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

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