Covering the Bases: Feb. 28

TomlinFinal: Indians 4, Reds 0

FIRST: In Spring Training, when there are six weeks of baseball to cover and only so many storylines to chase, reporters can be excused for getting a little ahead of themselves from time to time. Take Cleveland’s rotation race, for example.

After Friday’s win, during which right-hander Josh Tomlin turned in a pair of impressive innings, one scribe asked Indians manager Terry Francona if this was getting interesting to watch.

“You’re a little early. Shocker!” Francona said with a laugh. “We’re two innings into the spring. But, you’re right, I hope it comes down to the end and we have a really hard decision, because that means guys did well and that bodes well for us.

“But they’ve still got to get their legs under them.”

In Tomlin’s two innings, he scattered two hits and ended with a pair of strikeouts and no walks. In fact, Tomlin hasn’t walked a batter since Aug. 12, 2012. Yeah, yeah, I know he missed about a year in there coming back from Tommy John, but the righty did have 21 strikeouts against zero walks in his 29 1/3 innings in 2013 (Minors and Majors).

“Overall, I felt great,” Tomlin said. “My arm feels good and my body feels good. That’s the main thing I’m taking away from this one.”

The fifth starter battle continues on Saturday — barring a rainout (yes, that’s apparently a possibility) — with Aaron Harang and Trevor Bauer slated to pitch against the White Sox. Carlos Carrasco has been impressive to this point in camp and Shaun Marcum, while still touted as a contender, is limited to throwing bullpens at this point.

SECOND: Tomlin was helped out by a great diving catch by outfielder Nyjer Morgan. In the fourth inning, Ramon Santiago drove a line drive into the right-center gap. Morgan, playing center, sprinted in and called off right fielder Ryan Raburn (“He’s a much better athlete than me,” Raburn said with a smile as he exited the ballpark). Morgan dove, made the catch, flipped the ball back to the infield and was clearly fired up in the moments immediately following the play.

Off the bat, Tomlin thought it was going to be a hit.

“But then I saw him coming in hot,” Tomlin said. “He’s a great player. Seeing him lay out like that, it was fun to watch.”

Francona was also impressed.

“Nyjer’s kind of come into camp, you can tell he’s a little bit on a mission,” Francona said. “He’s paying with a lot of enthusiasm. He’s all over the place. That was a heck of a play.”

You may have noticed that Morgan hasn’t been quoted at all this spring. To this point, he has declined on-the-record interviews. I’ve chatted with Morgan a few times, and he has said he just wants to focus on baseball right now, especially as he competes for a bench job as a non-roster invitee. Just this morning, prospect Tyler Naquin raved about how much Morgan has helped him out behind the scenes. Not talking to the media can sometimes be perceived poorly. All I can offer is that Morgan talks to his teammates and has been working hard in the practices. I’m sure his famous quotable side will come out eventually.

THIRD: Friday also marked the Cactus League debut of John Axford, who signed to be Cleveland’s new closer over the winter. Axford’s part in the afternoon was mostly uneventful (though that’s typically well-received for a closer). He struck out two, induced one groundout and walked one.

“He was pretty good, man,” Francona said. “The ball came out of his hand good. He threw a 3-2 curveball in the dirt, but he was pretty good. I thought his ball had a lot of life to it.”

As for that 3-2 curve, it was the only curve he through in the outing. Axford said he and catcher Yan Gomes decided to try to flip one over, just to begin getting a feel for it. Oh, well. At least he missed low. If you miss with a curve, that’s the way to go.

Axford added that he’s ready to prove that he can be a solid closer again.

“That’s why I’m here, definitely,” Axford said. “I definitely could’ve gone other places and done different things. I’m in Cleveland because it’s proving to be a winning organization. Obviously, with Tito at the helm, too, I’m definitely looking forward to that. It’s a great clubhouse and, obviously, an opportunity to close again was very important.”

HOME: The King of Spring is back. In the second inning, Ryan Raburn launched a two-run home run off Reds right-hander Homer Bailey. Ho hum. Belting bombs in the preseason is kind of Raburn’s thing. He hit six last spring for the Tribe (helping him earn a spot on the Opening Day roster) and has crushed 19 long balls in 213 spring at-bats over the past five years.

“He doesn’t do too bad in the season, either,” Francona said. “That was a good swing. That was a nice swing.”

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Catch up on Cleveland camp with these links…

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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