The hot topic? The hot corner.

Chisenhall2Bring up the lone at-bat that Lonnie Chisenhall had in September, and the Indians third baseman will begin to smirk.

“Yeah, I hit 1.000,” Chisenhall said with a slight laugh.

It was a sixth-inning single off White Sox lefty Charlie Leesman on Sept. 14 in Chicago. Prior to that, Chisenhall hadn’t faced a lefty since Aug. 8. Before that, his last at-bat against a left-hander fell on July 19. Do you see the pattern here? With the Indians in the postseason chase, manager Terry Francona put Chisenhall’s development aside and utilized him primarily as an against-righties option to squeeze the most out of his bat.

Bring up Chisenhall’s history against lefties, and Francona expresses confidence.

“I’m sure he can [handle left-handers]. He’s a good hitter. He has bat speed,” Francona said. “Sometimes you have to grow into it. Sometimes you have to, before you really get the opportunity, or a fair opportunity, sometimes it comes in increments. That’s a balance that’s sometimes hard. It tugs at me a little bit.

“You’ve got a young kid that’s talented. Last year, you’re trying to work him in, but then you have [Mike] Aviles sitting over there and you’re in a playoff hunt. So you try to strike that balance. Sometimes it’s difficult.”

Chisenhall’s monthly at-bat splits against lefties looked like this last season:

April: 21
May: 1
June: 7
July: 5
August: 1
September: 1

Chisenhall dealt with a demotion to Triple-A between May and June, but after he hit .095 off lefties in April, it became clear how Francona was going to use the third baseman. On the season, Chisenhall hit just .111 (4-for-36) off southpaws, dropping his career mark to .194 (.612 OPS) in 124 at-bats. Against righties, he’s hit .256 (.714 OPS) in 519 career at-bats.

“It’s just different,” Chisenhall said, “because coming up through the Minors you get every at-bat and then, once you get to the Majors, it’s about winning. No more development. You have to be ready to play.”

Santana2Chisenhall understands what he is up against this spring. Competition is no stranger to the third baseman, but this spring’s situation is different. Cleveland has pulled Carlos Santana out from behind the plate and is giving him a look at third. Maybe Santana can develop into the everyday option (he’s certainly looked comfortable and competent so far), or perhaps the switch hitter will prove to be an option there against tough left-handers.

One of Francona’s skills — one that was on display all season during the Tribe’s run to the playoffs in ’13 — is using players in a way to maximize their abilities. He understands Chisenhall’s career shortcomings against lefties and, while more development might be needed there, knows the third baseman can do damage against righties. Consider September, when Chisenhall had that one at-bat against a left-hander, but posted a strong .270/.325/.595 slash line in he final month.

It is possible that the same kind of role awaits Chisenhall come Opening Day, or it’s possible that he wins the third-base job outright if the Santana experiment ultimately flops. Or, Cleveland might send Chisenhall down to the Minors to get the everyday at-bats in order to focus on development. No matter the final decision, Francona said all he offered Chisenhall in their pre-camp one-on-one meeting was the truth.

“We told Lonnie the truth in our meeting,” Francona said. “We believe we’re a better team with him on it. But we want him to earn it. That’s being very truthful and I think he agrees with it.”

Chisenhall said he’s been delivered the same message each spring.

“There have been more bumps in the the road than I have wanted,” Chisenhall said early in camp. “But, I’m still young. I know what I can do for the Cleveland Indians, and I know what I can do at third base.”


Photos from the past couple days

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Catch up on camp with these links:

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