Antonetti: “We’re exploring all avenues to improve.”

Chris AntonettiIndians general manager Chris Antonetti pinch-hit for manager Terry Francona for Sunday’s morning media session. With the arrival of the All-Star break on Monday, Antonetti used the 25-minute Q&A with reporters to discuss a wide variety of topics surrounding the ballclub at the season’s midpoint. Here is the full transcript from the sit-down with the Tribe’s GM.

Q: What can you tell us about the lefty you traded for on Saturday?

CA: Nick Maronde is a big, physical left-handed pitcher that we’ve liked for quite a while. Recently, he’s had some trouble throwing strikes, but we think that there’s significant upside there and a guy worth taking a chance on. We’re in the process of working with him to put a plan in place and get him back to the guy he was a couple years ago. At one point, I think he was the second-rated prospect in their organization from Baseball America and a couple years ago was a guy we tried to trade for.

Q: Will Maronde go to Triple-A?

CA: We’re still working through that. Some of it will be dependent upon his plan.

Q: Did he have any injuries?

CA: Very minor injuries. Nothing major. More delivery-related. They aren’t big misses. They’re more small misses around the zone. He has a history, when his delivery was in a good spot, of actually throwing strikes and throwing the ball over the plate. We’ll work with him to get him back there.

Q: Are you still in an in-between mode as you approach the deadline, wanting to see which way the team’s going to head?

CA: We’re exploring a lot of different things, opportunities to improve our team for the balance of this season and then position us better moving forward, too. We’ve spent a lot of energy on fits for acquiring guys that we’d have control over beyond this year, not just guys that would just be here for the balance of the year.

Q: How far are Justin Masterson and Michael Bourn from returning?

CA: Justin is well ahead of Michael. We would expect Justin to be back sooner. It could be within a week after the break. A lot of it will depend on how his throwing goes as he ramps it up.

Q: Is it a mental break for Masterson, too?

CA: A little bit. I think what we’d like Justin to do is get to a point where he feels 100-percent healthy so he can get back to executing his delivery the way he was last year and not have anything lingering that could negatively affect that. He’s made progress on that with [pitching coach Mickey Callaway] already. He’s feeling good physical. He has thrown a couple of bullpens and the early results have been really encouraging.

Q: Did you see any warning signs in the spring?

CA: It’s hard in Spring Training, because no player is in mid-season form. That’s part of the reason it’s there, is to get guys build up and ready for the season. You have to be cautious, especially with guys who have had long track records of making any type of evaluations in Spring Training, but when you look back at it retrospectively, you can point to things and say, ‘Oh, there was this, there was that.’ At the time, there was nothing that was that glaring.

Q: Will he go on rehab starts before he returns?

CA: Potentially. He may have to go on one rehab start. We’re in the process of working through that.

Q: Is Bourn’s hamstring a concern?

CA: It’s a concern in the fact that he’s had two injuries to the same hamstring. In talking to our medical staff, they aren’t necessarily interrelated. At the time he had his hamstring issue last year, we walked through whether that predisposes him to future hamstring issues and everybody concurred that it doesn’t. Obviously, he’s had another one and we now need to manage it and figure out what some of the underlying causes are, if any.

Q: Will you be slower with bringing him back?

CA: When Michael has had injuries, especially to his legs, we’ve tried to make sure he gets back as close to 100-percent as possible, because his legs are such an important part of his game. I would anticipate we’ll take a similar approach this time. We’ll want to make sure he’s strong and ready to not only come back, but contribute at the level he’s capable of.

Q: Before the latest setback, did you think he had moved past the injury?

CA: That was the tough part, in talking to Michael. The days preceding this injury were the best he’s felt really since the beginning of last year with his lower body. He was starting to feel like he had that explosiveness back and his legs were completely normal. And then, unfortunately, he had another setback.

Q: Do you have a ballpark estimate on when he could return?

CA: Nothing has changed from the initial assessment, so it’s about the same. We won’t really know until he aggressively ramps up activity. We don’t expect it to be much less than the four weeks that was initially talked about.

Q: What will the rotation be coming out of the break?

CA: We have a sense of it. The first two will be: Trevor will start on Friday and Kluber will start the first game of the double header. After that, we’re not quite ready to disclose yet.

Q: How would you assess the rotation?

CA: It’s still in flux a little bit. We feel we have a good, talented group of guys who are capable of excelling at the major league level. We just need to get a little more consistency out of them. Individually, we’ve seen a lot of progress from a lot of the guys. The first half that Corey [Kluber] had was an All-Star caliber first half. Trevor [Bauer] has made strides. T.J. House came up and contributed. [Saturday] was an encouraging start for Zach [McAllister]. We need to get Masty back on track.

Q: Is the rotation something you’re looking to address through trades?

CA: Potentially. We’re exploring all avenues to improve. The one thing we continue to believe is we have quality major league starting pitchers. Anytime you acquire a guy, you have to think about who it displaces from the team and the rotation, in that case. You have to have a high degree of confidence that it’s an improvement.

Q: What would you like to see in the second half?

CA: Consistency, overall. First and foremost, with our defense. That’s been our one area that has been most challenging for us in the first half. If you were to ask anyone in the clubhouse, that’s the area we feel we have the most opportunity to improve, because we feel we’re a better defensive team than we’ve [shown].

Q: Is that the hardest one to explain?

CA: It is. It’s not for a lack of work. You guys are out there and you see guys taking ground balls and working at it. Guys that have been good defenders in the past, too.

Q: What did you see from Chris Dickerson that made you want to acquire him?

CA: He’s a left-handed hitter with some success against right-handed pitching. A versatile outfielder who can play all three [positions], so he was a guy we felt could complement our team well, especially once we lost Michael [Bourn].

Q: Have you had your eye on him for a while?

CA: We talked about him as a free agent this winter. Ultimately, the way things came together, we didn’t have those at-bats to commit to him in Triple-A or as a major league opportunity, because the way our outfield was set up, we already had three left-handed-hitting outfielders that were going to get a lot of at-bats, with [Bourn], [Brantley] and [David] Murphy. But we had interest in him. We didn’t have the right fit at the right time.

Q: Is there anything new with Nyjer [Morgan] and his timeline?

CA: He got a second opinion last week. We’re still in the process of gathering information from that. All accounts are that they concur with the opinion of our medical personnel. It’s going to be a while. Whether that ends up being at some point in August or September or the end of the season, we really don’t know yet.

Q: So, longer than initially projected?

CA: Probably. The recovery from his knee has been a little bit on the slower end of what was expected, but we don’t have a clear timetable at this point.

Q: What have your impressions been of Brantley?

CA: He’s been really inconsistent. He hasn’t been very good in the first half. Nothing good to say about him. No, it’s been really fun to watch Michael’s continued development. It’s not an accident he’s having the success he’s having. The work he puts in every day to improve himself as a player, it’s evident to all of us who get to watch it. It’s fun to see all the work you put in pay off on the field, in terms of performance. He’s remarkably consistent in everything he does. His at-bats, every time up, he gives a quality at-bat, whether it ends up as a good result or not, it’s a quality at-bat. He takes great pride in preparing and playing left field as well as he does. His arm has been a weapon and has continued to improve over the years. There’s really not a facet of the game where Michael hasn’t improved or an area where he doesn’t contribute. He does all the things you’re looking for in a player and a teammate and a person.

Q: How rewarding is it to lock up a guy to a long-term extension, and then he demonstrates why you committed to him?

CA: You’re always hopeful that’s the case. Different players react to it differently. Whether or not that’s had an impact on Michael, that’s probably a better question for him. But it’s been his continued maturation as a player. That’s why we felt comfortable making that investment, is because we believe so strongly in the person and his approach to things. He’s rewarded that by the effort he’s put in to continue to improve and not rest upon what he did in the past. It’s been fun to see how that’s translated this year and the results he’s showed.

Q: During the spring, you said wanted to distribute the quotes from his press conference to the Minor Leaguers. Did you guys follow through on that?

CA: Yeah, we did.

Q: What do you make of [Ryan] Raburn’s first half?

CA: He’s had a tough time getting it going so far. He was coming off a pretty good spring, where he was swinging the bat pretty well. Once the season started, he had a tough time getting back into the rhythm he was in last year. He’s another guy who works really hard. He’s in there with [both hitting coaches] every day trying to get his swing a little more consistent and translate that to success on the field.

Q: Speaking of maturation, what’s it been like to see Lonnie Chisenhall’s growth this year, especially with how he bought into his role early on?

CA: That process started probably last year. I remember a few conversations Tito had with Lonnie and talked about expectations and how Tito envisioned him contributing to the team. I think that process started last year, carried forward in the winter and then Lonnie came into Spring Training really on a mission. And that was to do everything he could in his power to prepare himself for success and then find some way to contribute to helping the team win the game that night. I think we’ve seen it not only with his at-bats, but if you watch him run the bases right now, he’s arguably one of our best baserunners. He may not be the fastest guy on the team, but he’s very attentive. He looks advanced on dirt balls, he runs first-to-third well. So, to see his continued evolution and development as a player has been really fun to see. Again, it’s not coincidentally. It’s because of the work that Lonnie’s put in to do that.

Q: Is Nick Swisher making good progress?

CA: He is. It looks like his at-bats have improved, I think, over the last few weeks. They’ve become a little bit more consistent. I think we’ve seen, even though he hasn’t always had results, he’s starting to use the whole field a little bit more. He’s had some hard outs to left field and left-center field, hitting left-handed, meaning he’s going the other way a little bit with authority, which has been encouraging to see. Hopefully, he’s heading in the right direction.

Q: Are his knees still a factor?

CA: They were earlier. I think they’re starting to feel better now. Hopefully, that trend continues.

Q: Was the move to put Jason Giambi on the 60-day DL on Saturday more based on being able to add a player to the 40-man roster?

CA: It was. It was to add Nick to the 40-man, but G’s not quite yet to the point where he’s ready to be activated. So, that was the move that made the most sense for us.

Q: Francisco Lindor was moved up to Double-A around the All-Star break last year. Would you consider a similar path this year with moving him up to Triple-A?

CA: It could. It’s something that we’re thinking through right now. I think our focus is trying to really understand and think through what the best developmental environment for Francisco, and there are a lot of things that go into that. A promotion to Triple-A could be something we consider in the second half.

Q: What have you thought of his steady development at each level?

CA: He has. Every step along the way, Francisco continues to get better. It’s especially impressive when you consider he’s always been and continues to be one of the youngest players at his level. That continues to be the case, but he’s a guy that, again, puts in the work and tries to get better in every facet of his game. Whether it’s hitting left-handed, hitting right-handed, his defensive play, on the bases, he’s constantly trying to get better and be the best in all those aspects of the game. He takes such great pride in being a good player.

Q: It sounds like Danny Salazar has been throwing better at Triple-A?

CA: He has. He’s in a much better spot now than he was earlier in the year. His delivery is much more consistent and in line with where it was in the second half. Now, what we’re trying to do is have him repeat those mechanics not only from outing to outing, but inning to inning and pitch to pitch. And, when he starts to veer off, make sure he has enough awareness to regain it quickly, rather than it taking 15, 20, 25 pitches or waiting until his side session after the game to try to address it. He’s made a lot of progress and we’re expecting him to be a big part in contributing in the second half.

Q: Did his fast rise last season possibly throw off his development?

CA: He’s still young and inexperienced. The start of this season was the first time he had any adversity since he came back from the injury. So, he had to work through things and he had to figure out, once things went off the path, how he and we could help him correct those more quickly. I think Danny’s learned a lot about himself going through this process. Hopefully, it’ll allow him to be more consistent moving forward.

Q: Jason Kipnis has been hitting better and stealing bases more lately, but is there a way to explain his drop-off in power production?

CA: It’s probably a better question for Kip. Obviously, he had the oblique injury earlier in the year, which may have affected things. But, I’m not sure that’s still an issue. I think for Kip, it’s just continuing to put the barrel on the ball. I think we’ve seen him do that more consistently over the last few weeks, and using the whole field. When Kip’s at his best, he’s the guy using the whole field and hitting a lot of balls into the left-center and right-center field gaps. I think we’re starting to see signs of him getting back to that point.

Q: Any thought of Carlos Carrasco moving back to rotation?

CA: I think that would be more dictated based upon the situation of our rotation and who our alternatives were there. But, we’ve been really pleased and encouraged by the progress Carlos has made in the bullpen. He’s excelled in that role. We continue to think that, if there was an opportunity to start and we had a need, he potentially could go and succeed in that role. But, right now, he’s played a meaningful role in the bullpen and that’s where we viewhis best fit at the moment.

Q: Why do you think he’s been so good as a reliever and struggled as a starter over the past two years?

CA: Again, it’s probably a better question for Carlos, because I think his stuff is the same. I think the thing we’ve tried to encourage with him is, ‘Have that same approach.’ When [he]s] in the bullpen, he kind of let’s it go, doesn’t have to worry about, ‘OK, how am I going to get this guy out three times or four times? I just need to get him out once.’ So, he he kind of has all-out intensity from the first pitch and he doesn’t have to worry about conserving anything. And I think as a starter, you have those four days to prepare and then, on your start day, you’re thinking not only, ‘OK, I need to get three outs or six outs, but I need to get 21 outs or 18 outs.’ That’s potentially a lot more challenging.

Q: If you make any additions from outside, is there one area of the team that really needs to improve?

CA: It’s actually one of the interesting challenges that we have. I think there are teams out there that have glaring holes at particular spots, that it’s clear, ‘Hey, go out and get a right fielder, or go out and get a third baseman, or a shortstop.’ I think with us, we’re in a little bit of a different position in that we’ve got guys in those roles that are capable of contributing. So, for us to improve, we need to improve upon a higher standard. And, in some cases, we’re counting on guys that we’ve already made commitments to rebounding. So, it’s a little bit of a different dynamic for us as we look to try to improve our roster.

Q: How do you feel about how Francona has handled the playing time and positions situation with Chisenhall, Swisher and Carlos Santana?

CA: He’s done an extraordinary job of managing the entirety of the roster — not just that component of it — because there have been a lot of different moving parts. At different times, we’ve had a lot of different transactions and player moves. It’s been incredible, the way he’s handled that. His primary focus, he’s always thinking about, ‘How do I put players in a position to be successful?’ He spends a lot of time thinking about that. He talks with his coaches about it and he talks with players themselves, too, so they have an understanding of what he expects of them and why he thinks this is the best direction to go.

Q: Given all the turnover in the offseason, has the bullpen been a pleasant surprise?

CA: Coming into the year we thought we had a lot of talent in the bullpen and had some depth there, not only because of the guys coming in externally, but some of the guys we had internally, both those at the Major League level and guys we felt were on the immediate horizon at Triple-A. So, it’s been good to see that group perform so well together. I don’t think you ever expect things to go perfectly as planned. You know there are going to be guys who exceed your expectations, guys that kind of meet your expectations and other guys that may fall short of that. When those guys fall short, that’s when you need to make some adjustments. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve got a group out there that’s really performed well.

Q: Do you think Santana has found a home at first base? It looks like the work he put into third base coming into this year has translated across the diamond. Is first where you see him going forward?

CA: I think that’s one of the great things about Carlos and why he’s so valuable. In addition to being a switch-hitter that can hit in the middle of the lineup, he’s more athletic than it may first appear or for a typical catcher. We think he’s capable of not only catching, but playing first base, third base. Shoot, if we had a need in the outfield, I wouldn’t rule out that he could go out there and play. But I do think we’ve seen the benefit of his work at third base translate into how it’s helped him as a defender at first. He’s actually played really well over there, an above-average first base.

Q: You’re still referring to him as a catcher?

CA: He’s very versatile. His most recent bulk of experience had been as a catcher coming into this year, so we wouldn’t rule that out.

Q: So, you don’t see his days as a catcher being over?

CA: We’re not making any sort of declarative decisions on that. I think with the way our roster is currently constituted, we obviously have a backup catcher here that’s going to fill that role. But, if circumstances change, we’d revisit things. He certainly has the skills to be a very good catcher and he’s demonstrated that over the last three or four years.

Q: Given what Roberto Perez went through last year, what have you thought of not only his comeback, but the season he’s had this year?

CA: Yeah, Roberto, when you think back a year ago and some of the things he was having to deal with that he tried to persevere through, the Bell’s palsy he had and not being able really to close his eye or sleep at night, he was trying to everything he could to manage it with his eyes. He perservered through that, continued to work, made some adjustments actually with his swing. Last year, he started those, continued those this spring with Ty and that’s led to a very productive first half. He’s always been an extraordinary defensive player. He’s a great receiver, good arm strength, quick release. Now, for him to continue to develop and evolve into a player we feel can also contribute offensively, it’s been one of the more exciting stories in the organization, and fulfilling, because of how hard Roberto’s worked at it.

Q: What did he change with his swing?

CA: It gets somewhat technical, but he’s tried to get into a more athletic position for him. His setup’s a little bit different. His hand position is a little bit different, but it’s freed him up to be a little bit more athletic and use the whole field.

Q: Did you consider placing him on the DL last year? Did he insist on playing?

CA: It was hard, because he was able to play through it, but Bell’s palsy, you just need time for it to get back and there’s no clear timeframe and there’s no way to really expedite it. Roberto had to let it run its course. We talked about it with him and he wanted to continue to try to play.


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