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.
Stay tuned for more…