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

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