Covering the Bases: Feb. 27

Santana4We’re two games into the Cactus League slate and Cleveland is outscoring Cincinnati, 15-11. Feel free to read way too much into the box scores, because I won’t be doing that this early in camp. With that in mind, let’s cover the bases for the first time in 2014.

Final: Indians 12, Reds 3

FIRST: It finally happened. Carlos Santana played third base in a big league game for the Indians. Sure, it was only two innings and, naturally, no balls were hit his way. But there he was, manning the hot corner against Cincinnati.

The Experiment is officially underway.

“He’s comfortable over there,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think he’s more comfortable than people probably are giving him credit for. He’s pretty at home over there. I think it’s going to be surprising if he doesn’t handle himself pretty well.”

Games will be the true test of that, but there was only one pop quiz in Thursday’s exhibition.

In the second inning, Zack Cozart ripped a pitch into the left-center gap, where Michael Bourn tracked it down. Shortstop Mike Aviles caught the relay through and quickly fired it to Santana, as Cozart tried to stretch a sure two-base hit into a risky triple. Santana gloved the one-hopper and swiftly thrust his glove down, tagging the runner in time for the out. No problems on the play whatsoever.

Francona reminded reporters that it’s far too early to project what might happen at third base.

“We have no idea,” Francona said. “When we leave camp, we’ll try to take our best team with us. We’re two games in. We like Lonnie Chisenhall a lot, so we’ll have some decisions to make.”

Chisenhall played third in Wednesday’s game and Santana followed suit on Thursday. Expect that kind of rotation to continue as the spring progresses. As for catching, Francona said earlier this week that it would probably be at least a couple weeks before Santana returned to that position to get reps prior to the regular season. It’s all third, all the time, right now.

SECOND: Sinkerballer Justin Masterson got the nod as Cleveland’s starter and turned in one shutout inning, finishing with two strikeouts and one hit surrendered. Masterson stuck with only fastballs (four-seamers and two-seamers), noting that he’d probably begin mixing in the slider in his next outing.

More newsworthy, however, was Masterson’s response to a question about his contract status.

“I figure somehow, some way,” Masterson said, “I’ll end up still being here for a few more years.”

That was interesting, because there has been a considerable gap in long-term contract negotiations. Masterson’s camp and Cleveland’s front office rekindled contract talks earlier this week and the sides will likely continue over the weekend and into next week and possibly the weeks to come. What is clear right now is that, if something is going to get done, it would need to happen before Opening Day.

What is also known is that the two sides have exchanged parameters, though nothing is imminent.

THIRD: Two more starters took the hill for the Indians on Thursday. Right-hander Corey Kluber (a lock for the rotation) allowed two runs on two hits with one hit batsmen in one inning. Hey, spring is for shaking off the rust. Righty Carlos Carrasco (a top candidate for the fifth rotation spot) logged two shutout innings with two strikeouts.

Francona raved about Carrasco’s outing.

“Carrasco was really good in his two innings,” Francona said. “The first hitter, to the lefty [Billy Hamilton], he kind of left some balls up to the arm side, but then he made his adjustment and he worked ahead and he was really good. It’s two innings, but he looks comfortable.”

Remember, Carrasco is out of Minor League options. He’s likely on the pitching staff in some capacity — in the rotation or in the bullpen — unless some unforeseen setback comes into play this spring.

HOME: Some of Cleveland’s kids came through for the second game in a row. Francisco Lindor went 1-for-4 with two runs. Jake Lowery launched a grand slam. Erik Gonzalez went 1-for-2 with a run. Tyler Naquin went 1-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs. Getting to watch the younger players is one of Francona’s favorite parts of Spring Training.

Asked about Naquin, Francona replied: “I would put him in the class with Erik Gonzalez. He’s a good, young player. We just don’t know how good he’s going to be. His career is in front of him and it’s going to be fun to see what he turns into. He’s a really good outfielder with a good, strong throwing arm. We don’t know what he’s going to be as a hitter, but it’ll be fun to watch him grow.

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Anecdote of the day

I went searching for a good story about Nick Swisher today. I was looking for something he said or did last season that would’ve been off the radar for reporters. One story that came up happened during the Indians’ May 18 win over the Mariners. In the fifth inning, Swisher flies out to the warning track in left-center field and heads back to the dugout. He heads down the steps and says, “Man, the ball’s not going anywhere today.” The next batter, Mark Reynolds, then used an off-balance, one-handed swing to crush a 3-2 home run off Seattle lefty Joe Saunders. The dugout erupted and Swisher had to stand there and wear all the abuse from his teammates. Instead of fuming, Swisher laughs hard with them and says, “All right. I deserve that. I deserve that.” The moral of the story? Said the storyteller: “He’s able to
laugh at himself as well as dish it out a little bit. That’s one thing about this team. Everybody treats it as a brotherhood. We’re like a bunch of big and little brothers.”

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Catch up on Cleveland camp with these links…

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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