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

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