March 2014

Bastian’s 2014 preseason picks

CLEwcIt is a time-honored tradition: completely misfiring on predictions for the upcoming season. Then again, maybe some Cleveland fans are happy I picked Detroit to win it all last year. My track record of jinxing things speaks for itself.

One of the beauties of baseball is the unknown. We don’t know which team or player will be the breakout performer in the year ahead. We don’t know which player will come out of nowhere after being nowhere to be found.

I’m talking about the Scott Kazmir’s of the world. Could anyone have seen that coming last season? Maybe this season’s comeback story will be Grady Sizemore in Boston. Who knows? That’s the great part of it.

We barely knew how to say Yasiel Puig’s name during Spring Training last year. Now, he’s must-see TV. Everyone was on the Blue Jays bandwagon before the wheels came tearing off. The Pirates made the playoffs. The Indians did, too. What a world.

Last year, I did predict five (Rays, Tigers, Braves, Reds and Dodgers) of baseball’s 10 postseason teams, but I only correctly called two division winners (American League Central and National League East). I did correctly predict 14 of the 30 teams’ place in the standings, but I went 0-fer in the AL East. I did, however, nail the one-through-five finish in the AL Central. I just didn’t expect Cleveland to claim a Wild Card spot.

I’m not going to make that mistake this season. While I am not going to list the Indians as the division’s top spot just yet — I think Detroit has earned that place in the predictions — I do think Cleveland will give the Motor City a good fight. I think the Tribe might even win the Central, but I won’t call that just yet. I do think the Indians have what it takes to grab one of the two Wild Card spots again. The key will be solid seasons from the arms behind Justin Masterson in the rotation.

How did I fare in other predictions last year? Well, I had the Red Sox finishing in last place in the division. So, there’s that.

For the awards, the only one I had right was Wil Myers taking home the AL’s Rookie of the Year honor with the Rays. Adrian Beltre (.880 OPS in 161 games) and Joey Votto (.926 OPS in 162 games) had nice runs as my MVP picks, but they finished seventh and sixth, respectively, in voting. I had Joe Maddon (92 wins) and Fredi Gonzalez (96 wins) taking home the Manager honors. Nice showings, but no dice. Shelby Miller (15-9, 3.06) was third in RoY voting in the NL as my pick.

As for the Cy Young Award, let’s just say my record remains flawless, in that my picks in that category often crash and burn. Jered Weaver was my choice in the AL, and he went 11-8 with a 3.27 ERA in 24 starts. Not terrible, but an injury hurt his cause and he garnered no votes. In the NL, I gave the nod to Matt Cain, who then went 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA for the Giants. Sorry, guys.

I’m tempted to make Justin Masterson my man for the AL Cy Young this season, but I know how important he is to the Tribe’s chances. I’ll steer clear of that jinx, Tribe fans.

With all of that said, here are all of my preseason picks for 2014…

AMERICAN LEAGUE

East
1. Red Sox
*2. Orioles
3. Rays
4. Blue Jays
5. Yankees

Central
1. Tigers
*2. Indians
3. Royals
4. White Sox
5. Twins

West
1. Angels
2. A’s
3. Mariners
4. Rangers
5. Astros

NATIONAL LEAGUE

East
1. Nationals
2. Braves
3. Mets
4. Marlins
5. Phillies

Central
1. Cardinals
*2. Pirates
3. Reds
4. Brewers
5. Cubs

West
1. Dodgers
*2. D-backs
3. Padres
4. Giants
5. Rockies

*indicates Wild Card pick

PLAYOFFS

NL Wild Card: D-backs over Pirates
NL Division Series: D-backs over Nationals
NL Division Series: Dodgers over Cardinals
NL Championship Series: Dodgers over D-backs

AL Wild Card: Indians over Orioles
AL Division Series: Indians over Red Sox
AL Division Series: Tigers over Angels
AL Championship Series: Tigers over Indians

WORLD SERIES

Dodgers over Tigers

AWARD WINNERS

AL Most Valuable Player: Mike Trout, Angels
AL Cy Young Award: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu, White Sox
AL Manager of the Year: Brad Ausmus, Tigers

NL Most Valuable Player: Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs
NL Cy Young Award: Jose Fernandez, Marlins
NL Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton, Reds
NL Manager of the Year: Matt Williams, Nationals

Debate away…

–JB

Swisher: “I couldn’t have been more honored to wear it.”

photoThere it was in all it’s glory, hanging from a hook inside Jason Giambi’s locker at Fowler Park on Friday afternoon. It’s gold and black with flames around the waistband. And it’s got a lot of hits under its belt.

“I only got to use it one time. That’s it,” Indians first baseman Nick Swisher said. “But I couldn’t have been more honored to wear it.”

We are, of course, talking about Giambi’s famous thong. It made appearances throughout last season in his locker, but consider this its 2014 debut. That’s impressive, because the 43-year-old Giambi says he’s had his lucky thong since 1997.

The story of the thong isn’t new, but the fact that Swisher revealed that he used it during the 2009 World Series with the Yankees added another layer to the legend. Over the years, when teammates have been in brutal slumps, a replica version has found its way into their locker, or into their hands.

“It’s only when guys need it,” Giambi explained. “It’s only when guys need a hit. It’s always around and it’s never not gotten a hit. That’s all I’ve got to say. It’s never not gotten a hit, swear to God. … Sometimes it gets them out of [a slump], because they don’t want to wear it the next day. There’s guys who have worn it and they’ve gotten hits.”

In an article in the Daily News in 2008, Derek Jeter admitted to wearing the thong.

“I had it over my shorts and stuff,” Jeter told the newspaper. “I was 0-for-32 and I hit a homer on the first pitch. That’s the only time I’ve ever worn it.”

But, Swisher and Giambi weren’t teammates in ’09. So, how did Swisher wind up with it?

Well, Swisher was hitting just .114 (4-for-35) in the playoffs heading into Game 3 against the Phillies. New York’s trainer at the time came to Swisher with the replica version of Big G’s thong.

“He was like, ‘Hey, I think you need to wear this,'” Swisher said .”I’m like, ‘Bro, I ain’t wearing that thing.’ He was like, ‘Come on, man. It’s a guarantee.’ That’s what he says, so, all right, I put it on. … I remember putting it on and saying to myself, ‘Am I really wearing this?'”

Top of the fifth inning…

“Hanging breaking ball, double bounces over the bag,” Swisher said. “I double down the left-field line.”

Top of the sixth inning…

“I went deep,” said Swisher, laughing at the memory. “I was like, ‘Man, I want to wear this thing for the rest of my life!”

Yankees won, 8-5, and took the Series in six games.

Why do players think it works? Giambi said it’s because the last thing they’re thinking about at the plate is their slump or their mechanics. What’s on their mind is how uncomfortable they are with the thong on. Giambi said no teammates wound up with the replica in their locker last season. The one that was hanging in Giambi’s locker on Friday was the original.

“It’s made a lot of road trips,” Giambi said.

“You have to be in dire need,” Swisher said. “I got to wear the replica, which he has blessed. It works just as well.”

–JB

 

Covering the Bases: March 24

tito3Final: Indians 8, Reds 3

FIRST: It’s decision time for the Indians. Carlos Carrasco logged six innings on Monday and Josh Tomlin is scheduled to start on Tuesday. You can bet, though, that Cleveland already has in mind which direction it plans on going.

“I’m sure we’ll go back and revisit some things,” Indians manager Terry Francona said after Monday’s win. “We need to just visit. I think we probably know how we feel about things, but I think there’s also a respectful way to talk to players and things like that, so we need to make sure we do that.”

Translation: Tomlin’s upcoming outing will not determine the final rotation job.

There are only two ways the Indians can go right now. Option 1: Carrasco makes the rotation, and two of Scott Atchison, Blake Wood and Tomlin make the bullpen. In that scenario, I think Tomlin would head to Triple-A for regular turns and to better control his innings as he continues in his comeback from Tommy John. Option 2: Give the rotation spot to Tomlin and put Carrasco in the bullpen. That means one of Atchison and Wood (I’d place my bet on Atchison) would fill the final relief role.

If it were my decision, and no one in the Indians’ front office has asked me yet, I’d give the job to Tomlin. You could argue that, with the exception of Justin Masterson, Tomlin has had the best camp among Cleveland’s starting pitchers. He’s shown the same pinpoint control as in the past, but he’s also displayed increased velocity and, at least for the spring, an improved strikeout rate. As for Carrasco, he’s showed last year that he can be a weapon out of the bullpen.

All of that said, Carrasco gave the Indians an encouraging performance against Cincinnati. Last time out, the right-hander allowed eight runs (five earned) on nine hits with two strikeouts and two walks in 2 2/3 innings. This time around, Carrasco logged the six planned innings and allowed three runs on nine hits with five strikeouts and no walks. Two of those runs and four of those hits came in his last inning, during which he also struck out the side.

Francona was happy to see Carrasco have a strong finish to an otherwise rough inning.

“Definitely. That was really good to see,” Francona said. “Even as he got fatigued, he didn’t back off.”

Carrasco said the key for him was examining some images from his past handful of outings. The lead arm mechanics he worked so hard on over the winter had gone awry of late. His arm had lowered, some deception was lost and he was hit around. Carrasco said he made the fix in this outing and it paid off.

“I feel good,” Carrasco said. “The last inning, they got two runs. I missed a couple spots right there, but I finished strong. More important, I feel good.”

Carrasco knows a decision is coming soon.

“I’m just doing my job. They’ve seen everything,” he said. “The only thing I care about is my job, just doing that. Right now, my mind is on the starting rotation. If they make another decision to send me to the bullpen, I’ll do my job. But right now, it’s rotation.”

SECOND: It sure sounds as though Atchison is in a great position to win one of the final bullpen jobs. He has had a solid spring, and never underestimate the Francona Factor. The manager had Atch (as Francona calls him) in the ‘pen during his days with the Red Sox. In face…

“I kind of go back to a conversation I had with him my last day in Boston,” Francona said. “I knew I wasn’t coming back. I remember he was walking away and I said to him, ‘Atch, regardless of what happens next year, you can pitch for me any day.’ It’s funny how this game kind of turns around.”

Atchison spun one uneventful inning against the Reds. For the spring now, the 37-year-old righty has given up two runs on seven hits with eight strikeouts and one walk in eight innings. Wood, who is coming back from Tommy John, has also been solid, giving up one run in nine innings. The hard-throwing right-hander also has 11 strikeouts, but the five walks leave something to be desired. There’s never been any doubt that Wood has a power arm. It’s controlling it that has been the consistent issue.

As for Atchison, Francona has made it clear that he feels like he knows what to expect.

“He’s exactly what we thought, or we hoped,” Francona said. “He’s had some arm issues maybe back a couple years ago. He elected not to have the Tommy John and rehabbed it. He has late movement, he throws the ball in the zone, and he doesn’t beat himself. He’s very valuable.”

THIRD: Francona isn’t exactly sure how he will use Lonnie Chisenhall this season, but the details do not matter at this point. Chisenhall was told he is on the Opening Day roster. During that meeting, the young third baseman expressed to Francona and GM Chris Antonetti that he is willing to do whatever the team asks of him. Francona called that meeting a highlight of the morning.

“I thought Lonnie had a good day before he stepped on the field,” Francona said. “There were a lot of tough conversations and some that [weren't]. I haven’t been around Lonnie as much as everybody else, but they’ve seen him grow up. But in the course of a year, just to have that conversation with him today, makes you feel really proud of him.”

Going 2-for-4 with a home run against the Reds to raise his spring average to .308 didn’t hurt Chisenhall’s case for at-bats, either.

“He swung the bat well today,” Francona said.

HOME: A bit of miscommunication led to a feel-good aspect to Monday afternoon. The Indians initially had Nick Swisher listed as the DH, but the Reds didn’t want to use one in the game. So, Swisher was given the day off and everyone moved up a spot in the order. Carrasco was told he’d hit ninth, and was instructed to fight temptation to swing and keep the bat on the ol’ shoulder.

Then, the Reds let the Indians know that they could still use the DH if they wanted. Well, with Swisher already gone for the day, Francona saw the chance to create a special memory for a father and son.

Minor League outfielder Nick Hamilton got the nod as the DH with his dad, Tom Hamilton, watching from the radio booth.

“We were like, you know what? Hammy’s sitting up in the booth,” Francona said. “I think there’s always maybe a little time in Spring Training to have a nice, special moment. I’m sure both of them thought it was really cool. I know our players got a kick out of it.”

Nick Hamilton — taken in the 35th round of the 2012 Draft out of Kent State — got the news about 15 minutes before the game started.

“I don’t mind surprises,” he said with a smile. “It was really just a lot of fun. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be able to get out there and get that first taste of playing in the big leagues. It was just a lot of fun and something I can learn from and build on from here. … Eventually, looking back, I’m sure this is definitely something that I’m going to cherish.”

Check Indians.com for more on the news of the day and roster decisions.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Antonetti, Masterson discuss stalled talks

Here are two transcripts from today’s interviews about the stalled talks between the Indians and All-Star starter Justin Masterson. GM Chris Antonetti met with reporters to discuss the matter on Friday morning and Masterson talked about the situation after his outing against the Rockies in the afternoon.

Chris AntonettiIndians general manager Chris Antonetti

What can you tell us about the contract talks breaking down?

“I met with Justin this morning. I think at this point, we both agreed to table discussions on a multi-year contract and potentially revisit it down the road. But, right now, our focus will be on preparing for the season.”

Were you hopeful that you would get something done before Opening Day?

“That was our hope. I think both sides made a really earnest effort to try to find common ground and get something done. In the end, we just weren’t able to align.”

Is the door still open?

“We’ll always leave the door open. We’ll never close any doors. It stems from our profound belief in Justin. He embodies everything we want our players to be. He’s a great teammate, a great person and an exceptional performer. I know there remains a desire on our side for him to be here long-term, and I think he’d like to be here long-term. That’s a good common ground to start with. It’s just, at this moment in time, we weren’t able to align on the right contract form.”

What do you say to fans who think this means the talks are completely over?

“We’re fortunate that Justin is here for this year and we’re not going to close any doors. There will be other junctures in time that we can explore an extension with him. That’s just not right now.”

Would you revisit it during the season?

“Our preference is, during the season, to allow everybody to focus on the season and not have any distractions. But, if there’s the right time in the future to re-open things, we’re open to it.”

How much did future payroll obligations play a role in talks breaking down?

“That’s a consideration. I think the thing that we want, and I know Justin wants, is to be a part of a championship-caliber team. So what we need to do is look at how we fairly compensate players, but fit them within the constructs of what we expect our payrolls will be moving forward.”

Do you view future payroll as an obstacle in the talks?

“Not as an obstacle, but a consideration. We made an earnest effort to try to get something done. I’ll stay away from the specifics of things, but we made a very competitive offer within the marketplace for contract extensions for starting pitchers.”

Are the numbers being reported accurate?

“We’ll stay consistent in not commenting on specifics, but I would say what’s been written isn’t accurate, or at least what I’ve seen written in terms of values is not accurate.”

Was there a point when you thought you’d get a deal done?

“There were times in the process where we felt we were closer than others. But, again, it’s one of the reasons why I refrain from commenting is close doesn’t mean you get a deal done.”

What have you thought of how Masterson’s handled all of this during the spring?

“Justin is incredible that way. He’s been able to compartmentalize it. It hasn’t affected in any way the work that he’s done, the teammates that he is, how he interacts with players, coaches, the front office The dynamic has been the same. You wouldn’t know that Justin was working through any other considerations contract wise by the way he’s gone about his business. He’s been a consummate professional.”

How did the talk go with Masterson this morning?

“He was great. I think Justin expressed appreciation in our desire to keep him here beyond this year and appreciated the efforts that both sides made to try to get something done. It’s been a fairly lengthy process that dates back, really, to the start of the year.”

Is it wrong for fans to think this is CC Sabathia or Cliff Lee all over again?

“Justin’s a big part of our team. He’s going to start Opening Day for us and we’re counting on him to lead us ot a postseason and then , hopefully, to a World Series. That’s, right now, our focus. Where things lead ater that, and if we have another opportunity to revisit things with Justin, we’re open to doing that.”

What was Masterson’s mood this morning?

“It was a very typical morning for Justin and very typical interaction. He handled things as he always does.”

Are you prepared that this could be a bad PR hit for the team?

“Our job is to build the best team we can and make the decisions we think are in the best interest of the organization moving forward. I’m hopeful that our fans remain excited about the team we have. Justin’s a big part of that.”

Was it fair to use the Homer Bailey contract as a comparison?

“That’s one of the contract extensions that’s in the marketplace. We were very cognizant of that contract, but there are others. I feel like we made an earnest attempt to get something done and offered Justin a contract that was fair relative to the marketplace. But we didn’t attach, nor do we ever for any negotiation, attach it to any one contract specifically.”

Are you any closer on an extension with Jason Kipnis?

“Again, I’ll refrain from commenting on specific guys.”

What aspect of the deal with Masterson posed problems?

“There were parts of the deal that we overlapped on, where we were able to find common ground. We just couldn’t get all the pieces to fit together. We examined a variety of different structures and lengths and values, but we just couldn’t find that right combination.”

Could that change?

“Sure. Yeah. As you get more information, circumstances change and evolve. But I wouldn’t expect anything in the short-erm to change.”

———————————————-

MastersonAll-Star starter Justin Masterson

How disappointed are you that a deal didn’t happen?

“It’s just for right now. There’s still time. The season doesn’t end hopefully until the World Series is over. Although we talked, while it’s not going to be probably talked about within the next few months or something, there’s still always potential to make something happen. Even though it didn’t happen right now, I’m not overly disappointed. It’s kind of like, ‘All right, we’ll just push it back a little bit.’ We’ll go out and slice and dice and have some fun.”

Is there motivation to still get something done?

“We’ll cotinue to work and see in due time. But, again, it’s always been one of those where we enjoy each other, and you have some business things you have to work through. They’re not always going to meet up for each individual. I think we’ll continue to see how the season goes. Win the World Series and I’m sure we’ll probably be back here next year.”

Is the timing at least good in the sense that now you can focus on the season?

“I was never really concerned about it. You guys do a good job of making it all fired up. That’s fun. I don’t mind it. But, no, it is nice a little bit to not have to wonder what we’re doing, this, that or the other. But again, the whole time it’s been this year we’re going out and pitching. It doesn’t really matter what’s going to take place. We’re here this year and we’re going to do our thing, and there’s still that hope that we can all have that things may happen for next year.”

After showing a willing to sign a shorter deal, are you surprised they didn’t get something done?

“You look at it and you have the years here and there, but there’s also the amounts that are out there. Although you’re taking less years, where do you put the amounts to make it fair? So, is it still fair? You’re giving up a couple things. You’re just working through all that. And, though, it might be giving up some things on my end, there’s still tough things that they have to work through on their end. They’ve got to run a ballclub. They’ve got to do a lot of things. Again, if we go win a World Series, I think things could work out pretty good.”

How’d your conversation go with Antonetti this morning?

“I gave him a hug and we shook hands. It was cordial. We get along very well. I get along with everyone here well. It was one of those like, hey, we worked through it. We tried hard. We enjoy each other. But at this moment, we can’t necessarily make it happen. That’s fine. We’ll continue to go through the season. The doors are technically closed, but they all have doorknobs that you can at one point open again.”

The Indians don’t typically negotiation during the season. Would you?

“That’s what they always say. I’m sure they’re probably working on deals that they started in January, that they say they won’t talk about. That’s why you have people who do those things. If things change, whether or not on our end or their end, hey, why not? It’s not like it’s going to bother me, and they’re not playing, so it’s not like it’s going to bother them too much. You don’t want it to be a distraction, but if it’s not, then the doors are always open.”

–JB

Covering the Bases: March 19

CarrascoFinal: A’s 13, Indians 3

FIRST: It’s been in the back of everyone’s mind for the past few weeks: Would Carlos Carrasco slip back into Carlos Fiasco mode at all this spring? Well, it happened on Wednesday and the rotation race officially has its first wrinkle.

Oakland tagged Carrasco for eight runs (five earned) on nine hits in 2 2/3 innings. He was supposed to log five. Yes, there was a fielding error that did the righty no favors. Yes, two runs were tacked on to Carrasco’s line after he exited the game.

Still, the Indians have asked Carrasco to focus on limiting damage and maintaining his aggressiveness. Neither elements were present in his abbreviated effort against the A’s.

“We started off an inning where we didn’t convert a play,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But then he didn’t limit the damage. I thought he worked away from his fastball a little bit. It’s a frustrating outing. The good part is it was Spring Training, but we’re looking for him to build. It was a little disappointing.”

This comes one day after Francona was raving about Carrasco.

“His stuff is off the charts,” Francona said on Tuesday. “His stuff is top-of-the-rotation stuff across the board.”

That said, both Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway both noted on Tuesday that Carrasco appeared to slip into some old bad habits during his “B” game outing last week. Even Carrasco, while discussing the race for the final spot in the rotation, mentioned that on his own on Tuesday.

“My last game, the ‘B’ game, I didn’t feel that,” said Carrasco, referring to the more-aggressive mentality. “I didn’t feel normal over there. But, no matter what, when you pitch, if you pitch an ‘A’ game or ‘B’ game, you have to continue doing your job, and have the same mentality. There’s a hitter right there, so it’s important to attack the zone.”

The first hitter Carrasco faced on Wednesday, Sam Fuld, drew a walk. The next batter, Daric Barton, drilled a double. Two runs came in the fifth inning (Carrasco’s first frame), and another three came across in the sixth. As Francona hinted, that inning did start with a fielding error by third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. The floodgates were hardly blown open by that point, though. Carrasco had time to reel things in.

“That’s probably something we need to talk to him more [about],” Francona said. “We talked to him the other day, just about this same exact thing.”

SECOND: Let’s run through the scenarios for the final spot in the rotation.

(First, notice that I keep referring to it as the final spot and not the fifth spot. While the Indians have not come straight out and said it, it seems pretty clear  that right-hander Danny Salazar will open in the fifth slot. That will give him some more time to build up his innings before making his first start of the year. Cleveland doesn’t need a fifth starter until April 8. Obviously, this is all subject to change.)

Carrasco is out of options. Josh Tomlin has an option. Aaron Harang is a non-roster invitee who, if he’s not in the Opening Day plans, must be given a $100,000 retention bonus with a June 1 opt-out clause if he’s willing to go pitch in the Minors. Each contractual factor will play a role in the decision, especially for a team that needs to maintain as much depth as possible. Trevor Baur remains a darkhorse candidate, but he appears ticketed for Triple-A.

Scenario 1: Tomlin gets the final spot and Carrasco goes to the bullpen. This potentially puts Bauer one wrong development in the Majors away from a promotion, if Harang isn’t willing to pitch in the Minors. On Tuesday, Francona said he thinks Harang is a Major League pitcher. Does that mean Harang is a leading candidate for the final job? Or is Francona simply hinting that the Indians might try to do right by Harang and find him an MLB job if he’s not in the Opening Day plans. We’ll see.

Scenario 2: Carrasco gets the final spot. This would once again risk losing Harang as a layer of depth. Tomlin could go to the bullpen, but the way he’s pitched (arguably the best of the three main candidates), it seems logical to assume Cleveland would want him going every fifth day in the Minors to remain at the ready. That would also allow Francona to stick by one of the many relief candidates hanging around in the mix for the one or two jobs available in the ‘pen.

Scenario 3: Harang gets the final spot and Carrasco goes to the bullpen. This is an interesting option, because it would maintain the most depth. Tomlin goes to Triple-A and keeps Bauer’s timetable intact in terms of continuing his development and avoiding rushing him before Cleveland might think he’s ready. This also gives the Indians a way to limit Tomlin’s innings early in the season given that he’s coming back from Tommy John. It would also allow Carrasco to perhaps regain the kind of aggressive mentality he displayed as a reliever last year (“You can’t ignore that,” Callaway said Tuesday). This also keeps Harang’s veteran presence in the clubhouse, and buys some time for any rotation issues that might develop. And, hey, if Harang’s strong spring doesn’t translate into a strong season showing, you’ve got Tomlin waiting in the wings, or Carrasco possibly available to slide back to the rotation.

As of Tuesday, I was thinking more along the lines of Scenarios 1 or 2. After Wednesday’s outing by Carrasco, Scenario 3 now looks more intriguing. If we’re going strictly on performance, and ignoring the contractual elements, Tomlin would certainly appear to be the front-runner. There are probably some readers who would be fine with Carrasco being outrighted. I believe another team would grab him off waivers. His stuff is good, and there are needs around the league.

The rotation battle already looked like a tough call. It just got a little more interesting.

THIRD: Oh, hey, Salazar. Remember him? He pitched, too! The hard-throwing righty actually got the start and was supposed to log four innings. Things went a little awry early on, so Cleveland pulled Salazar after 3 2/3 innings to keep him on his pitch count. The righty didn’t give up any runs and ended with three strikeouts and two walks.

“I just think he’s still working to try to drive the ball down,” Francona said. “He had some good life on his fastball. He’s just still leaving a lot of fastballs up. I think with repetition and getting his legs under him, he’ll start driving his fastball down better.”

Salazar essentially said as much after his outing. He said he felt like he could’ve thrown harder, or put more on his pitches, but decided to hold back a little since it’s still Spring Training. Salazar said he was trying to work on getting his fastball down in the strike zone more consistently and focusing on his slider against lefties.

“I got behind in the count a couple times,” Salazar said. “I think that’s why they took me out, because I threw too many pitches [in the first inning]. My fastball, I tried to work down. In the bullpen, I threw really good. Out there, I was a little wild.”

Physically, Salazar said he feels ready for the season. And possibly being the fifth starter? That’s fine with him.

“If you’re there, first or second or even fifth, that means you’re good,” Salazar said. “You’re good enough to be there.”

HOME: This was the first game of the spring that featured Chisenhall at third base and Carlos Santana behind the plate. It was actually Santana’s first game as Cleveland’s catcher this preseason. If they both make the Opening Day roster (meaning, if Chisenhall isn’t sent to Triple-A), you’d probably see that alignment mostly against right-handed pitchers. Santana would presumably be a sound option against tough lefties (Chisenhall’s weakness to this point in the big leagues).

That said, Yan Gomes’ off-days from catching and the days Cleveland faces a lefty surely will not always align consistently throughout the season. That makes the third-base playing-time situation an interesting one, and it’s probably one reason why Francona is quick to admit that he’s still not sure how this is going to go. One thing he does know is that Santana doesn’t want to be the designated hitter on a regular basis.

“I think he’d much rather play a position,” Francona said prior to Wednesday’s game. “I think he’s enjoying the heck out of playing third. The part about going behind the plate it to try to help our team more. Honestly, I think if he had his choice, he’d play third base every day, but he understands that we’re trying to put the best team out there and he’s willing to try to do this.”

Chisenhall (11 games) made two errors in the field on Wednesday, pulling him into a tie with Santana (11 games) in Spring Training blunders. I will say this, Santana has looked increasingly comfortable at the hot corner since the first handful of games he played at the position.

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Catch up on Cleveland’s camp with these links:

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: March 17

Kluber2Final: Reds 5, Indians 4

FIRST: There are setbacks that are easier to accept in Spring Training than during the regular season. Monday’s second-inning showing by Indians righty Corey Kluber is a fine example.

Cincinnati rocked Kluber for three runs on five hits and loaded the bases before the starter escaped with a strikeout to Joey Votto. In the regular season, Tribe manager Terry Francona may have been more tempted to turn to his bullpen early. To a point, it’s easier to let a pitcher work through things in the spring.

Francona stuck with Kluber, who got out of second, breezed through the third and fourth, and pitched into the fifth.

“The second inning, he gave up some hits and some balls were hit pretty hard,” Francona said. “But he came back in the third and fourth and, in the third inning, he threw six pitches, all strikes. Fourth inning, seven pitches, all strikes. And got them out. I thought that was really impressive. In a Spring Training game, you can kind of hang your hat on that.

“It was a long second inning, and you’re almost getting to the point where you almost take him out, and then he ends up getting deep enough where it ends up being a really productive outing.”

Overall, Kluber said he was pleased with how his pitches were working.

“I felt really good,” Kluber said. “I felt like for the most part my stuff was right where I needed it to be. There was a decent amount of soft contact, broken bats and things like that. In that second inning, I left a few balls up and there was also some fly balls that got caught in the wind. That’s bound to happen.”

Was Kluber working on any specific pitch or approach in this outing?

“No. I’m just trying to go out there and get ready at this point,” Kluber said. “I think now is kind of the time to start trying to lock in and get ready to go — for me, at least. I’m at the point now where I feel my stuff is where I need it to be. So it’s just a matter of going out there and getting to a point where you can consistently execute all your pitches.”

In all, Kluber was charged with three runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, in which he struck out five and walked two. Those two walks are his only free passes of the spring in 14 1/3 innings. Kluber has 15 strikeouts. The ERA (5.02) leaves something to be desired, but the last thing anyone with Cleveland is doing is basing evaluations on Cactus League stats. Stuff-wise, Francona has been impressed with Kluber, who will open as the team’s No. 2 starter.

“I think he looks really good, I really do,” Francona said. “He’s got such late action on all his pitches, and he’s aggressive. Again, I think the more he pitches, the more people are going to realize how good this kid is.”

SECOND: Francona has been conservative to this point when it comes to the instant-replay challenges he’s had the chance to use in a select number of games this spring. Monday’s game marked another chance for a review, and it was the Reds who used that ability this afternoon.

In the fifth inning, Brandon Phillips was called out on a stolen-base attempt of third. The throw beat him to the bag, but Phillips appeared to get his hand on the base ahead of Lonnie Chisenhall’s tag. Reds manager Bryan Price saw it that way, so he challenged the ruling by umpire Alan Porter.

Cincinnati asked the play to b reviewed and, following a one-minute delay, the call was overturned.

“I didn’t think it was bad,” Francona said of the timing. “I think everybody seems to be working together to get the play right.”

Kluber said the replay review timing was OK from his perspective as well.

“I thought it worked fine,” Kluber said. “I don’t exactly know what their protocols are and stuff, but it didn’t seem to me like it took too long. It seemed like a pretty speedy process and didn’t really interupt the flow of the game too much. I thought it was fine.”

THIRD: In the fourth inning, Indians first baseman Nick Swisher yanked the first pitch from Cincy’s Mike Leake down the right-field line for a solo home run. It marked the second day in a row that Swisher went yard for the Tribe. Over his past four games, Swisher has gone 4-for-11 at the plate, following a 2-for-16 showing earlier this spring. With two weeks until the season opener, Cleveland can only hope that Swisher is getting his bat revved up.

“We kind of said it a couple weeks ago,” Francona said, “as guys start playing back to back games, and they string some at-bats together, you’ll start to see them get their timing. That’s kind of the normal course of Spring Training.”

HOME: During Cincinnati’s hectic second inning — the Reds’ offensive outburst included two doubles, one triple and a hit-by-pitch, among other things — infield umpire Brad Myers was the unfortunate recipient of a line drive off the bat of Phillips. Myers fell to the ground in obvious pain and, well, let’s just say he was carted off the field in a three-ball count.

Did Kluber see where Myers got hit?

“I heard him say where he got hit. I didn’t see it,” Kluber said with a smirk. “I’ll leave that to your imagination.”

Myers was replaced in the field by umpire John Trumpane (he had been in the replay truck), who was later drilled in the rump by a throw from Indians Minor League first baseman Joe Sever. Not a great day for Team Blue.

Francona said he had never seen an umpire get drilled in the field like Myers did on Wednesday.

“Never. Never,” Francona said. “Man, I’ll tell you, I don’t think I’d even watch a game without wearing a cup. That’s dangerous, man. He got smoked.”

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Catch up on Cleveland’s camp with these links…

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: March 9

TomlinFinal: Indians 4, Brewers 2

FIRST: If former Indians manager Manny Acta would’ve seen Josh Tomlin’s performance on Sunday afternoon, we all know what he would have said to reporters:

“I couldn’t be any prouder of my little cowboy.”

Acta famously (at least for us scribes) uttered that quote on April 20, 2012. Tomlin isn’t a big fan of the nickname (“Why couldn’t he have just said ‘cowboy?'” he once asked), but hey, what the right-hander has accomplished is something to take pride in.

It’s certainly not lost on the pitcher.

“I feel pretty blessed to be in this situation right now, competing for that spot,” Tomlin said on Sunday. “The main thing I take out of these outings right now is how I feel the next day and how I feel in the outing. So far, so good.”

Feeling good is such a positive for Tomlin, because he missed most of last season while coming back from Tommy John surgery. That operation is becoming fairly standard, but missing a year can set a pitcher back not just in terms of healthy, but positioning on a staff. Once a lock in the rotation, Tomlin is now fighting for the only job available.

In his latest effort, Tomlin spun four shutout innings and ended with five strikeouts and one walk — a first-inning free pass to Jonathan Lucroy that snapped Cleveland’s 20-inning streak with no walks.

“I’ve got to cut down on those,” quipped Tomlin, who had zero walks in 29 1/3 innings between the Majors and Minors last year.

Tomlin — up against Carlos Carrasco, Aaron Harang and Trevor Bauer — for the lone vacancy in the rotation — said he was pleased with his curveball. He was able to throw it for a strike and use it as a swing-and-miss pitch. After the outing, Indians manager Terry Francona sounded nearly as proud of Tomlin as Acta was two years ago.

“I thought he pitched as advertised and how he needs to pitch,” Francona said. “He threw strikes. He kept the ball down. He holds runners. He, basically, doesn’t beat himself. I think the more he gets removed from Tommy John, the more you see him feeling good about himself and attacking the zone. His future is really bright.”

On the spring, Tomlin has allowed two runs on eight hits with nine strikeouts and two walks in nine innings.

SECOND: Say what you will about the fact that it’s only Spring Training, but the Indians have been extremely sharp on the mound to this point. Toss aside the fact that Cleveland is 9-1-1 (with no losses in 10 games), because wins and losses don’t matter. What does matter is getting ahead, showing strong command and putting batters away. The Indians have done that consistently so far this spring.

With Sunday’s win, Cleveland improved its Spring Training-leading ERA to 2.70. The Indians have a 1.08 WHIP and an opponents’ slash line of .209/.268/.327. The team’s strikeout-to-walk ration currently sits at 3.33 (100-to-30).

Francona, pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash preach strike one, and throwing strikes in even-count situations. That’s why there are leaderboards just inside the clubhouse doors for first-pitch strikes and 1-1 strikes for Cleveland pitchers during Cactus League play. It’s a way to motivate and stress importance at the same time.

“You know what? We were actually talking in the dugout,” Francona said. “Normally in the spring, you let guys pitch out of innings just because they need their work. Guys have come in and thrown strikes. They really haven’t had a big inning. Saying that, it’ll happen tomorrow. You know it. But, staff wide, they’ve done a really good job of working ahead and all the things you’re looking for.”

THIRD: The Indians have reached the point in camp when the it’s time to not only build up the pitchers, but give the regular hitters more and more at-bats. On Sunday, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and outfielder David Murphy appeared in their second straight game. Murphy went 0-for-4 as the DH and Cabrera went 2-for-2 with one walk. More and more everyday guys will get consecutive games in soon.

Francona gave Cabrera a day in the leadoff spot to get him his at-bats as quickly as possible.

“That was just to get him at-bats,” explained the manager. “He was playing back to back and I wanted t get him that third at-bat without having him stand out there. I think playing two days in a row, same with Murph, was good for both of them. You’ll see that with select guys in the next week or so. They’ll play back to back games.

HOME: That’s where I will be going Monday morning. I’m flying back to Cleveland to spend time with Mrs. MLB and my two kiddos for the next week. The Tribe beat will go on, with MLB.com’s Doug Miller and Joey Nowak pinch-hitting for me over the next seven days. Indians.com will be in good hands, especially because Miller is a big Pearl Jam fan and Nowak is a fellow Spartan. Those qualities are essential for my replacements. Keep checking Indians.com and give those two a follow on Twitter for Tribe coverage while I’m away. Apologies in advance for the blog being dormant in my absence.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: March 8

Santana2Final: Indians 4, Padres 4 (10 innings)

FIRST: It has been hard to accurately gauge Carlos Santana’s progress at third base up to this point, because the sample size of in-game plays at the hot corner has been so small. On Saturday, San Diego gave Santana a few good tests.

Santana was forced to react to a variety of plays and, for the most part, he looked solid in getting to balls, but still a bit shaky when the time came to make the throw. He’s looked strong in morning workouts, but games have looked like a challenge at times.

“The one thing not to forget is he’s not the finished product,” Indians manager Terry Francona reminded.

That’s certainly fair, considering the difficulty of moving out from behind the plate and to one of the more difficult positions on the diamond. Spring Training is where errors are meant to be made. It exposes the kinks that need to be ironed out. Well, Santana still has plenty of work to do as he tries to prove he can handle third base, if only as a part-time option.

In the second inning against the Padres, Chris Denorfia chopped a pitch to Santana’s left. He moved to the side well, gloved the ball cleanly and made a nice throw for the out. Santana came through again for a 5-3 putout on a grounder from Will Venable. In the seventh inning, though, Santana hit a snag.

Tommy Medica hit another ball Santana’s way, and the third baseman corralled it fine. As was the case on one play earlier this spring, Santana botched the throw. Both times, the throw has sailed high. In this case, it forced first baseman Jesus Aguilar to reach and come off the bag, allowing Medica to reach safely.

“He’s working really hard,” Francona said of Santana. “If he can continue to get some rhythm. At times, he’ll catch the ball and then he doesn’t move his feet. He’s got plenty of arm, and that’s where you’re seeing him scatter a ball every once in a while. It’s still a work in progress. The good news is he’s willing to work.”

Two plays after the throwing error, Ryan Jackson used a sacrifice bunt down the third-base line to move Medica from second to third base. Santana was forced to charge in, scoop up the ball and fire to first on the run. It was the first time Santana has faced that specific play this spring and he completed the play cleanly.

This will continue to be an interesting story over the next few weeks. Francona noted on Friday that he will sit down with Santana within the next few days to map out the plan for the rest of the schedule. One thing Cleveland needs to determine is how much catching Santana might want to mix in in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.

SECOND: Earlier this spring, Indians left fielder Michael Brantley said that there have been times during an offseason when he’s had to stop hitting for a few days. It doesn’t take Dr. Smooth long to get a feel for his swing. Sometimes, maybe he feels primed a little too early. He’s definitely found his stroke early on this spring.

In the tie with the Padres, Brantley churned out four hits: single (first inning), single (third), double (fifth) and double (eighth). For those keeping score at home, he’s not hitting .615 (8-for-13) on the spring. Over the course of his career, Brantley has posted a .325 (82-for-252) batting average.

“I’m stating the obvious,” Francona said. “He uses the whole field and he’s got a nice swing. I don’t know if it matters what time of year it is. He’s a good hitter.”

Brantley is what you might call a “Christmas Day hitter.” He can roll out of bed on Christmas morning, step in the batter’s box and collect a few knocks.

THIRD: Santana and Brantley joined lineup regulars Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera and David Murphy in having four plate appearances apiece. It’s only March 8, but the time has come to start building the hitters back up to the full work load. Francona said the next step is starting players in consecutive games.

“It was nice,” Francona said. “Once we had that long first inning, I wanted them to get deeper into the game and get that fourth at-bat. They’ve been going every other day for the most part. In the next week or so, you’ll see some guys play back to back games and start to get built up.

HOME: The Indians ended Saturday’s game with 11 strikeouts and no walks. That gives the Tribe 27 strikeouts and zero free passes over the past 19 innings (two games). In fact, as of this writing, Cleveland ranked first in the Majors this spring in both ERA (2.77) and WHIP (1.05). The Indians also boasted a 3.46 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It’s only 10 games, and it’s only Spring Training, but these are strong developments.

Now, don’t blame me if the Indians are involved in a slugfest tomorrow…

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Catch up on Cleveland’s camp with these links…

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: March 5

Raburn2Final: Indians 8, Mariners 5

FIRST: In the NFL, a particular kind of quarterback might have a playing style that’s wrong for a certain offense. But, put him in the right kind of system, and he maybe he’ll thrive. You don’t see the same kind of dynamic in baseball.

Maybe Ryan Raburn is a kind of exception.

In Detroit, which tried to capitalize on his solid play as a reserve weapon by making him an everyday player, Raburn struggled and looked overexposed. The Indians snatched him up after an abysmal 2012 season and offered him a specific kind of role in manager Terry Francona’s system.

Raburn has thrived.

From Day 1, Francona has raved about Raburn’s swing, describing it as the perfect swing for a bench. What he means is the simple mechanics can still hold up, even if Raburn is enduring stretches with sporadic playing time. It also means that, used properly (mostly against lefties, in this case), a player like Raburn can maximize his production.

“He leverages the ball,” Francona said on Wednesday. “He uses his legs, his hands and when he gets extended, man. And he uses the whole field. You don’t see Ray pull too many balls foul like home runs. He stays inside the foul poles and he generates the backspin the other way.”

I’m revisiting this topic because Raburn did it again. He launched another spring home run, which has been a relatively common event in his career. Consider that, over the past five springs, Raburn has hit .332 (73-for-220) with 20 home runs and 53 RBIs between his stints with the Tigers and Indians.

Facing Seattle lefty Lucas Luetge in the seventh inning, Raburn drove a pitch to right field, where it landed in the grass beyond the wall.

“That’s Raburn,” Francona said. “You saw earlier, a left-hander hit the ball out there and the wind kind of grabbed it. He hit his through there. That was a pretty strong swing.”

That’s been a trend since Raburn joined the Tribe. Since putting on an Indians uniform, all he has done is hit 23 home runs in 296 at-bats, which covers 2013 and ’14 Spring Training, the 2013 season and the American League Wild Card Game. Last summer, his 16 homers were the most among Major League batters with fewer than 300 plate appearances.

SECOND: Wednesday was essentially a bullpen day for Cleveland. Teams do that every so often during the preseason. Right-hander Travis Banwart got the start, and was followed by Nick Hagadone, Colt Hynes, Scott Atchison, Bryan Shaw, David Aardsma, Blake Wood, Austin Adams and Josh Outman.

Things got a little out of hand in the first inning, when Banwart gave up a home run, double and single to start the frame before recording an out. Later in the inning, Francona used a bases-loaded, two-out situation as an early opportunity for Hagadone to test his revamped delivery with inherited runners.

Hagadone walked in a run, gave up a hit, was charged with a wild pitch and issued another walk before escaping the inning.

“He’s got the new setup and everything,” Francona said. “I think we might’ve caught him off guard a little bit by getting him up early, but that’s part of it. It’s kind of a good test.”

Walks were an issue last season for Hagadone, who has a Minor League option left and is battling for a spot in the bullpen. With lefties Marc Rzepczynski and Outman deemed virtual locks for the ‘pen, Hagadone needs to impress this spring. He did so in the second inning, when he had a one-two-three showing against Kyle Seager (flyout), Robinson Cano (groundout) and Justin Smoak (strikeout).

THIRD: As has been the trend early on this spring, the kids were all right for the Indians in Wednesday’s win. Outfielder Carlos Moncrief contributed a run-scoring triple and shortstop Francisco Lindor chipped in an RBI double. Both are promising prospects for the organization, but Lindor has the added pressure of being a first-round pick (2011).

So far, the 20-year-old hasn’t flinched while under the microscope. He’s collected three hits in nine at-bats early on this spring and now has a .303 average in 15 career Cactus League games for the Tribe. His double in the ninth inning broke open the tie and helped the Indians roll to the win.

“He’s just a good player,” Francona said. “If we would’ve played him the whole game, he would’ve had something to say about the game before that. We tell the kids, ‘You can sit here and eat seeds and have a Coke, or you can be ready to play and go in to try to do something.’ I think you can see that he’s ready to play when he gets in there.”

Francona said it’s still too soon to know what kind of offensive player Lindor might become for Cleveland.

“His season will tell where he’s at as a player,” Francona said. “And we don’t know where that’s going to be. You don’t know if he’s going to end up hitting the ball out of the ballpark, or how many bases he can steal. There’s a lot of room for growth. That’s what’s exciting.”

HOME: Get off the tracks, the Tribe is coming through. Wednesday’s win was the sixth in a row for Cleveland, which is now 6-1 for the spring. As long-time beat guy Paul Hoynes says, “If you can’t hang with the big dogs, stay on the porch.” All kidding aside, please don’t read too much into a Spring Training win-loss record. I say it every spring and I’m saying it again.

What might a strong record mean early in the spring schedule mean? Well, consider that most the big leaguers are out of the game after a few innings and teams turn things over to Minor Leaguers or non-roster guys late. A good record early on can sometimes be a sign that a team’s depth is strong, or that there are some good young players in the upper levels of the farm system.

And, hey, everyone loves a good comeback. Cleveland trailed 5-1 by the sixth inning and then pulled off an 8-5 victory.

“It’s Spring Training,” Francona reminded, “but it’s still fun to see our guys fight back. The young guys did some good things.”

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Catch up on Cleveland’s camp with these links…

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: March 3

Pestano3Final: Indians 6, Rangers 5

FIRST: It is never wise to read too much into any singular spring outing, especially one that only consists of seven pitches. That said, what Vinnie Pestano did in his Cactus League debut can certainly be classified as encouraging.

“They were out there hacking, Pestano said. “I didn’t really get into a rhythm, but I’m not going to complain. That’s the cleanest inning I’ve had in about 16 months.”

By now, if you’re a Tribe fan, you’re probably familiar with Pestano’s story.

Pestano went from the 20th round in 2006 (Tommy John surgery in college damaged his Draft stock) to one of baseball’s elite setup men in the 2011-12 seasons with the Indians. Last year, an elbow issue flared in the spring, came up again in the summer and the right-hander endured a turbulent campaign that  led to crushed confidence and a trip back to Triple-A.

Over the offseason, Pestano gave himself a mental vacation and pushed his normal throwing program back by about a week. That’s why he didn’t appear in a Spring Training game until Monday afternoon in Surprise. What Pestano did not do over the winter was take things easy. He showed up to camp slimmer and extremely motivated to regain his footing in the bullpen.

Pestano lost about 10 pounds and said he “traded” about five pounds of bad weight for good weight. He’s down to 206 pounds after hovering around 215-220 over the past few seasons. I’ll have Pestano walk you through his unique explanation of why he decided to shed some weight.

“The past few offseasons,” Pestano said, “it’s always been about, ‘What’s one thing I can do to really focus on the offseason and try to get better?’ Last year, it was a lot of legs, trying to get my legs stronger. Before that, it was trying to get my upper body stronger. Going into this offseason, when I told myself I was going to take a lot of time off, it was kind of like a car that had a different color door on, and a different spoiler, and it’s got a bunch of patchwork on it.

“And, the next thing you know, it’s just a [crappy] looking car. And so I was like, ‘Do I want to do that? Do I want to keep adding parts on the car? Or, do I want to just strip the car and try to start new? So I stripped the car.”

So, what is he now?

“I’m still a car,” Pestano said with a slight laugh. “I’m still a car with a lot of city miles on it. Same engine. Same foundation. Just better parts.”

Cleveland has never questioned Pestano’s engine. The pitcher is definitely driven, sometimes to the point of taking poor outings a bit too hard. That personality trait only added to the problems that kept piling up throughout last season. After his mental cleanse, and physical transformation, over the winter, Pestano has come into camp saying all the right things.

What Cleveland needs to see now is the pitcher doing all the right things on the mound.

Indians manager Terry Francona liked what he saw from Pestano on Monday.

“Seven pitches. He got in on a lefty,” Francona said. “I think Vinnie felt good about it. It’s something to build off, for sure.”

Pestano’s first pitch induced a flyout to short off the bat of Roughned Odor. Two pitches later, Pestano gloved a chopper from Leonys Martin and tossed it to first base for a groundout. Former Indian Shin-Soo Choo saw four pitches, but went on to ground out to short.

“I’m not going to get excited about a seven-pitch inning in March,” Pestano said. “But it was good. I was able to go out there and locate for the most part. The ball had good action — the type of action I wanted and the type of action I was looking for last year. Having that back, it’s natural, it’s comfortable and we’ll just kind of keep it consistent from here on out.”

SECOND: Francona loves having versatile players on his bench and, if Cleveland breaks camp without a true backup catcher in the fold, that could open up a spot for someone like Elliot Johnson to make the club. The Indians know Johnson can bounce all around the field, but he doesn’t have a consistent track record of hitting at the big league level.

That makes this an important spring for Johnson, who can switch hit and offer a pinch-hitter, pinch runner or defensive replacement off the bench. If he impresses the Tribe, and the club carries only Yan Gomes and Carlos Santana as its catchers, Johnson might have a path to the Opening Day roster.

In Monday’s win, Johnson collected three hits, including a two-run triple. He already has a home run this spring, too. Two other non-roster bench candidates, outfielders Jeff Francoeur and Nyjer Morgan, flashed some of what they can do as well. Francoeur had two hits and threw out a runner at the plate,  and Morgan drew two walks and stole a base.

“In Spring Training, there’s a balance,” Francona said. “Guys have to get ready for a season, but the non-roster guys, this is kind of like the regular season for them. So we try to be respectful and make sure we give them their at-bats and they’re doing the things we thought they could do. Elliot Johnson can move around the field. He can run. Francoeur gets a couple hits today. I hope they all do great and we have really tough decisions.”

THIRD: The fifth starter competition continued on Monday with right-hander Carlos Carrasco logging two innings for the Tribe. Carrasco allowed one run on three hits and ended with one strikeout and one walk. Francona said he was impressed with the right-hander’s outing… when he worked ahead in the count.

“[He was] good,” Francona said. “A couple hitters he fell behind and that’s where, when he works ahead, his stuff is [good]. Like today, his first inning was electric. He’s got the breaking ball and the changeup to go with it. He just needs to keep pumping it to where he works ahead. That’s where he’s going to have success.”

HOME: One pitcher Francona doesn’t sound too concerned about is right-hander Corey Kluber, who has a spot reserved for him in the rotation. Kluber got the start for Cleveland and turned in two innings, limiting the Rangers to one unearned run on one hit with one strikeout and no walks.

“I think Klubes looks good,” Francona said. “He’s strong. He’s on track. It’s just a matter of getting him built up for the season. I think Klubes is going to be just fine.”

——————-

Anecdote of the Day

During our daily briefing with Francona, we were discussing the importance of having a strong bench. With players sch as Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn, Francona can find spots to rest regulars without feeling like he’s losing much at the plate or in the field. The manager said that’s one reason he thinks Cleveland had such a great record in day games (34-20) last season. And then Francona told this story about his first season managing the Phillies in 1997: “I know when I was in Philadelphia my first year, I used to catch some grief about not playing the ‘A’ team on Sundays, because they had this ticket plan. And our record that year, we lost [94] games, but our record on Sundays was better than .500. I used to try to tell them, ‘Hey, this is the only day we win.’ But that didn’t fly. My point was, the guys played and they had energy. We actually played pretty well.”

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Catch up on Cleveland’s camp with these links…

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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