Antonetti: “We still have our work cut out for us.”
With roughly a quarter of the regular season in the books and the Tribe sitting atop the American League Central, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti took a seat in the home dugout on Saturday afternoon for a wide-ranging discussion with reporters about his ballclub. Here is the full transciption of the interview.
Q: Things haven’t necessarily gone as planned, but the team is still in first place. You have to feel pretty good about this overall.
Antonetti: I think we’re pleased with where we stand right now. Obviously, it’s good to get off to a good start and be in first place at this point in the year, but we know it’s a long season and we still have our work cut out for us. I think the thing we’re collectively most encouraged by is we feel we have the opportunity to play better in all facets of our game. We think we can be more consistent on the mound, in the batter’s box and also defensively. We’ve played reasonably well so far, but we think we have an opportunity to continue to play better.
Q: The last few games, Damon has been drawing a lot more walks. It seems like he’s seeing the ball a little better. How encouraged have you been by some of those steps forward for him?
Antonetti: Well, it’s been a process for Johnny to get re-acclimated to Major League pitching. I think we’ve seen over the last week or so the quality of his at-bats continue to improve. His command of the strike zone has continued to improve. His swing mechanics are getting better and he’s looking more comfortable in the batter’s box. So I think we’ll begin to see some results more consistent with how Johnny has performed in the past.
Q: Now that he’s further in his rehab, where do you look at Grady? I know there’s no timetable for him, but at least he’s making progress.
Antonetti: We continue to be encouraged by the strides Grady has made. He hasn’t had any setbacks in his recovery. He’s initiated baseball activities now. He was on the field taking batating practice the other day and he’s been running around a little bit. We’re encouraged by the progress he’s made. Now, hopefully he can continue to ramp up his activities, get into some Minor League games and not have any setbacks along the way, because as we’ve said all along, when Grady is healthy and on the field, he’s got a chance to really impact our team.
Q: Do you have a No. 1 concern at this point?
Antonetti: I think just consistency. I think we’ve seen each area of our team demonstrate its ability and ability to contribute, but we’ve had some inconsistencies in each area. I think for us to be the team that we want to be, we’re not able to rely on any one area to carry us. We ned to get consistent contributions from all facets of our team.
Q: Are you a fan of Interleague Play?
Antonetti: I am. I think to some degree it gives you an opportunity to see teams that you normally don’t see to mix things up a little bit. I’m a much bigger fan of Interleague Play when we get to play in American League ballparks than National League ballparks, but yeah, generally. It’s not perfect — I’m not sure there is a perfect solution — but in general I like it.
Q: Everyone knew going into this season that your lineup was a left-handed heavy lineup. You said at one point you didn’t think that was a big deal, as long as you were winning games. Have you changed your opinion at all based on how the season has gone?
Antonetti: Not really. I think our focus is trying to win as many games as we can, score a lot more runs than our opponents. However we have to go about doing that, we’ll do it. I think we’ve at times seen the benefit of having a lineup that’s predominantly left-handed, giving us a platoon advantage against a lot of right-handed pitching. To the extent that continues, and we continue to put up runs against right-handed and left-handed pitching, then we’re OK with it. Now, if there are opportunities to improve the club, we’ll certainly be flexibile and creative at how we do that. I think we’ve demonstrated that we won’t be preoccupied with the handedness of the batter that we acquire.
Q: How encouraged have you been by what Matt LaPorta has done at Triple-A?
Antonetti: Matt’s made a lot of strides offensively and defensively. I think he’s gone down there with a great attitude and a great approach. He’s worked very hard with the Columbus staff and our Minor League coordinators to continue to improve as a player. I think we’re starting to see more consistency with his approach at the plate and with his at-bats and that’s translated into his performance down there.
Q: Is he any closer to a call-up? Are you guys considering it?
Antonetti: There are two things that go into that. Obviously, how Matt’s doing — his progress. Not only in just his performance, but the process in getting there. And then, the opportunity. Both of those things need to come together for us to make a move. Again, we’re encouraged by the progress he’s made and hopefully he can continue that so if and when we have a need, he’s ready.
Q: What have you thought of Kotchman to this point? He’s been hitting better of late, but what have your thoughts been on him overall?
Antonetti: Well, he’s been really consistent defensively. Obviously, he’s made a huge impact on our infield not only with our defense at first base, but our defense around the diamond, because of his ability to pick balls in the dirt and save runs around the bag. That’s been consistent from Day 1. Obviously, he got off to a tough start offensively the first fw weeks of the season. But, if you look at how he’s performed for the better part of the last month, it’s bene consistent with how he’s performed last year and at different points in his career. Much like Johnny, the quality of his at-bats have improved recently and we’ve been encouraged by how he’s been able to contribute both offensively and defensively, especially as of late.
Q: You always say you’re willing to make the team better or look to make the team better. This might be a better question or 30 days from now, but is there a time that the trade market starts to open up? Are you always looking at different options and taking calls?
Antonetti: You’re always looking to improve the team. I think there are natural junctures during the course of the year where the intensity of those calls pick up. Typically, after the amatuer draft is when the intensity of a lot of the trade calls ramp up, because teams at that point have had an opportunity to assess what they have, assess what their needs might be, assess the competitiveness of their team and try to look externally to find a potential match. So that’s when the volume of calls typically picks up. But we had a few calls last week on trade discussions, so you just never know.
Q: Do you think the presence of an extra Wild Card will make the Trade Deadline different this year?
Antonetti: I do think it has the potential to make the Trade Deadline a little bit different. I think you have the opportunity, obviously, with another Wild Card team to have more teams in the mix. There’s also the added component of the new CBA, with new compensation for free agents and there’s some effect on the value of the players that are traded in the last years of their deals. So it’ll be an interesting trade environment and we’ll have an opportunity to see how it all plays out in the next couple of weeks.
Q: Do you look at LaPorta as a first baseman or a left fielder?
Antonetti: Either. Matt’s been playing both left field and first base in Columbus and we think he’s got the chance to contribute at either position, depending upon where we have a need.
Q: What’s Lonnie Chisenhall’s status?
Antonetti: He actually should be playing this weekend. He strained his calf and it took him a little while to get back. He progressed through baseball activities. He took ground balls and BP yesterday and should be in the lineup either today or tomorrow.
Q: What’s been going on with Scott Barnes? He made a couple starts and then moved into the Triple-A bullpen. Is that a role change, or did it have something to do with his knee injury last year?
Antonetti: For right now, I think Scott will get the bulk of his opportunities in the bullpen, at least for the near term. We feel Scott’s got a great opportunity to potentially contribute to our Major League team. We’ve seen his ability as a starter. He’s a guy that has not had any opportunities to date to really pitch out of the bullpen in professional baseball for any extended period of time, so we wanted to at least acclimate him to that role in the event that we had a Major League need in the ‘pen he could be an alternative for us.
Q: Does that mean you’re viewing it as a faster way for him to reach the big leagues?
Antonetti: Potentially. [It could speed] the timeframe for him to contribute at the Major League level, but also the versatility. We wouldn’t have been comfortable promoting him to our Major League bullpen without him having some experience in the bullpen in the Minor Leagues.
Q: With Damon and Grady, that whole situation, has the thought process of the team changed at all about when Grady comes back, Damon will be coming or going? Or, are you just going to wait and see how everything plays out?
Antonetti: Nothing’s really changed. We have to get to that juncture and time first. If we have everybody healthy, we can assess what moves we’ll make at that point and how all the pieces fit together.
Q: You added Derek Lowe and you knew he had a lot of intangibles. You obviously also thought he could still pitch, but he’s pretty much become your ace. You couldn’t have expected something like that.
Antonetti: Derek has really done everything we could’ve potentially asked for, not only with his contributions when he’s on the mound. He’s given us an opportunity to win every game he’s started, really. He competes exceptionally well. He manages games well. When he’s had runners on base, he’s been able to execute pitches to get out of it. So he’s performed exceptionally well when he’s bene on the field. But he’s also been a great influence in our clubhouse. We heard he was a great teammate and a great competitor. He’s certainly reinforced that belief since he’s gotten here and probably been even better than we could’ve thought. He’s got a lot of energy He’s impacted our other starters with his professionalism. He’s constantly talking about the game, and I think that’s helped some of our other young pitchers.
Q: What do you see from Ubaldo right now compared to when he came over in the trade?
Antonetti: Ubaldo continues to be inconsistent. I think the results have been inconsistent. His work, his preparation, his commitment hasn’t wavered. He’s worked tirelessly with Scott Radinsky to solidify his delivery mechanics to allow him to be more consistent. It just hasn’t clicked continuously every five days. And so there have been times where, within each outing, there have been encouraging elements, and he’s made progress over the last handful of starts. But, for us to be the team that we want to be, we do need Ubaldo to be more consistent. I’m optimistic with his work that he’s put in with Scott Radinsky, and the way the two of them continue to approach things, that he’ll continue to improve and we’ll continue to see more consistency from him.
Q: What was your reaction to Ubaldo working on his mechanics?
Antonetti: That was an ongoing dialogue with Ubaldo, collectively.
Q: When you think of Ubaldo, what do you think of ideally? What do you want to see?
Antonetti: I think he’s demonstrated that when he works ahead in the count and attacks hitters aggressively and throws strikes, he’s got the weapons and the ability to pitch very effectively at the Major League level. I think his challenge has come when he has a difficult time locating his pitches and he falls behind in the count. That inevitably leads to hitter-advantage counts, which puts hitters at an advantage to have extra-base hits, or it potentially leads to walks. But the outings when he’s worked ahead he’s had success.
Q: Any news with Roberto Hernandez?
Antonetti: We continue to be in touch with his representatives, but there’s no real news to report. It’s still in the hands of the State Department.
Q: He’s still working out?
Antonetti: He’s working out at our complex in the Dominican. He threw a simulated game there this past week.
Q: Has that process gone on longer than maybe you expected?
Antonetti: Not really. We didn’t really have any expectations. We understood the complexities of the process from the very beginning. Really, as I’ve communicated to you guys, we didn’t really have any sort of expectations on a timeframe. So to say it’s either exceeded or been beyond, I’m not sure that’s very fair.
Q: When he throws a simulated game, is that nine innings?
Antonetti: At this point, we’re monitoring his volume. It’s more along the lines of 60-65 pitches. I think he’s gone as high as 75, maybe. That’s been around the range he has typically worked.
Note: No “Covering the Bases” tonight or Sunday. Back at it again on Tuesday for the start of the series against the Tigers.