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Covering the Bases: Game 9

HarveySome notes and quotes from the Indians’ 7-5 win over the Mets on Saturday.

FIRST: It’s rare to start thinking a no-hitter might be in play after one inning, but Mets righty Matt Harvey looked that good out of the chute on Saturday.

Rajai Davis, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor saw a combined 10 pitches in the first, which went strikeout, strikeout, strikeout. Kudos to Davis for actually taking a ball in his at-bat.

The rest of the pitches had the same sequence: called strike, fouled strike, swinging strike. Smell ya later.

“That first at bat,” Lindor said. “Strike one, strike two, strike three.”

The strikeouts didn’t continue like that, but Harvey was no less dominant into the fifth inning. Cleveland went 0-for-13 against the Mets ace before Carlos Santana drew a five-pitch walk. And that, my friends, is where things began to tilt in Cleveland’s favor.

You’ll remember Jose Ramirez’s RBI double to break up the no-hitter two batters later. Or the run-scoring hits by Juan Uribe (single), Kipnis (double), Mike Napoli (single) and Yan Gomes (single). It’d be easy to lose sight of the walk that got things rolling.

“Nothing gets lost,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

Why was that free pass so critical?

Let’s let Davis explain…

“I think he was very effective in the wind-up,” Davis said. “Getting him in the stretch, he’s a different pitcher. I think he was very good out of the wind-up. Deceptive. Everything.”

Consider that the Indians went 1-for-14 against Harvey when he was working out of the wind-up on Saturday. When he was forced to move to the stretch, Cleveland went 5-for-8 with three walks, two steals, two doubles and five runs. Davis said getting Harvey into the stretch wasn’t a huge part of the pregame planning, but more of an in-game development that the Tribe exploited.

“He was just comfortable,” Davis said. “And he hadn’t been in the stretch pretty much all game. And once he got in the stretch, it was like an opening for us. And our guys did a good job of taking care of that.”

SECOND: Santana not only made an impact with his patience, the designated hitter showed off his speed in the fifth inning, too. Yeah, you read that right.

After Harvey walked Santana, he induced a flyout off the bat of Napoli. With two outs and Ramirez at the plate, Santana caught the Mets by surprise by stealing second base. It marked his first steal of the season, but don’t forget he swiped 11 bags last year.

“I think he can run,” Davis said. “He’s got some good speed. I think he can do that a few more times this year. Just keep surprising the defense. They didn’t really think he was going.”

Davis paused and then smiled.

“And neither did we.”

Francona praised first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. for his input and help when it comes to the Tribe’s players stealing bases.

“I thought Carlos’ was obviously huge at the time,” Francona said. “And Sandy gets a lot of credit for helping those guys down there. That was fun to watch.”

THIRD: Josh Tomlin, who hadn’t started for the Indians since March 29, gave a gutsy performance in his season debut. The righty lasted five innings, limiting the Mets to one run (via a leadoff homer by Curtis Granderson in the first) on four hits. Tomlin ended with six strikeouts and no walks in the effort.

Tomlin could have gone longer, but he was dealing with leg cramps from roughly the third inning on, per Francona. After one warm-up pitch before the top of the sixth inning, Tomlin grabbed at his right hamstring and left the game. After the win, Francona and Tomlin both indicated that it wasn’t serious.

“I don’t know if it was just the adrenaline of not pitching for that long,” Tomlin, “but my hamstring kept grabbing at me. I knew it wasn’t anything serious like a pull. It was just cramping up on me when I followed through. That last inning when I went out there, it grabbed at me and stayed there. It wouldn’t really release.”

JRamHOME: Long-time Indians beat scribe Paul Hoynes calls Jose Ramirez, “Boom Boom,” and it fits given Ramirez’s style of play. Ramirez goes all out and has learned to better control what looks like reckless aggression at times. As Francona said once, if Ramirez’s helmet is flying off — and it has been a lot of late — good things are usually happening.

Ramirez has been worked into the lineup on a regular basis — mostly in left field, but also at third base. On Saturday, for example, he began in left field and moved up to third later in the game after Francona changed the alignment after using a pinch-runner.

“Versatility,” said Lindor, when asked what Ramirez brings to the table. “He’s a switch-hitter. He can run, he can play defense, he can play outfield, he can in the infield, and
he is performing well. The opportunity they are giving him, he is performing very, very well. I wish he could continue to do that, because he’s helping us win.”

Boom Boom broke up Harvey’s no-hitter with a double to center field in the fifth inning. In the sixth, he waited on a deep fly ball from David Wright that caromed high off the left-field wall. Ramirez played it perfectly and made a quick spin-and-fire relay to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who tagged Wright for the out.

EXTRAS: Whether it’s 3 1/3 shutout innings or 3 1/3 awful innings, 3 1/3 innings is far too small a sample to draw any clear conclusions. Here’s what we can say about Bryan Shaw’s performance to date: It’s concerning.

Shaw has two good outings and two really, really ugly outings. On Saturday, working with a 7-1 lead, the setup man allowed four runs on three hits in two-thirds of an inning. He allowed two more homers. On the young season, Shaw has allowed nine runs on eight hits, including three long balls. His velocity is actually up a tick from last year, so this appears to be more of a command issue at the moment.

“It just looks like he’s searching a little bit for the strike zone,” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said after the game. “Any time you’re searching for the strike zone,
hoping you throw a strike, bad things are going to happen. He needs to get aggressive, throw the ball over the plate with conviction and live with the results.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

 

Cody Anderson’s horse tale

Cody Anderson walked over from his locker in the White Sox clubhouse on Sunday morning and smiled.

“I think I’ve got a name picked out,” he said.

If you haven’t heard, Anderson recently became the proud owner of a horse.

On Wednesday night in Arizona, Anderson’s quarter horse was born at the ranch he has frequented for the past couple of springs.

Tom and Margaret Bartol run the ranch, where they train and tend to racehorses and other animals. When he isn’t at Cleveland’s complex in Spring Training, Anderson spends his time there, riding horses, roping and helping out. It serves as his escape from the daily grind and stress.

This spring, I tagged along with Anderson to the ranch for a day, along with an MLB.com crew, to feature his unique preseason routine. Follow the link below to check it out.

Anderson’s new horse will remain at the ranch under the Bartol’s care for about a year. The pitcher plans to eventually send the horse, which Anderson hopes to train for rodeos rather than racing, to a ranch run by a friend of his in Oregon.

“He breaks horses,” Anderson said. “So, I’ll get him up there and he’ll find out what he’s good at.”

In the meantime, Anderson needs to come up with a name — four names, actually. Within the first year, he has to submit four name ideas to the American Quarter Horse Association, which will approve one. What potential name had Anderson excited on Sunday morning?

“Little rig,” he said with a grin. “They call me, ‘Big rig.’ So, when I’m riding him, and people say, ‘Hey, Big rig, what’s his name?’ It’s, ‘Little rig.'”

Perfect.

Tyler Naquin — one of Anderson’s closest friends — said someone had another good idea on social media.

“Somebody on Twitter tweeted at him and said name it, ‘Tyler Neigh-quin,'” he said with a laugh.

Groan.

Naquin has also headed to the Bartol’s ranch with Anderson from time to time during Spring Training. The rookie outfielder said it was exciting when he and Anderson both made the Opening Day roster for the Indians. Beyond the Naquin and Anderson families, the Bartols also shared in the moment.

“They’re like second parents to us,” Naquin said. “They’re awesome. They were very excited.”

Anderson smiled when asked how the Bartols reacted to the news.

“Oh man, it was awesome,” said the pitcher. “They were thrilled. We went out to dinner to celebrate. Margaret was glad we both made it, so she doesn’t have to try to to watch two games. Now, she only has to watch Indians games.”

–JB

 

Covering the Bases: Game 4

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox

Some quotes and notes from the Indians’ 7-3 loss to the White Sox on Saturday in Chicago.

FIRST: Reliever Joe Smith used to joke with reporters in Cleveland that we only ever interviewed him after he blew a game. Now, Smith was (still is) one of the best in terms of dealing with media, so it was a jab at us, but one made with a smirk.

A few seasons back, one local writer made a point to “interview” Smith before each game, even if it was just one question. It became a running gag, so a few of us would join in sometimes for scrums that would wind up just being bull sessions. Whether recorders were on or off, Smith was great to just talk shop with in his time with the Tribe.

Now, there’s some truth to what Smith said. Starting pitchers know that they’ll talk to reporters after each outing. Position players can expect to be interviewed after games both good and bad. Closers might get swarmed after a big save. Other relievers tend to get lost in the interview shuffle.

So, it came as no surprise that Bryan Shaw was a little miffed when media approached him after Saturday’s loss. The righty allowed a career-worst five runs in the seventh inning to not just erase Cleveland’s lead, but blow the door wide open for Chicago. He did have a clean inning of work on Wednesday, but Saturday marked the first time reporters stuck out the microphones and hoisted the cameras.

“You guys only want to talk to me when I [pitch bad],” said Shaw, but with a couple expletives mixed in. “Nobody wants to come up to me when I do good.”

Shaw is hardly the first reliever to make this complaint, and he will be far from the last one to do so. It comes with the territory of being in a bullpen.

I will note, however, that it’s not the case across the board. It just might sometimes feel like it, since the bad outings always stick out more in the memory than the good days. For example, reporters in Chicago chatted with Trevor Bauer after his two-inning appearance on Friday night. It was a strong bounceback outing, so we felt it was a good chance to talk to Bauer about his progress. You have to pick your spots. Unfortunately, Shaw found a really rough spot two outings into the season.

Now, the Indians have seen Shaw recover from such performances in the past. Shoot, two springs in a row now he’s had a rocky showing right out of the chute. Then, he settles in and gives Cleveland a durable arm to help set things up for closer Cody Allen. Over the past two years combined, Shaw has a 2.76 ERA in 154 games (140 1/3 innings). That’s pretty good. Last year, Shaw posted a 5.06 ERA in his first 10 games, and then spun a 1.19 ERA through the end of July. August and September had a couple tough days, but nothing like Saturday.

To Shaw’s credit, following his initial reaction to reporters — one that may have been a mix of sarcasm and seriousness — he was accountable and offered no excuses for his performance. Said Shaw: “It’s just one of those things. I wasn’t locating real well and kind of leaving pitches middle. The balls were over the plate. I wasn’t attacking like I should have and obviously we saw what happened.”

Maybe he’ll get on a roll now for the Tribe. If he does, you can bet we’ll be looking into what’s working for him, whether through pitching coach Mickey Callaway, manager Terry Francona or Shaw.

“Talk to you in three months,” he said as reporters walked away.

SECOND: Over the past few seasons, Shaw has been Francona’s primary eighth-inning arm. On Saturday, though, Tito handed the right-hander the ball in the seventh, even when he had fellow righty Zach McAllister warming and available.

Francona’s reasoning was based on the matchups.

The top of the White Sox order was due up in the seventh and Shaw had better success than McAllister against the hitters at the top. Leadoff man Austin Jackson, for example, was 9-for-18 against McAllister, compared to 2-for-7 against Shaw. The first seven batters were 6-for-35 (.171) combined against Shaw, and 15-for-36 (.417) against McAllister. I know, I know. Sample size alert! But, that played into Francona’s thinking.

“Zach and Shaw were going to throw the seventh and eighth,” Francona said. “And it just seemed like it was backwards to me. … Obviously, it didn’t work, but I would’ve felt worse if I wouldn’t have done that. I just thought it was the right thing to do. It could’ve very easily been, Zach could’ve come in and got them out, but in my mind, Shaw was facing the guys he was supposed to.”

Here is how the inning unfolded…

Austin Jackson: Single to left
Jimmy Rollins: Double to left
Jose Abreu: Intetional walk
Todd Frazier: Fielder’s choice 6-4 groundout (run scores)
Melky Cabrera: Single to right (run scores)
Brett Lawrie: Flyout to center
Avisail Garcia: Home run (three runs score)

Francona said he did not consider pulling Shaw in the stretch leading up to Garcia’s three-run home run.

“Not there,” Francona said, “because again, besides falling behind, which a lot of pitchers were, his stuff was fine. We wanted him facing those guys. Garcia hit the home run, but he had been 0-for-8 with three strikeouts, so he had handled the guys he was facing.”

Shaw worked the count full three times — at-bats that resulted in two hits and a run-scoring groundout. He was struggling to command his pitches, but didn’t blame the near-freezing conditions in Chicago.

“I was trying to nibble too much,” Shaw said. “And when I wasn’t nibbling, I was throwing it down the middle. It was just one of those days.”

THIRD: The seventh-inning collapse canceled out the solid work by the Indians’ offense in the sixth and seventh innings.

The first 20 batters to face White Sox ace Chris Sale went 2-for-18 with five strikeouts and seven groundouts. Then, with two outs in the sixth, Francisco Lindor singled and Mike Napoli drilled a two-run home run. One frame later, Yan Gomes led off with a home run to push the Indians to a 3-2 lead.

Francona enjoyed seeing that fight in his offense against a great pitcher.

“Like Nap can do, he can change the game with one swing,” Francona said. “It was exciting. I know it didn’t end like we wanted it to, but that’s nice to see us claw back like that. Sale was starting to kick it in gear. You could tell he was starting to smell it a little bit. He had a little extra on it those last couple innings he pitched.”

HOME: The other negative result of the meltdown was that righty Cody Anderson was saddled with a no-decision.

Anderson worked six innings, limiting Chicago to two runs on six hits and ending with two strikeouts and a pair of walks. It was a very Cody Anderson-esque outing. He gave up a solo homer to Abreu in the third and surrendered a run-scoring single to Alex Avila in the fourth. That was it.

What was encouraging about Anderson’s outing was that — as has been the theme early on in this week’s frigid temperatures — he was working without his sharpest stuff.

“It’s pretty tough, but we knew that coming in,” Anderson said of pitching in the cold. “Yesterday, playing catch, you knew that. I just had a little bit of a tough time there at the beginning getting the ball down. But, overall, it wasn’t too bad. I was pretty pleased with the results, as far as the start went. But, I could’ve made some better pitches.”

On top of his command issues early on, the defense was kicking the ball around (including a throwing error by Anderson). The fact that the White Sox only led by two through five innings seemed lucky for Cleveland.

“We didn’t make all the plays, but kind of like Cody [does], he didn’t get rattled,” Francona said.  He kept it in check, made some pitches with men on base and gave us a chance where, all of a sudden Nap hits the two-run homer and then Gomer hits the solo, and we actually got a lead.

“So, I think it says a lot about Cody and his ability to manage a game and manage the weather, all the things that are thrown at you.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 3

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox

Some quotes and notes from the Indians’ 7-1 victory over the White Sox on Friday afternoon in Chicago.

FIRST: After arriving at my hotel this morning, I had two orders of business. First and foremost, I needed a large coffee. Next, I needed to go buy a winter hat, because it was cold and snowing in Chicago. The good news is you can find great deals on winter hats in April!

Needless to say, it figured to be an interesting day weather-wise for the Tribe. Sure enough, it was snowing a few hours before the game. But, then it cleared up and the tarp came off. And after the national anthem, which included military members wrestling with the oversized American flag — nearly pulled away by the wintry winds — it began snowing again.

It was more of the same during the game: Snow. Sun. Snow. Sun. Snow.

“It was a little bit weird, first time pitching in really cold weather,” Indians righty Danny Salazar said. “And then it was snowing.”

The elements make it tough to get a solid read on Salazar’s performance. We can say this: it was an admirable outing of survival. The right-hander allowed only one run (on a solo homer by Todd Frazier) and scattered two hits. He struck out seven and walked three. And he did all of that by mostly sticking with fastballs (75 between his four-seamer and two-seamer, per PITCHf/x).

Here’s the catch: Salazar had a tough time commanding his fastball. And the weather made things even harder for his secondary pitches. The pitcher said his four-seamer, especially, was problematic in the cold climate.

“That’s a pitch that you just throw it,” he explained, “and you don’t have to do anything different with your hand. So, it’s a little bit hard sometimes, because if you squeeze it too much, you’re going to throw it in the dirt. It was hard to control it. I tried to mix it with my two-seam, when I was throwing the four-seam up. Then, I told [catcher Yan Gomes], ‘I’ll try to throw a two-seam and come back in the count again.’ And it worked.”

A sign of a maturing pitcher is turning in a solid outing even when he doesn’t have his best stuff. On the surface, that’s what this looked like, but manager Terry Francona said it was not that cut-and-dry in this case.

“I think it was not so much maybe not having his best stuff,” Francona said. “I just think the elements kind of play into it — trying to grip the ball and staying loose and stuff. But, he kept them off the scoreboard. He needs to work ahead, and he knows all those things, but we’ll take it. Fighting through a day like today, I know it’s cold, but it feels colder when you’re losing.”

SECOND: Pour one out for the three-inning save. It’s a dying art and we were robbed of seeing one on Friday.

Now, this is where I’ll drop the act and say that the save, in general, is not a great statistic. It’s a great moneymaker for players come the offseason, but there are a lot of flaws to it, and you could argue that the stat has hurt how bullpens are used. Saying that, I also place little to no value on the three-inning variety of the save, other than that I find it neat. Remember the Rangers’ 30-3 romp over the Orioles in 2007? Never forget that Wes Littleton logged a save in that game. A save in a 27-run victory!

When Trevor Bauer took over in the seventh inning, and proceeded to retire six batters in a row through the eighth, we had the possibility of seeing a three-inning save. Alas, Francona handed the ball to Dan Otero, who worked the ninth and got rewarded with a “game finished” for his stats page.

Do you remember the last three-inning save by an Indians pitcher? Try lefty Scott Barnes, who had one on May 23, 2013 for the Tribe. Since 2000, only three other Cleveland pitchers have a three-inning save: Luis Vizcaino (May 27, 2009), Aaron Laffey (May 6, 2009) and Steve Karsay (May 5, 2001).

All of this aside, it was nice to see two strong innings from Bauer, who is still getting used to life out in the bullpen.

“It’s always good to pitch well,” Bauer said. “Anytime you have a positive one, you celebrate it and it’s nice that it came in a team win. … I hope to get back to starting at some point, so I’ll try to pitch as well as I can every time I go out there. But, that doesn’t change regardless of what my role is.”

Said Francona: “Trevor did a really good job. Really, two innings of just really pounding the zone. He really threw the ball well.”

THIRD: With a runner on first and two outs in the fifth inning, Chicago’s Adam Eaton connected with a pitch from Salazar? Or did he? The ball went into stealth mode after it left the bat, toying with center fielder Rajai Davis.

Let’s have Davis walk you through what wound up being an incredible catch:

“Right before that pitch, I could see that the snow started coming down really, really hard. And it was really cloudy there, too. So, it was kind of tough to pick up the ball. Once he swung, I saw his swing, but I didn’t see any [trajectory]. I didn’t see the ball do anything. It seemed like it was all cloudy in the back and gray, so the ball kind of blended in. And then, once I looked in and saw everybody looking at me, I knew that ball was coming my way. So, I just looked up and it happened to be in the blue sky. It got over the stadium and I was able to track it down. I lost it with the snow and everything. There was a lot of snow.”

Davis also delivered a triple in the second and scored on a Jason Kipnis sacrifice fly. It was nice to see the center fielder’s speed come into play on the bases and also in the field. His legs bailed him out on the play in the fifth.

HOME: Francona said Gomes and first baseman Mike Napoli have been discussing and strategizing pick-off plays since Spring Training. We saw the result of their preparation in the second inning.

After Salazar issued back-to-back one-out walks to Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia, he worked ahead, 0-1, against Brett Lawrie. On the next pitch — a swinging strike — Gomes swiftly fired the ball up the first-base line to Napoli, who made a quick tag on Garcia, who wandered too far off the base and stood no chance in his retreat.

Even Salazar was caught off-guard.

“That was amazing,” Salazar said. “I know he gave Napoli an eye or something, to be there. It got me. I was surprised. I didn’t think he was going to throw there, but he did and he got the out. That was huge.”

Salazar then struck out Lawrie to end the inning. After the rally was effectively snuffed out, Salazar bounded off the mound and went straight for his catcher. He high-fived Gomes and gave him a celebratory slap on the shoulder.

“It’s communication between both of them,” Francona said of Gomes and Napoli. “Both of them have to be on the same page, because Nap can’t vacate. But, they did a really good job.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 2

Mike NapoliPostgame quotes and notes on Cleveland’s 7-6 victory over Boston on Wednesday night.

FIRST: If this is what the four-five combination of Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana looks like this season, I think Indians fans will start feeling better about this Tribe lineup.

“Those are two big bats,” said rookie Tyler Naquin.

(More on him in a bit)

In Wednesday’s win, Santana capped off a four-run outburst with a towering blast to the bullpens in center field. He even did a little celebratory dance in the dugout with Jason Kipnis. Santana later slashed a pitch to left-center, and turned it into a hustle double. He added his obligatory walk in the seventh.

As for Napoli, he also drew a walk — ahead of Santana’s towering blast in the first. Following a couple groundouts, which came while Cleveland’s pitching was trying to stave off a Boston rally with little luck, Napoli came through again. In the seventh, with the game caught in a 6-6 deadlock, he put a pitch in the bleachers for a go-ahead, solo homer.

“We’re all going to have to work together as a group,” Napoli said. “It can’t be just me and him. If we do the little things as a group, we’re going to be able to scrap away runs for our great pitching staff.”

Those little things were on display, as they were within the Indians’ lone inning of scoring on Tuesday. Jose Ramirez scored from first on a Jason Kipnis double in the first inning. Santana turned a sure single into that bang-bang double. Yan Gomes went first to third on a Marlon Byrd single in the sixth, setting up a sac fly by Juan Uribe. Rajai Davis stole a base (and nearly two, had it not been for a replay misstep by manager Terry Francona).

Santana said hustling and playing hard has to be the team’s blueprint.

“If you don’t play hard, my teammates will motivate me to play hard every day,” he said. “I’m worrying about winning. If you hustle, and all the players hustle, we’ll be fine.”

SECOND: Naquin got his first start in the Majors on Wednesday and collected the first hit of his career. It was a memorable one, too. Facing Red Sox righty Clay Buchholz, Naquin saw nine pitches in his first at-bat, fouling off four in the battle before yanking a pitch through the hole for a single to right field.

“I’m sure that he probably barely touched the ground going to first,” Francona said. “Good for him. I’m sure that was very exciting for him.”

Consider that confirmed.

“Honestly, I didn’t even really feel myself touch first base,” Naquin said with a smile. “It’s just a great feeling, a very exciting moment for myself and my family.”

Naquin said Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts — “All classy dudes,” per the outfielder — congratulated him after he reached base. As for the baseball?

“I’m not real sure,” Naquin said. “But it’s definitely going to go home back to Texas.”

THIRD: Lost in the wake of this win was a subpar outing by right-hander Carlos Carrasco. It wasn’t as cold as Tuesday, but there were still unpredictable winds and some light rain toying with the players on Wednesday. Carrasco allowed four runs on seven hits in five-plus innings. He struck out five and walked one.

Carrasco also gave up three home runs, including back-to-back shots to David Ortiz and Ramirez in the sixth inning. Apparently, Big Papi’s farewell tour includes one homer per game for the fans.

“They hit some balls pretty hard,” Francona said. “And the ballpark, uncharacteristic for this time of year, was playing pretty small tonight. Balls were flying all over the place. They squared up a lot of balls. We wanted him to get through two hitters in the sixth and he gave up two home runs. So, so much for that.”

HOME: You have to give it to the Tribe tonight. This one felt like one of those games the team would lose a year ago. After taking an early lead, mistakes in the field and some missteps on the mound helped Boston run to a 6-5 lead by the sixth inning. Obviously, I’m generalizing here, but it felt like there were times last year where a mid-game collapse like that would sink Cleveland last year. That made tonight’s win an encouraging one.

There were a few rough moments along the way, though.

After the back-to-back homers in the sixth, Chris Young sent a flyball to left-center field. Left fielder Jose Ramirez and Naquin — with 16 combined innings in the Majors before today (thanks, Zack Meisel, for the quick research) — sprinted toward each other and then… stopped. The baseball plopped in and Young got a “double.”

What looked like miscommunication, though, was more about the elements.

“It was rainy and windy at that moment,” Naquin said. “I even asked Jose. He said, ‘Me no see.’ I said, ‘Me neither, bud.’ We saw it probably four feet above our heads. By that time, it was too late.”

Ross Detwiler followed with two walks and allowed a sac fly to Jackie Bradley. That set up a go-ahead groundout off the bat of Mookie Betts. Third baseman Juan Uribe gloved the chopper, but rather than look Brock Holt back to third, Uribe threw across the diamond for the out at first. Holt, without being challenged, scored easily to put Boston ahead.

“It looked like he kind of realized that he needed to look somebody back,” Francona said, “but he actually looked the other way. Yeah, that was a big play.”

Another mistake came in the eighth, when it looked like Davis and Francisco Lindor pulled off a double steal. Davis made a head-first slide into third and appeared to touch the base before being tagged. Francona moved to the top step, but did not challenge the play. Really, there was no reason not to challenge it, but the manager said — unlike the fly ball — this one was miscommunication.

“That was on me,” Francona said. “I misheard and by the time I realized, it was too late. That’s on me, that’s a bad mistake.”

EXTRAS: We can’t close this one out without mentioning the adventurous final play of the game. With Cleveland up by one and two outs in the books, it was closer Cody Allen against Big Papi. It was a grab-your-popcorn moment for fans.

“I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all,” Napoli said with a smirk. “He’s a great hitter and he can pop it out of the park at any time. And it looks like he’s got some swag going right now and feels good.”

Ortiz took a mighty swing and sent the baseball through the swirling winds to deep left field. Ramirez zigged and zagged and finally stabbed at the line drive at the wall, making a circus catch for the game’s final out. Ramirez pumped his arms in the air after the grab, which sealed the win and a save for Allen.

“Everybody was a little scared,” Santana said. “He did a good job.”

Francona was asked if his heart skipped a beat.

“It skipped a beat a few times tonight,” he said. “It might have even stopped.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Opening Day

KluberSome thoughts on the Indians’ season-opening 6-2 loss to the Red Sox. It was cold, and so were the Indians’ bats.

FIRST: The old adage in baseball is that pitchers are ahead of the hitters at the start of the season. Well, when the pitcher is ace lefty David Price, and it’s near-freezing outside, you can bet it’s going to be even worse for the hitters.

That said, Corey Kluber also has a Cy Young Award in his trophy case and Boston’s batters were dealing with the same elements. In this case, the conditions were the coldest on record (34 degrees) for a season-opening game for the Indians.

“I don’t think the conditions are an excuse,” Kluber said. “Yeah, it was cold out there, but both teams dealt with it. You have to find a way to get it done. I don’t think that that’s something I’m looking to use as an excuse.”

Warm weather. Cold weather. Price simply out-pitched Kluber this time around. The Red Sox ace went six strong, striking out 10 and limiting the Tribe to one two-run mini-rally in the fourth inning. Boston, meanwhile, connected for four runs on nine hits, including a two-run homer by Mookie Betts in the third, against Kluber.

“I was trying to go down and away with a fastball,” Kluber explained. “I just got on the side of it and it came right back to the middle. He did what he was supposed to do with it. I was trying to go down and away and see if we could get a ground ball and turn two.”

The hitters admitted that it was tough to play in Tuesday’s elements. Francisco Lindor said he couldn’t feel his fingers after rolling over and grounding out in the first inning. Jason Kipnis said it was tough to stay loose while in the field. Again, though, it’s not like the Red Sox had some secret to staying warm that the Indians didn’t know about.

“Both teams are going through it. It’s part of the game,” Kipnis said. “If you want to play late in October, it’s going to be cold, too.”

In the wake of the loss, Kluber was in no mood to self-evaluate, either. His pitching line said all that needed to be said. It goes without saying that he was disappointed not to deliver a win on Opening Day.

One reporter asked simply, “How do you think you pitched?”

“How do you think I pitched?” Kluber shot back with a stare.

Enough said.

SECOND: Run support was an issue last season for Kluber, who received two runs or fewer to work with in 21 of his 32 outings a year ago. Make that 22 of the past 33 starts, considering two was all he received this time around against Boston.

To reiterate, though, it was cold — really cold — and the Indians were facing Price.

“We’re going to have a good offense,” Kipnis said. “Obviously, we didn’t hit the way we wanted today. It’s Day One, so that’s all you guys have to talk about and all we have to look at. We’re going to get better.”

Want to find some positives? Look no further than the fourth inning.

Lindor singled and Mike Napoli followed with an 11-pitch at-bat against Price that ended with a strikeout. Napoli reacted such that it was clear he felt it was Ball Four. While it didn’t net a walk, the battle did wear Price down for a moment. Yan Gomes attacked the first pitch in the next at-bat, and delivered an RBI single.

On that play, second baseman Dustin Pedroia dove and got the glove on the ball, deflecting it into shallow center field. Lindor scored from second on the play and Carlos Santana had some heads-up hustle in going from first to third. Santana’s sprint set up a sacrifice fly by Marlon Byrd.

“It was a good inning,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We certainly need to do more than a good inning, but you’re right. We strung together real good at-bats and worked hard for [the runs]. We ran the bases aggressively and intelligently and gave ourselves a chance, where a flyout scores a run instead of just being an out.”

Lindor said that’s the brand of baseball Cleveland needs to play.

“We have to do the little things,” Lindor said. “I don’t think we have the talent to go out there and just show up and win. I think we’re going to have to compete day in and day out. We’ve got the talent to win, but not just to go out there and … be like, ‘All right, we’ll win no matter what.'”

THIRD: The Indians believe Trevor Bauer can evolve into a weapon in the bullpen.

“I think we can use him really any way we want,” Francona said. “If he pitches like he can, he can be very valuable in any role.”

He has said numerous times that he loves throwing hard. Well, no better place to do that than in the ‘pen. And, hey, he hasn’t always done well with the media. While that’s not a big deal in terms of winning or losing games, relievers don’t deal with the public eye as often as starting pitchers. Maybe narrowing his pitch selection and adding some velocity in shortened outings can help with the command issues, too. Maybe.

In the ninth inning, Bauer took the mound for his first relief appearance of the season and… issued a leadoff walk. He led the American League in walks last year and those control woes contributed to the decision to go with strike-throwers like Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin out of the gates in the rotation.

Armed with protecting a 4-2 deficit — making it at least seem plausible that a ninth-inning rally might be up the Tribe’s sleeve — Bauer then allowed a two-run home run to David Ortiz. Career blast No. 504 was a no-doubter to the right-field bleachers. The righty escaped further harm, but it wasn’t a great first impression.

“I thought the ball was coming out of his hand probably as good as anybody,” Francona said. “It looked to me like almost every pitcher was down a couple clicks, because it was so cold. But, he had real good arm speed. He just misfired on that pitch.”

HOME: Not a banner day for the new guys in Cleveland. Rajai Davis, Juan Uribe, Collin Cowgill, Napoli and Byrd combined to go 1-for-15 with 12 strikeouts. There were also two walks and a sac fly, but that was it. Granted, again, they were facing David “$217-million” Price, so let’s not go crazy in reading into one game. Rookie Tyler Naquin also made his Major League debut and struck out as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning.

Let’s let Lindor handle this one…

“We have 161 games left,” Lindor said. “We’ll be fine.”

Stay tuned for more.

–JB

 

Bastian’s 2016 Preseason Predictions

angels (1)Remember when the Angels beat the Nationals in the World Series last October? No? Well, certainly you recall that raucous celebration when Cleveland clinched the 2015 American League Central title. Still no?

Oh, that’s right, because I totally nailed all my preseason predictions last year!

Let’s take a look at the last five World Series winners in the alternate reality that is the annual Bastian Preseason Predictions. Let’s see, before the Angels took the crown last year, the other Los Angeles club, the Dodgers, defeated the Tigers for the 2014 title. Too bad, because that could’ve been back-to-back Series triumphs for Detroit, which bested the Braves in the 2013 Fall Classic. Texas beat San Francisco in ’12 (so close!) and the Phillies took down the Red Sox in ’11.

As you can see — just like all the other experts out there — I am really good at this.

I actually went 0-for-15 on division finishes last season, which I think is a new low. I mean, you’d think I would’ve accidentally got one right. As a reporter who sees the American League the most, it makes total sense that I went 9-for-15 in the National League, including predicting the entire NL Central. I even had five of the playoff teams right.

All of this is to say, once again, take these predictions for what they’re worth: zilch.

I’m not going to pick Cleveland to win the Central this time. The Royals are the back-to-back pennant winners. They have earned the right to be picked first (even if I don’t really think they’ll finish first. Or, maybe I do. Gahh. I don’t know.). Don’t get me wrong, though, I do think the Indians are capable of winning the division, based on their pitching and defense.

Really, the AL Central as a whole is tough to pick this year. The Royals proved they are no fluke, no matter what PECOTA thinks of them. The White Sox have solid pitching and should be better. The Twins are that annoying team that other clubs increasingly don’t want to face. The Tigers tried to bury their problems beneath some big-money contracts. I could see each of the teams finishing first, or last.

With all that in mind, let’s just get to it. Here are the teams I plan to jinx this year.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

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

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

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

NATIONAL LEAGUE

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

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

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

*indicates Wild Card pick

PLAYOFFS

NL Wild Card: Mets over Pirates
NL Division Series: Cubs over Mets
NL Division Series: Nationals over D-backs
NL Championship Series: Cubs over Nationals

AL Wild Card: Indians over Astros
AL Division Series: Blue Jays over Indians
AL Division Series: Rangers over Royals
AL Championship Series: Blue Jays over Rangers

WORLD SERIES

Blue Jays over Cubs

AWARD WINNERS

AL Most Valuable Player: Mike Trout, Angels
AL Cy Young Award: Chris Sale, White Sox
AL Rookie of the Year: Joey Gallo, Rangers
AL Manager of the Year: John Gibbons, Blue Jays

NL Most Valuable Player: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
NL Cy Young Award: Zack Greinke, D-backs
NL Rookie of the Year: Steven Matz, Mets
NL Manager of the Year: Chip Hale, D-backs

Debate away…

–JB

Antonetti, Francona discuss roster


Tito.jpg
The Indians made their final Opening Day roster decision on Wednesday morning, announcing that Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin will be the fourth and fifth starters, respectively. As a result, right-hander Trevor Bauer will begin the season in the bullpen.

Here is the full transcript of the sit-down with Indians manager Terry Francona and Chris Antonetti, the team’s president of baseball operations, from Wednesday:

CA: We will start with Cody Anderson as our fourth starter. Josh Tomlin will be the fifth starter and Trevor will start in the bullpen. I think with that, that covers all of our decisions. Just a little bit in way of background, last year we went through 11 starting pitchers, so we know that each one of the guys that’s currently with our Major League team — each one of those six — is going to make meaningful starts for our team at some point this year. In fact, there’s going to be a group of guys beyond this group that are going to make meaningful starts. But, to start the season, this is the way we felt was best for the team. I think building on the success that Josh and Cody both had in the second half of last season, and what they were able to carry forward in the offseason and this spring, kind of led us down this path. It was a really difficult decision, but the way we look at it is we’re in a pretty good spot to have six starters we feel so good about.

Q: How did you explain this to Trevor?

CA: Exactly that way, that we still expect him to make a meaningful number of starts for us this year. When that happens, we’re not exactly sure when it’ll be, but he’s going to be a big part of our team. It’ll just start in the bullpen, but at some point we all expect there will be opportunities for him to impact the rotation as well.

BauerBPQ: How do you see Bauer being used out of the bullpen?

TF: I don’t see anybody down there not being used in a meaningful role. That’s how we selected our bullpen. Trevor gets left-handers out. He has an arm that’s very resilient. Guys sort of morph into roles, as the season progresses, but he’s not going out there to sit.

CA: Think about Zach McAllister, what he did last year. He became a high-leverage weapon out of the bullpen.

Q: How did Bauer take the news? Seems like something that might not sit well at first.

TF: You know what? We completely respect that. I wouldn’t be happy if I was him today. I don’t blame him for that. I think what’s important is handling it and moving on as a team. That’s part of why we’re here, not just to deliver bad news, but to put the best team we can on the field and also to be there for when guys need help. Sometimes, it might be giving them space for a day. That’s just being honest about it. But, Trevor has had a way of when we’ve had difficult discussions, processing it and coming back and going in the right direction. We’re here to help and so are his teammates. So, that’s the goal.

TomlinQ: Tomlin said it’s the job of the veterans to pull guys aside, see where their head is at and talking through things to get everyone pulling in the right direction. With that said, how much trust is there in the veterans in the room to handle situations like this?

TF: I’ve been asked three or four times this spring about leadership. Because we get to witness things that happen just during the course of days or whatever, I think our guys’ leadership far extends beyond their playing years. They care very deeply about our ballclub and people on our ballclub. Whether you’re best friends off the field, whether you hang out with somebody else, they’re going to do their best to make sure everybody’s a significant part of our ballclub. I think we’re lucky for that.

Q: How great was it to hear Anderson and Tomlin say — before the rotation decisions — that they were willing to tackle any role?

TF: I think we’d be lying if we said we’re not proud as hell of those guys. That’s not just talk. That’s who they are. The easy thing, I think, would’ve been to send Cody Anderson to Triple-A. He has an option. I just think as we talked, and again, this is not an indictment on Trevor, because he had a pretty good spring. But, sending Cody Anderson to Triple-A, I don’t think any of us thought that was the right thing to do. This kid came up last year and right smack in the middle of the season, not only managed to survive, but he helped us win. So, what’d he do from there? He came to the strength camp out here. He continued to get stronger. He’s actually remade his body. He’s throwing harder. He’s actually pitching harder. It’s demeaning to him [to say] throwing. He’s pitching harder. He’s missing bats. He’s getting better by the day. This kid is light years beyond what somebody with his service time should be.

CA: In fact, when we told him today, he said, ‘I’ve got a lot to work to do.’ He didn’t crack a smile. He didn’t laugh. He was just like, ‘OK, I’ve got a lot of work to do.’

Q: Anderson seems like a great organization story for you guys, especially given the strides he made in the past year or so. Is that how you see it?

CA: It’s really cool when you think back to all the people that have been involved in Cody first coming to the organization, and then his development into a successful Major League pitcher. There have been a lot of people that have impacted and helped his path along the way. At the root of it is Cody, and the work that he’s done. When you rewind back two years ago and think about where he was, and where he is now, it’s a direct reflection of all the work he’s put in to get to this point.

Anderson4Q: Do you see his story having a trickle down effect for younger players?

CA: Yeah, it’s a great narrative to be able to share with other guys. So often, I think there’s a tendency for players in the Minor Leagues to feel that there are a lot of things outside of their control and their career just happens to them. This is a great example of how a player can take ownership of his career and make an impact. I think we’ve seen it. It had an impact on Tyler Naquin’s decision to stay in Goodyear this winter to really dedicate and come to our strength and conditioning camps and get his body into a position where he’d be in the best position to have success. Once those things happen with more frequency, they start building on each other.

Q: Given the off-days in April, will Tomlin spend any time in the bullpen early on? Will he get work in on the side?

TF: That’s actually the first thing he said, was, ‘Put me in the ‘pen.’ We told him, ‘You’re the fifth starter, because we think you can handle it, not because you can’t pitch.’ He’s about as strong mentally as anybody you’re ever going to find. So, now it’s our challenge to find the best way to get him to his start, and we’re still working through that and we’ll do that with him. Actually, one option was leaving him out here. He wants to pitch in the cold weather, because he knows that’s going to be his first start. He’s already thought of that. So, OK, if that’s important to him, we need to make that happen. We can do that. We’ll figure something out. We can do something. That’s the one — there’s a lot of nice things — but when he talks to you, he just talks to you, like, ‘This is what’s important.’ There’s no guessing and there’s no eyewash. We’re pretty fortunate. Like I hope today, we’re talking about like Cody Anderson, but I hope along the way, and I’ll need to go in there — I’ve already done it — but Todd Kubacki, he ran the strength camp. Well, you know what? Cody as worked his [tail] off, but Todd’s out here the whole time, and I hope he’s got a little piece of pride today. All that work, looks what’s [come of it]. I hope he realizes how much we realize and appreciate it, because we get to sit here, but he’s sitting back there in that room doing some pretty amazing things.

Q: Given that Bauer’s comments to reporters can be different than what he says to you guys behind the scenes, Chris, what was your take on his approach and mind-set this spring?

CA: I think Tito’s said it, Trevor ultimately had a good spring. I know sometimes there’s a disconnect with what he says in the moment after a game without maybe having the chance to process things, versus how he interacts with us. He seemed to be working on the right things and had a good camp overall. We were overall pleased with it. I think his numbers bear that out. I don’t have his walk totals in front of me, but he didn’t walk too many.

Q: What’s the plan with Brantley in his rehab right now?

CA: Just to make sure he’s feeling good and then build up his volume from there.

TF: He will resume hitting Friday. A couple days of cage hitting and then he’ll be re-evaluated from there. He’s doing pretty well, but that’s the idea.

Q: How much do you appreciate that he was honest about the recent setback?

CA: Yeah, we sat down at the beginning, just in one of our meetings, he said, ‘I just ask that you guys trust me.’ And we said, ‘Michael, we’ll completely trust you. The only thing we ask if that you be honest with us.’ He said, ‘Absolutely. Deal.’ Not that we’d ever expect anything different from Michael, but that’s the foundation of our relationship with him and he just carried that forward here. His honesty is really important, because we we’ve said, the thing that matters most is that we are able to put him in a position to be successful for the majority of the season, even if that means it may not be Opening Day. To Michael’s credit, he was really good about how he communicated every step of the way throughout the process.

Brantley1Q: Did you have a moment of optimism that he might be ready by Opening Day when he got in games and hit the home run?

TF: I think our optimism is still there. He’s so far ahead.

CA: I’m still optimistic.

Q: But, not for Opening Day…

TF: That’s why we were all careful not to ever [say that], because it’s not fair to him. He’s so far ahead of where he was supposed to be, that for us to not be thrilled is wrong.

CA: That’s why you never heard Tito or I focus on the Opening Day. We had, in our minds, we were thinking mid-May as a reasonable timetable, and that it could even be later than that. Michael is so far ahead of that, that we want to make sure we don’t lose sight of that.

Q: Chisenhall, Brantley and Hunter will all open on the DL?

CA: Yeah. Correct.

Q: Hunter just a 15-day situation?

CA: Yes.

TF: He’s another one that, as much as you want to put the reins on him, there’s really not a reason. He’s strong as an ox. He does everything at 100 miles an hour. There’s really not a reason to put the reins on him. He’s getting healthy so fast and he’s throwing the ball. My goodness. Just get out of his way.

Q: Will he travel with you guys?

TF: He’s going to join us in Cleveland.

CA: Not in Texas. He’ll be in Cleveland, but not active.

Q: With Brantley, Chisenhall, Hunter coming back in the near future, does it help to have so much versatility on the roster? You can move guys around to sort out the roster puzzle?

TF: I think it’s something that we value greatly. I don’t think it’s a philosophy. I think you have the players you have and try to make the most out of what they are. But, I think that it’s served us well in the past and I think it will continue to be [a strength]. It’s not just the fact that guys can move around, but it’s also their willingness to do it. That’s a big thing right there. I don’t know how many games we’re going to win. Nobody knows that. But, I love trying to go through it with these guys, because we care a lot about them and the way they do things, we are proud of them. Now, we’re going to have tough times. We know that. It’s inevitable. But, I think we all feel like we can figure it out together and get where we want to go. That’s a good feeling.

Q: The rotation is getting a lot of attention. How much are you looking forward to seeing the group as a whole develop and take that next step this year?

CA: Yeah, I think that’s one of the exciting things for us, is the entirety of the group. Not just the six guys that we have at the Major League level, but the guys even that will start the season in Triple-A or the upper levels of our Minor League system. As we said, last year we used 11 starting pitchers, so we’re going to need that group to be a big part of it. To have a group that is still young and should be ascending and getting better, is one of the reasons why we’re excited to be starting the season.

Q: What’s the feeling like to continue to have Kluber leading the way?

CA: Tito has said this before, but it’s a great thing organizationally when you can point to your best pitcher and say, ‘If you want to be like him, go do things the same way he does. You want to win a Cy Young? Go follow what Klubes does. Watch his routines. Watch the way he prepares for a start. Watch how diligent he is in the training room and in the weight room.’ It’s a pretty powerful message. And, we’ve talked about this before, but it’s one thing for me to say it, and it’s something different for Tito to say it, and more powerful. But, when it’s player to player, that’s the most meaningful way to make an impact.

SalazarKluberQ: How did you read Kluber’s showing last season?

CA: I thought he pitched great. I thought he was one of the best pitchers in the American League again.

Q: And with Carrasco and Salazar, do you feel like their poised for breakout seasons? Similar to Kluber a few years ago?

CA: I thought they both had very good years last year and our hope is that they can continue to build on that.

TF: I think part of what excites us is we think there’s room for them to grow still, and I think they believe that. One is consistency. I think Danny is learning that. Fortunately for us, I think we all feel like he really does want to learn that. I think sometimes it’s unfair to expect a young player to be the finished product, especially with Danny’s lack of innings in the Minor Leagues. But, as they get better, that’s when it really starts to get exciting for us.

Q: Looking at the market for pitchers, how important is the value and control that you have with your starting rotation?

CA: Well, I think it’s really important for us to be successful. I mean, we have the same goal as every other team, and that’s to win the World Series. We have to do things a little bit differently. There are a lot of teams that talk about the importance of developing their own players and having them come from their Minor League system and ascend to the Major League level from there. It’s imperative for us. It’s not just a nicety. That’s part of how we’ll be successful, so we need to continue to do that and we also recognize that it’s not just about, as we’ve talked about before, it’s not just about five guys or six guys. We need to have depth beyond that. That’s our goal. That’s something we’re continually cognizant of and we’ll never be satisfied with. We’ll always try to build up on it.

TF: And the question you asked, like Chris said, we recognize that. But, when the season starts, it’s about winning. Whoever is pitching that day needs to win. That’s what it’s about, regardless of your age or how much time you have in the Major Leagues or who you’re playing. Our job is to win that day, and the quicker they learn that, the better off we are. I think that’s why Cody and Naquin, or Lindor, are being accepted so much in that clubhouse. I don’t have guys coming to me saying, ‘Hey, they’re going to ride on the second bus.’ And we talk to those guys, even way back in their rookie development, the meetings we had with them, that the more the veterans, or the guys who are going through the grind, know that they care about winning, they’ll be accepted. And they’ve all done a really good job of that. When guys come through your organization, even though we may not know them as good as Dave Wallace or Chris Tremie, they’ve earned that trust in the organization, where you hear guys talk about them all the time. It is valuable.

Q: Uribe missed a chunk of spring. Byrd was a late signing. How good was it to have them both come in and have the results they had in a small sample when you’re counting on them right away?

CA: It was great to see, especially with both guys having such a limited Spring Training. I’m not sure it would’ve been fair to expect them to come in and do as well as they have in such a limited time. Now, we just have to make sure we’re smart and thoughtful about how we build up their volume and know that they haven’t had maybe the full Spring Training like other guys have had. But, they’ll go into the season in a good spot.

Uribe3Q: How good was it to see Urshela perform well under the circumstances?

CA: It was really impressive to see the way he handled the news and went about his work every day to try to continue to get better, and not let it affect him at all. To his credit, and maybe even more telling, is he showed up in Minor League camp the very next day with the exact same attitude. That says a lot about Gio.

Q: And how much fun was it to see Naquin seize the challenge to win a job when you guys presented that to him?

CA: We talked about it at the beginning of camp. We sat here and said, ‘Hey, we’re looking forward to seeing which guys take advantage of the opportunity.’ To Tyler’s credit, he seized that opportunity. We touched on this before, but one of the things that gets lost is he prepared for it. He spent all winter knowing that, ‘I want to do everything I can to be in the position to be successful when Major League Spring Training comes around.’ So, he put in the work leading up to that and then took advantage of the opportunity. Those are exciting things for us, especially to see a guy like Tyler, who’s had to battle some injuries in the past, to be able to come to camp in such a good spot. It’s really a credit to him and the work that he did.

TF: I don’t think that can be stressed enough. When we told him he was competing, you could see him light up, but he didn’t have to panic. He had so much to fall back on, because he had worked so hard. He was ready. I think that creates confidence.

Q: Will Almonte stay here and get at-bats in extended spring?

CA: Yes. He’ll stay here in extended spring.

TF: He’ll translate more to baseball when we get out of here. He’s been working hard.

–JB

Opening Day roster taking shape

TitoCAThis can be a tense time during Spring Training. On most days, the clubhouse is buzzing with conversations, card games and music. This week, the room has been noticeably quiet. These are the days when the tap on the shoulder arrives, followed by the walk to the manager’s office.

You’ll see some subtle handshakes or slaps on the back — signs that Player X just received some good news. But, the celebrations in the clubhouse are always subdued, because good news for one player usually means bad news for another. And that player might be sitting at his locker, calling his family or agent to figure out his future.

On Monday morning, the locker room was a little more lively again, as the bulk of Cleveland’s Opening Day roster has come into focus. Most, if not all, of the players know their fate by now, even if the news hasn’t been made public.

Indians manager Terry Francona went through a few of the team’s decisions with reporters. Let’s walk through where the team stands with a week left until Opening Day.

What we already knew…

First basemen Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana, second baseman Jason Kipnis, shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman Juan Uribe will make up the infield. Jose Ramirez will make the team as a utility man, backing up second, short, third, left and center. Catchers Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez are on the team, along with outfielders Rajai Davis and Tyler Naquin.

The rotation will include Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin are on the team in some capacity. Closer Cody Allen will be joined in the bullpen by Bryan Shaw, Zach McAllister, Jeff Manship, Joba Chamberlain and Ross Detwiler.

Despite his efforts to get ready for Opening Day, left fielder Michael Brantley will open the season on the 15-day disabled list. That was the expectation months ago, so — aside from a brief period of optimism when he appeared in games — this really isn’t a surprise. The Indians need him strong for as long as possible, so it’d make zero sense to rush him back.

What we learned Monday…

Right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall will open on the 15-day DL…

And it won’t be due to the right forearm tightness that’s bothered him off and on this spring. No, Francona said Chisenhall is now dealing with a left wrist issue (the team described it as an impingement) that may be the result of compensating for the forearm while swinging. Either way, Chisenhall was short on spring at-bats and struggling at the plate. This decision buys him time to get more at-bats and get back to full strength. It also make sense given that the Indians open with series against the Red Sox and White Sox, who both feature a bunch of lefties. Chisenhall would’ve likely been on the bench for most of those games.

Collin Cowgill and Marlon Byrd win Opening Day jobs…

They both might have earned spots even without the Chisenhall development, but that news secured their place on the roster. The Indians like Cowgill, because he can provide depth at all three spots and offer a decent bat against lefties. He can also be disruptive on the basepaths. Byrd offers power and has shown this spring in limited at-bats that his swing is doing just fine. He can play right field while Chisenhall is out and, while he performs better against lefties, he can play against right-handers, too.

This means the Indians can conceivably carry an extra pitcher…

Intrigue! Francona said that, yes, the Chisenhall news might open the door for an extra pitcher. Prior to today, it looked like a five-man rotation and seven-man bullpen was pretty much locked in. What does this mean? Well, looking at the pitcher left in camp, it seems as though Josh Tomlin AND Cody Anderson could make the Opening Day roster. That is, of course, unless Cleveland has something else up its sleeve.

Dan Otero will be in the bullpen, while Kyle Crockett goes to Triple-A…

This one sort of rounds out the relief corps. In a seven-man scenario, Otero (without options) is the last man in. Crockett (with options) heads to Triple-A. That move maintains a layer of depth to start the season and also allowed Crockett to get regular work in the Minors. Francona pointed to all the April off-days and said Crockett could benefit from a more predictable schedule in the Minors before rejoining the big league bullpen.

The Indians aren’t ready to name their fifth starter…

Given the roster moves and decisions, it sure looks like Tomlin and Anderson can both be carried come Opening Day. Maybe Anderson gets the fifth spot and Tomlin heads to the ‘pen as a long man? I also asked Francona if Bauer — the presumed No. 4 arm — might actually be the fifth starter. The manager sidestepped the question, saying it was a good question to ask, but quickly adding that Cleveland is not ready to reveal the final makeup of its staff. Could this also potentially mean Bauer might be an option for the bullpen?

A big reason for Francona’s hesitation to announce anything is the nature of Tuesday’s schedule. Cleveland has an afternoon game in Tempe (Bauer is starting) and a night game in Goodyear (Tomlin is starting). Francona wants to get through that complicated day before setting anything in stone. But, if Cleveland believes Anderson or Tomlin give the team a better chance to win, I could see Bauer opening as the fifth, or even in the ‘pen.

We might not have real clarity on this one until Wednesday morning.

Robbie Grossman will not make the team…

The Indians liked Grossman a lot and hope to keep him in the Minor Leagues. Francona called this decision “one of the toughest” among the position players. Grossman, who can opt out of his Minor League contract on Tuesday, has been given the chance to explore other opportunities by Cleveland.

Lefty Tom Gorzelanny will stay with the team…

Francona said Cleveland was “thrilled” that Gorzelanny has agreed to stay in the Minors. The lefty pitcher will received a $100,000 retention bonus and will have a June 1 opt-out clause, if he isn’t in the Majors by then. The Indians explained to Gorzelanny that just because he isn’t on the Opening Day roster doesn’t mean he won’t be in the Majors at some point. The most recent example is Manship. He was coming off a horrid 2014, signed a Minors deal with the Tribe, went to the Minors and then earned his way to the Majors and is now locked into the bullpen for ’16.

What will need to happen…

The Indians are currently at capacity with their 40-man roster, but have informed three non-roster players (Byrd, Chamberlain and Detwiler) that they will be on the Opening Day roster. That means three roster spots need to be cleared, and there will be some tough decisions to make along those lines. I’m not sure if Tommy Hunter is a 60-day DL candidate, given his return date has been estimated at May. It would stun me if Brantley went on the 60-day DL, given the progress he made until the recent setback. That means three players could have a tough phone call coming from Cleveland.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

The Tito Translator

TitoMillsyPitchers, catchers, position players and cliches have all reported to Spring Training. That last group is already in mid-season form in the early portion of the preseason schedule.

MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince captured plenty of the spring cliches heard annually, and it got me thinking. There are some cliches or phrases that are a little more common in certain places. Here in Goodyear, we’re getting our daily dose of Tito-isms, for example.

There are plenty of reporters well-versed in Franconaspeak, but I thought it’d be helpful for you the reader to have a handy guide available to understand the meaning behind his many go-to lines. You could even create a Tito Bingo card and play along at home during press conferences.

Here are a few squares for your Tito Bingo board:

1. “Oh boy.”

This one is often followed by, “I wasn’t ready for that.” Mom always said there was no such thing as a stupid question, but when Tito drops an “Oh boy” on you, you wonder if mom might’ve been wrong. This one can have two meanings. First, it can simply mean that you caught the veteran manager off-guard with your question. He has a good sense of what questions he’ll hear each day, but one out of left field might generate an “Ohh, boy” as he collects his thoughts. The other explanation is that, yes, you just asked a really stupid question.

2. “To your point…”

This one is also in response to a reporter’s question. This will typically come in the second part of an answer. The first part is how Francona feels about the issue that was addressed in the question. When he says, “To your point” and continues on, it usually means he didn’t necessarily agree with your take, but he sees where you’re coming from. Hey, at least it wasn’t a stupid question.

3. “I’m not going to make out my [lineup/rotation] on [insert date].”

This is when a reporter has put the ol’ cart ahead of the horse. You want to know who’s going to hit leadoff? It’s best to ask closer to an actual game. Who’s going to be the No. 3 starter? Hey, somebody might get hurt tomorrow and change the plans. Rather than throw out lineups or rotation orders that could change depending on injuries, additions or other outside factors, Tito will say this to politely hint that you’re getting a little too far ahead of yourself.

4. “Guys get to their levels.”

You’ll hear this one during Spring Training and during the season. It’s usually in response to a discussion about a slumping hitter, or a hitter who is coming off a season with two drastically different sections. A player’s season batting average is called an average for a reason and, more often than not, that average should fall within an expected range by the end of a season. Some guys go through peaks and valleys. Some guys stay consistent. One way or another, “guys get to their levels.”

5. “I think [insert player name] will come back with a vengeance.”

Jason Kipnis was the posterboy for this phrase in 2015. Following Kipnis’ rough ’14 showing — one impacted by injuries — Francona insisted that the second baseman would “come back with a vengeance.” When Kipnis roared out of the gates in 2015 and made the All-Star team, Tito went back to his predication a few times: “I said he’d come back with a vengeance, and he did exactly that.” This year, I would wager that catcher Yan Gomes will star in Come Back With a Vengeance 2.

6. “I wouldn’t say ‘surprised.'”

A default question a lot of times for reporters — and I’m definitely guilty of this one, too — is asking, “Were you surprised that [so-and-so did whatever he did]?” It’s usually about a breakout showing or career year. Example: “Were you surprised by Francisco Lindor’s power in 2015?” Well, guess what? Francona will rarely admit to being “surprised,” because that makes it sound like he had low expectations. He is a manager and he expects the best out of his players. So, even if he was surprised, he wasn’t surprised. Got it?

7. “He’s a baseball player.”

Well, aren’t they all baseball players? Every person who wears a Cleveland Indians uniform is indeed a baseball player, but some of those baseball players are “baseball players.” Just the other day, Francona used this one to describe Mike Napoli. Tito even took it to a new level: “He’s a down-and-dirty baseball player.” What does it mean? It means the player in question has great instincts, that he does more reacting than thinking, and he does so well, when he’s out on the field. He’ll get his uniform dirty and do whatever it takes to put the team first and his own stats second. Another go-to descriptor for a “baseball player” is that he’s “conscientious.” Tito used that one for Michael Bourn all the time. Once, I asked Francona, “When you say he’s a ‘baseball player,’ what do you mean exactly?” He replied: “You know, he’s just a baseball player.” And I nodded.

8. “I’m just happy that there’s people smarter than me who are working on it.”

When Major League Baseball institutes a new rule, or if there is a league-wide issue under debate and potentially in need of change, Francona often slips into self-deprecating mode in his quotes. A lot of times, it means Francona wants to gather more information before expressing an opinion. Do not be fooled. Francona is plenty smart and plenty of MLB’s decision-makers will seek his input, given his wealth of experience and success in the game, while discussing changes for rules or other areas. Francona would just rather those people handle the bulk of the answers, so he’s “happy they’re smarter” than him.

9. “Crisp.”

There is the old, familiar cliche that a “ball was coming out of his hand good.” Well, Francona has his own variation. Often, when he’s asked about a pitcher who had a good game or threw a good bullpen session, the manager will say that pitcher looked “crisp” It’s also a way of avoiding the nitty-gritty details of what a pitcher was doing mechanically. Francona is, after all, a former hitter. If you want specifics on the in-depth nature of the pitcher in question, it’s best to go to pitching coach Mickey Callaway. And, more often than not, Callaway will agree. That guy did look crisp.

10. “What day is it?”

Ding! Ding! Ding! You must have just asked Francona if a player has reached [milestone X] in his rehab from [insert injury]. Each day, the manager meets with his training and medical staff, along with the coaches, to go over a variety of schedules. And, if you know anything about baseball, it’s Groundhog Day out here. I’m not sure what day it is, either. Once, I wrote multiple stories with “on Wednesday” in each one, and my editor finally e-mailed me and said, “You know it’s Sunday, right?” Nope. I didn’t know that. Once you are able to remind Tito what day it is (if you remember correctly yourself), he can then proceed to give you the player’s timetable in question.

11. Tito nickname generator

How Francona develops a nickname is not always as simple as adding a “y” to the end of a name. For many years, I had a coach refer to me as “Jordy,” for example. With Tito, he might replace an “r” with an “s,” or replace an “s” with an “r.” Two examples of those are Klubes (see: Corey Kluber) and Gomer (see: Yan Gomes). They “y” is common for his coaches: Millsy, Sarby, and Mickey and Sandy, by default. Or, maybe Francona will just call you by a letter. There’s “G” for Jason Giambi or “Q” for assistant hitting coach Matt Quatraro. Others on the Indians are ‘Berto (Roberto Perez), ‘Los (Carlos Santana), Kip, Frankie (Francisco Lindor) and, most recently, Nake (as in, Naq, for Tyler Naquin). Mossy, Bourney, Mikey and Murph are missed.

–JB

 

 

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