s game, he went .2-for-3 to raise his spring average to .368. He NEEDS to keep hitting to try to force his way on the team. He has options, and limited experience, so I still think it’s going to be tough for him to make the Opening Day roster.
  • Bullpen Mafia Watch: On Monday, Vinnie Pestano struck out three in one shutout inning; Joe Smith struck out one in one clean frame of his own; lefty Nick Hagadone worked two scoreless innings; righty Jeremy Accardo turned in one shutout inning; veteran Dan Wheeler gave up one run in one inning.

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Photo of the Day

Indians GM Chris Antonetti with former manager Tony La Russa.

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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

 

Pleading for the fifth

Kevin Slowey knows he can trust the batch of infielders the Indians can put out there behind him. So much so, the righty wants to get them as many ground balls as he can.

With Casey Kotchman at first, Jason Kipnis at second, Asdrubal Cabrera at short and either Jack Hannahan or Lonnie Chisenhall at third, Slowey’s pitch-to-contact style is a nice fit.

The thing is, he’s always been predominantly a flyball pitcher. He’s trying to find ways mechanically this spring to hopefully put the ball on the ground more often.

“That’s something he’s working on,” manager Manny Acta said, “trying to keep the ball on the ground, getting some movement on his pitches.”

In Sunday’s 6-1 split-squad loss to the Rangers, Slowey found success to a certain extent. Eight of the 15 batters he faced put the ball on the ground, which is certainly a positive sign. Three wound up as hits, four for outs and one led to an error.

Overall, Slowey gave up two runs on five hits across three innings. He struck out one (looking) and finished with no walks. For the most part, Slowey sounded pleased with what he was able to accomplish in his latest spring effort.

“Today was certainly closer mechanically to where I want to be,” Slowey said. “I was getting more ground balls than fly balls. Obviously, some of those found holes through the infield and some were hit better than others, certainly.

“But, there were times I didn’t put myself in a great position count-wise and the guy was able to take a bigger hack than he would’ve otherwise. But still, overall, mechanically it’s getting there.”

As much as Slowey wants to induce grounders at a higher rate, though, there is the old saying of, “He is what he is.” Even if you toss out last year’s injury-hindered season, Slowey’s career grounder-to-flyball ratio is just 0.48. Batters put the ball in play 73 percent of the time over that span.

So, Slowey is going to give up his hits. And, a good chunk of the fly balls will turn into homers (18 on average each year from ’07-10). Slowey is a lot like Josh Tomlin in that way, though. As long as he limits the traffic by keeping the walks to a minimum, a team can live with a few solo homers and stranded baserunners.

More grounders would certainly help Slowey’s cause.

Some notes from Sunday…

  • CF Felix Pie left the game against Texas in the eighth inning after running hard into the wall in center. Acta said Pie was a little dizzy, but he passed a variety of tests given to him by the team’s medical staff. We’ll get an update on him on Monday.
  • Minor League righty Austin Adams had his stint in Major League camp come to a sour end. After working his way back on a mound, soreness in his throwing shoulder persisted and he’s been shut down again. Acta said an MRI on Saturday came back clean, but Adams said he’s still waiting to find out more detailed information about the extent of his injury.
  • Adams will be officially re-assigned to Minor League camp on Monday, along with reliever Tyler Sturdevant and catcher Chun Chen. Both Sturdevant (right shoulder) and Chen (right ankle) also had their big league camp experiences shortened due to ill-timed injuries. Acta said Sturdevant could impact the big league bullpen at some point this year if he doesn’t suffer any setbacks.
  • On the positive injury front, lefty Rafael Perez is progressing well in his throwing program, according to Acta. Perez is slated to face hitters in a simulated setting within the next few days after upping the intensity in his most recent bullpen session. Cactus League games shouldn’t be too far off.
  • Slowey took the mound in Surprise, while lefty David Huff — another fifth spot competitor — toed the rubber in Tempe. Facing the Angels, Huff allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits in three innings. He struck out two and walked one. Slowey and Huff are up against Jeanmar Gomez and Zach McAllister.
  • Acta and the media corps al headed to the game against the Rangers in Surprise. For the sake of all of our eyes, seems like we made the right choice. The Angels routed the Tribe 17-2 in that split-squad contest. Combined, the Indians made seven errors and were outscored 23-3 on Sunday. Over the past five days? Indians have allowed 46 runs on 75 hits.
  • First baseman Casey Kotchman was a late scratch from Sunday’s lineup in Tempe due to tightness in his lower back. Matt LaPorta started in his place and went 2-for-4 to snap out of an 0-for-10 dry spell. LaPorta has six strikeouts in 14 at-bats this spring.
  • Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner cleared the fence for the first time this spring on Sunday, belting a solo shot off Scott Downs. Hafner finished 2-for-3 on the afternoon.
  • The Indians and Angels cancelled a “B” game for next week, but Cleveland has reeled in another taker in the Cubs. Chicago will head to Goodyear for a “B” game against the Indians on March 19. Those games are typically at 10 a.m. local time, and they’re free to the public.
  • Lefty Tony Sipp had a forgettable inning in Sunday’s game against Texas. Sipp allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits with two strikeouts and one walk. Along the way, the pitcher made two errors. Acta was asked if it was an example of a spring outing you can just write off.
  • Acta replied: “It’s nothing to write off. It’s just a typical example, for those that think Spring Training is too long, I differ. I think Spring Training is that long for a reason. I mean, we had 1,000 PFPs — pitchers’ fielding practice — and 1,000 run downs already, and then we get out there and we didn’t do a very good job today. So I never think Spring Training is too long. We need to continue to work on things.”

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Photo of the Day

Ah, Spring Training.

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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

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