Covering the Bases: March 3

Pestano3Final: Indians 6, Rangers 5

FIRST: It is never wise to read too much into any singular spring outing, especially one that only consists of seven pitches. That said, what Vinnie Pestano did in his Cactus League debut can certainly be classified as encouraging.

“They were out there hacking, Pestano said. “I didn’t really get into a rhythm, but I’m not going to complain. That’s the cleanest inning I’ve had in about 16 months.”

By now, if you’re a Tribe fan, you’re probably familiar with Pestano’s story.

Pestano went from the 20th round in 2006 (Tommy John surgery in college damaged his Draft stock) to one of baseball’s elite setup men in the 2011-12 seasons with the Indians. Last year, an elbow issue flared in the spring, came up again in the summer and the right-hander endured a turbulent campaign that  led to crushed confidence and a trip back to Triple-A.

Over the offseason, Pestano gave himself a mental vacation and pushed his normal throwing program back by about a week. That’s why he didn’t appear in a Spring Training game until Monday afternoon in Surprise. What Pestano did not do over the winter was take things easy. He showed up to camp slimmer and extremely motivated to regain his footing in the bullpen.

Pestano lost about 10 pounds and said he “traded” about five pounds of bad weight for good weight. He’s down to 206 pounds after hovering around 215-220 over the past few seasons. I’ll have Pestano walk you through his unique explanation of why he decided to shed some weight.

“The past few offseasons,” Pestano said, “it’s always been about, ‘What’s one thing I can do to really focus on the offseason and try to get better?’ Last year, it was a lot of legs, trying to get my legs stronger. Before that, it was trying to get my upper body stronger. Going into this offseason, when I told myself I was going to take a lot of time off, it was kind of like a car that had a different color door on, and a different spoiler, and it’s got a bunch of patchwork on it.

“And, the next thing you know, it’s just a [crappy] looking car. And so I was like, ‘Do I want to do that? Do I want to keep adding parts on the car? Or, do I want to just strip the car and try to start new? So I stripped the car.”

So, what is he now?

“I’m still a car,” Pestano said with a slight laugh. “I’m still a car with a lot of city miles on it. Same engine. Same foundation. Just better parts.”

Cleveland has never questioned Pestano’s engine. The pitcher is definitely driven, sometimes to the point of taking poor outings a bit too hard. That personality trait only added to the problems that kept piling up throughout last season. After his mental cleanse, and physical transformation, over the winter, Pestano has come into camp saying all the right things.

What Cleveland needs to see now is the pitcher doing all the right things on the mound.

Indians manager Terry Francona liked what he saw from Pestano on Monday.

“Seven pitches. He got in on a lefty,” Francona said. “I think Vinnie felt good about it. It’s something to build off, for sure.”

Pestano’s first pitch induced a flyout to short off the bat of Roughned Odor. Two pitches later, Pestano gloved a chopper from Leonys Martin and tossed it to first base for a groundout. Former Indian Shin-Soo Choo saw four pitches, but went on to ground out to short.

“I’m not going to get excited about a seven-pitch inning in March,” Pestano said. “But it was good. I was able to go out there and locate for the most part. The ball had good action — the type of action I wanted and the type of action I was looking for last year. Having that back, it’s natural, it’s comfortable and we’ll just kind of keep it consistent from here on out.”

SECOND: Francona loves having versatile players on his bench and, if Cleveland breaks camp without a true backup catcher in the fold, that could open up a spot for someone like Elliot Johnson to make the club. The Indians know Johnson can bounce all around the field, but he doesn’t have a consistent track record of hitting at the big league level.

That makes this an important spring for Johnson, who can switch hit and offer a pinch-hitter, pinch runner or defensive replacement off the bench. If he impresses the Tribe, and the club carries only Yan Gomes and Carlos Santana as its catchers, Johnson might have a path to the Opening Day roster.

In Monday’s win, Johnson collected three hits, including a two-run triple. He already has a home run this spring, too. Two other non-roster bench candidates, outfielders Jeff Francoeur and Nyjer Morgan, flashed some of what they can do as well. Francoeur had two hits and threw out a runner at the plate,  and Morgan drew two walks and stole a base.

“In Spring Training, there’s a balance,” Francona said. “Guys have to get ready for a season, but the non-roster guys, this is kind of like the regular season for them. So we try to be respectful and make sure we give them their at-bats and they’re doing the things we thought they could do. Elliot Johnson can move around the field. He can run. Francoeur gets a couple hits today. I hope they all do great and we have really tough decisions.”

THIRD: The fifth starter competition continued on Monday with right-hander Carlos Carrasco logging two innings for the Tribe. Carrasco allowed one run on three hits and ended with one strikeout and one walk. Francona said he was impressed with the right-hander’s outing… when he worked ahead in the count.

“[He was] good,” Francona said. “A couple hitters he fell behind and that’s where, when he works ahead, his stuff is [good]. Like today, his first inning was electric. He’s got the breaking ball and the changeup to go with it. He just needs to keep pumping it to where he works ahead. That’s where he’s going to have success.”

HOME: One pitcher Francona doesn’t sound too concerned about is right-hander Corey Kluber, who has a spot reserved for him in the rotation. Kluber got the start for Cleveland and turned in two innings, limiting the Rangers to one unearned run on one hit with one strikeout and no walks.

“I think Klubes looks good,” Francona said. “He’s strong. He’s on track. It’s just a matter of getting him built up for the season. I think Klubes is going to be just fine.”


Anecdote of the Day

During our daily briefing with Francona, we were discussing the importance of having a strong bench. With players sch as Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn, Francona can find spots to rest regulars without feeling like he’s losing much at the plate or in the field. The manager said that’s one reason he thinks Cleveland had such a great record in day games (34-20) last season. And then Francona told this story about his first season managing the Phillies in 1997: “I know when I was in Philadelphia my first year, I used to catch some grief about not playing the ‘A’ team on Sundays, because they had this ticket plan. And our record that year, we lost [94] games, but our record on Sundays was better than .500. I used to try to tell them, ‘Hey, this is the only day we win.’ But that didn’t fly. My point was, the guys played and they had energy. We actually played pretty well.”


Catch up on Cleveland’s camp with these links…

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Covering the Bases: March 2

Bauer3Final: Indians 6, Mariners 3

FIRST: During Trevor Bauer’s first live batting practice session of the spring, the onlookers standing behind the batting cage unknowingly created a buffer zone. Usually, teammates and coaches lean on the cage. In this case, there was about a one- or two-foot gap between the cage and everyone watching Bauer throw.

That right there summed up the kind of control problems we’ve all seen from Bauer since he joined the Indians.

As Bauer worked through the session, one by one, people started moving closer. His command came and went that day, and the same was true for the next BP round and his first Cactus League appearance. On Sunday, something seemed to click.

“That’s by far the best he’s thrown,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Bauer’s outing against the Mariners. “He looked like he had conviction with his fastball and worked ahead. He threw some fastballs down and then he spun his breaking ball off of it. That was really exciting.”

But he gave up a monstrous home run to Dustin Ackley.

“There’s a big ‘but’ there,” Francona said. “That’s where Spring Training is wonderful. He fell behind, he paid for it, but it’s Spring Training.”

The homer by Ackley was majestic. It carried deep to center field and struck the green backdrop about halfway up the wall. Bauer knew it was a goner as soon as it hit the bat, but the pitcher did something he doesn’t normally do. He turned to watch.

“The only question was was, ‘Would it go over the batter’s eye?'” Bauer said. “I originally wasn’t going to watch it, but then I was like, ‘That might go over. That might be impressive.’ So I turned around. He hit it and it was like, ‘Ah, well. Give me a new ball.'”

The home run aside, Bauer was encouraged by his performance. Over the past year, he’s worked hard on retooling his mechanics and regaining a comfort level with the changes. That kind of comfort tends to come before command, and Bauer said the command only comes when there is trust in the mechanics.

“The ball was going over the plate, which was nice,” Bauer said. “I’m weird, though. When I try to command the ball, I don’t command it very well. So, I kind of have to go out there and just let it rip and trust that it will go over the plate. That’s why, when I didn’t really trust my delivery [last season], it was tough to throw strikes. That trust factor wasn’t there.”

On Sunday, the trust factor returned for Bauer’s two innings, in which he struck out two and walked none. It was a positive development for the Indians, who are giving Bauer a chance to compete against Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Aaron Harang for the lone vacancy in the rotation Harang also pitched Sunday (Francona called it another “crisp” performance), giving the Tribe two innings with one run allowed.

SECOND: As is the case every spring, some young players have come through with some highlight-reel moments so far. Carlos Moncrief had his great catch in the opener. On Thursday, 2012 first-rounder Tyler Naquin launched a home run. In Sunday’s win, top prospect, Francisco Lindor, came through with a three-run blast that pushed the Indians to a win.

It was a homer that probably had Tribe fans daydreaming about his future at shortstop.

“It was a good swing. It’s exciting for us to see that,” Francona said. “We get a kick out of that every day when one of our young kids does something. It just makes the games more fun. I know we talk about it all the time, but we love when our young guys play. It’s fun to watch them have some success, even if it’s just Spring Training.”

This is when I remind you that, no, Lindor won’t be stealing Asdrubal Cabrera’s job as the starting shortstop this spring. Lindor will open the year at either Double-A or Triple-A, considering he only played a few weeks at Double-A in the second half last year before being shut down with a back injury. Lindor is very much on Cleveland’s radar, but his development path points to a late-2014 or 2015 MLB debut.

Be patient, folks.

THIRD: On Sunday morning, Francona was asked what the Indians would be watching while evaluating Carlos Santana at third base.

“You try to watch and see what he reacts to, everything, even balls that aren’t hit to him,” Francona said prior to Sunday’s game. “Is he moving? Is he reacting to a play? Is he reacting to the bat? So far, he seems to be just fine. I know in winter ball, all the reports were that he didn’t look out of position.”

Francona then dropped the jinx on Santana with this gem: “His arm is probably as good as anybody’s in the league. He’s shed all the gear and he still has that arm strength. It’s pretty impressive.”

Naturally, Santana received his first grounder of the spring later in the day and it was his arm that did some damage to the play.

Corey Hart chopped a pitch to the left side of the infield, where Santana moved in front of the ball and waited to corral it. The ball took a little longer to get to Santana than it looked like it would off the bat, and the catcher-turned-third baseman appeared to fumble his grip as he made the transfer. Santana’s throw to first baseman Nick Swisher sailed high, and Swisher’s leaping grab-and-tag attempt didn’t work. Hart was safe, and Santana collected his first E-5 of 2014.

“I think coming out of his glove, he just didn’t have it and he took another shuffle,” said Francona, who then smirked.  “Right after I was just talking about his arm…”

HOME: Indians outfielder Michael Brantley collected three hits in Sunday’s victory. That’s old hat for Brantley in Sping Training. He hit .354 in 18 spring games last year and has a .317/.378/.444 slash line in 92 career preseason games. Francona said it doesn’t seem to take Brantley much time to get his swing ready for a season, because the left fielder’s approach is so simplistic.

“Hitting is hard, but his mechanics are so simple,” Francona said. “I think he probably gets ready quicker more than other guys, because his swing, he can repeat it so often. There’s not a lot of moving parts. He did the same thing last year.”

Brantley’s swing has also helped him develop into one of the game’s top contact hitters, which might help explain his solid career marks in “clutch” scenarios. All he does is put the ball in play. Last season, Brantley ranked first in the American League and fifth in baseball with a 90.1-percent contact rate. In 2012, Brantley ranked third in the AL and fourth overall in baseball with a 91.5-percent contact rate.

That is one reason why Francona enjoys bouncing Brantley throughout a lineup. He’s a great protection hitter no matter where he’s slotted in.


Anecdote of the Day


During the media’s daily sit-down with Indians manager Terry Francona, a muted television behind him was tuned into Sportscenter. ESPN was running a special on the late Marge Schott, the former owner of the Reds who passed away 10 years ago Sunday. A reporter motioned to the TV after the question-and-answer session and asked if Francona was there during Schott’s days in Cincy. “I sure was,” Francona said with a laugh. “I rode that elephant at the team party. If you weren’t really good, you had to ride the elephant. If you weren’t good enough to tell her no, you had to ride the elephant.” At the annual Reds’ rally, the animal-loving Schott would have an elephant on hand from the Cincinnati Zoo. Asked how he got on top of the beast, Francona laughed and said he didn’t know. There may have been drinking involved.


Poll results

In my previous post, I offered 25 nicknames for current Tribe players that were agreed upon by Indians writers here in Arizona. I asked you to vote for your favorite. As of this writing, 267 ballots were cast (only one permitted per voter) and the runaway winner was “Dr. Smooth” (Brantley) with 75 votes (28.09%). That moniker was coined by Dennis Manoloff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It gained steam over the past couple years, in which it made an appearance on the back of one of Brantley’s Topps baseball cards and was also turned into a scoreboard graphic at Progressive Field. Brantley has a shirt that says “Dr. Smooth” across the chest and he’s said he loves the nickname. So, like it or not, Dr. Smooth is here to stay.

Top 5 current Indians player nicknames (via fan vote)
1. Dr. Smooth (Brantley), 75
2. Scrabble (Marc Rzepczynski), 25
3. Dirtbag (Jason Kipnis), 23
4. Nasty Masty (Justin Masterson), 17
5. Yanny Bench (Yan Gomes), 16


Catch up on Cleveland’s camp with these links

Stay tuned for more…


Poll: Best current Indians nickname

Brantley3A debate over the best Indians nickname took place this morning in the media workroom. Yes, it’s a very busy news day.

For all-time, Paul Hoynes of likes “Sudden Sam” McDowell. Michael Brantley’s “Dr. Smooth” is a favorite for current players among the press corps. What say you, though?

Here’s an agreed-upon list that reporters came up with this morning from the Tribe’s current roster.

Which moniker ranks above the others?


Covering the Bases: Feb. 28

TomlinFinal: Indians 4, Reds 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Francona was also impressed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Catch up on Cleveland camp with these links…

Stay tuned for more…


Covering the Bases: Feb. 27

Santana4We’re two games into the Cactus League slate and Cleveland is outscoring Cincinnati, 15-11. Feel free to read way too much into the box scores, because I won’t be doing that this early in camp. With that in mind, let’s cover the bases for the first time in 2014.

Final: Indians 12, Reds 3

FIRST: It finally happened. Carlos Santana played third base in a big league game for the Indians. Sure, it was only two innings and, naturally, no balls were hit his way. But there he was, manning the hot corner against Cincinnati.

The Experiment is officially underway.

“He’s comfortable over there,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think he’s more comfortable than people probably are giving him credit for. He’s pretty at home over there. I think it’s going to be surprising if he doesn’t handle himself pretty well.”

Games will be the true test of that, but there was only one pop quiz in Thursday’s exhibition.

In the second inning, Zack Cozart ripped a pitch into the left-center gap, where Michael Bourn tracked it down. Shortstop Mike Aviles caught the relay through and quickly fired it to Santana, as Cozart tried to stretch a sure two-base hit into a risky triple. Santana gloved the one-hopper and swiftly thrust his glove down, tagging the runner in time for the out. No problems on the play whatsoever.

Francona reminded reporters that it’s far too early to project what might happen at third base.

“We have no idea,” Francona said. “When we leave camp, we’ll try to take our best team with us. We’re two games in. We like Lonnie Chisenhall a lot, so we’ll have some decisions to make.”

Chisenhall played third in Wednesday’s game and Santana followed suit on Thursday. Expect that kind of rotation to continue as the spring progresses. As for catching, Francona said earlier this week that it would probably be at least a couple weeks before Santana returned to that position to get reps prior to the regular season. It’s all third, all the time, right now.

SECOND: Sinkerballer Justin Masterson got the nod as Cleveland’s starter and turned in one shutout inning, finishing with two strikeouts and one hit surrendered. Masterson stuck with only fastballs (four-seamers and two-seamers), noting that he’d probably begin mixing in the slider in his next outing.

More newsworthy, however, was Masterson’s response to a question about his contract status.

“I figure somehow, some way,” Masterson said, “I’ll end up still being here for a few more years.”

That was interesting, because there has been a considerable gap in long-term contract negotiations. Masterson’s camp and Cleveland’s front office rekindled contract talks earlier this week and the sides will likely continue over the weekend and into next week and possibly the weeks to come. What is clear right now is that, if something is going to get done, it would need to happen before Opening Day.

What is also known is that the two sides have exchanged parameters, though nothing is imminent.

THIRD: Two more starters took the hill for the Indians on Thursday. Right-hander Corey Kluber (a lock for the rotation) allowed two runs on two hits with one hit batsmen in one inning. Hey, spring is for shaking off the rust. Righty Carlos Carrasco (a top candidate for the fifth rotation spot) logged two shutout innings with two strikeouts.

Francona raved about Carrasco’s outing.

“Carrasco was really good in his two innings,” Francona said. “The first hitter, to the lefty [Billy Hamilton], he kind of left some balls up to the arm side, but then he made his adjustment and he worked ahead and he was really good. It’s two innings, but he looks comfortable.”

Remember, Carrasco is out of Minor League options. He’s likely on the pitching staff in some capacity — in the rotation or in the bullpen — unless some unforeseen setback comes into play this spring.

HOME: Some of Cleveland’s kids came through for the second game in a row. Francisco Lindor went 1-for-4 with two runs. Jake Lowery launched a grand slam. Erik Gonzalez went 1-for-2 with a run. Tyler Naquin went 1-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs. Getting to watch the younger players is one of Francona’s favorite parts of Spring Training.

Asked about Naquin, Francona replied: “I would put him in the class with Erik Gonzalez. He’s a good, young player. We just don’t know how good he’s going to be. His career is in front of him and it’s going to be fun to see what he turns into. He’s a really good outfielder with a good, strong throwing arm. We don’t know what he’s going to be as a hitter, but it’ll be fun to watch him grow.


Anecdote of the day

I went searching for a good story about Nick Swisher today. I was looking for something he said or did last season that would’ve been off the radar for reporters. One story that came up happened during the Indians’ May 18 win over the Mariners. In the fifth inning, Swisher flies out to the warning track in left-center field and heads back to the dugout. He heads down the steps and says, “Man, the ball’s not going anywhere today.” The next batter, Mark Reynolds, then used an off-balance, one-handed swing to crush a 3-2 home run off Seattle lefty Joe Saunders. The dugout erupted and Swisher had to stand there and wear all the abuse from his teammates. Instead of fuming, Swisher laughs hard with them and says, “All right. I deserve that. I deserve that.” The moral of the story? Said the storyteller: “He’s able to
laugh at himself as well as dish it out a little bit. That’s one thing about this team. Everybody treats it as a brotherhood. We’re like a bunch of big and little brothers.”


Catch up on Cleveland camp with these links…

Stay tuned for more…


Francona: “I was out of my element.”

Tito2The Dodgers and D-backs will kick off the 2014 regular season next month with a pair of games in Australia. It’s going to be a fatiguing journey for both clubs, but it’s also an important part of Major League Baseball’s efforts to globalize the game.

Indians manager Terry Francona had a similar experience during his days with the Red Sox. After winning the World Series in 2007, Boston opened up the ’08 campaign with games against the A’s in Japan.

First and foremost, Francona understands why MLB had these kind of events.

“I think it’s good for the game,” Francona said. “I’d rather it be another team.”

One thing you need to know about Francona — if you haven’t gathered it already — is that he craves being prepared and being with his team. He’s the first person in the clubhouse on the day of a game and he’s the first person in the dugout before first pitch.

So, when Francona was required to attend a meet-and-greet at the United States Embassy in Japan on what was Opening Day, he was understandably distracted. Bring it up now, six years later, and he still gets annoyed, especially because the trip included stops in Los Angeles, Oakland and Toronto after going to Japan.

“I hated it,” Francona said. “It’s nothing against Japan. The two games we played, the exhibition games, were great. The minute the season counted, I was a wreck. Opening Day, I was at the embassy. That was the last [bleeping] place I wanted to be. I wanted to have a team meeting and I’m over there with a tie on.

“Everybody wanted to kill me. I was out of my element and I didn’t like it. When they were exhibition games, I was OK. But Spring Training was a disaster. Not a disaster, but we were there a week early. You’re planning on guys pitching, not pitching, staying back. I didn’t like it.”

Francona said he kept inching closer to the exit during the stop at the U.S. Embassy.

“I think Larry Lucchino wanted to wring my neck,” Francona said. “I was sitting out there by the door like waiting for permission to go the ballpark.”

Before the trip was made official, the Red Sox called Francona to get his input.

“They called me in the winter and asked me my opinion,” Francona said. “I said, ‘My opinion is it’s not going to help us win.’ I said, ‘I also understands there are reasons why you do these things, but if you’re asking me pure baseball wise, it will not give us an advantage.'”

Francona was then asked to pack a tie.


Photo of the Day

cooperspineDr. Curtis Dickman stopped by Tribe camp on Tuesday to discuss the unique spinal cord surgery that first baseman David Cooper underwent. Dickman called it a miracle that Cooper was not only back at 100 percent, but back to playing professional baseball with the Indians. A feature on Cooper and his operation will hit on Wednesday.


Catch up on the latest from Cleveland’s camp with these links:

Stay tuned for more…


Game changer: Indians react to new collision rules

SantanaHP2Indians fans remember the play. The single to right field. The throw to the plate. Boston’s Ryan Kalish plowing into the left leg of catcher Carlos Santana, who toppled over, losing a shoe and seriously injuring his knee in the process.

It was ugly and it ended Santana’s season. At the time, many wondered if it was going to threaten his promising career.

We also remember that Santana held tight to the baseball through the play, resulting in an extremely painful out. Now, consider this: under the new experimental rule unveiled by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association on Monday, Kalish would likely be deemed safe.

Santana was blocking the plate without the ball in hand (the frame by frame of that Aug. 2, 2010 play is in the image to left). Blocking without the baseball was always frowned upon, but now it’s officially illegal.

“What I was thinking after my accident, I’m not blocking when I don’t have the ball,” Santana said. “I’m blocking when I have the ball. This is what happened in my accident. I tried to block before I had the ball.”

Without the ball in hand, catchers must now keep part of the plate open for a runner. Cleveland catcher Yan Gomes said that has always been his style anyways. Gomes said he wants to have the runner in a “slide first” mentality, with the goal of taking away the plate at the final second.

Gomes, like all the catchers I spoke with on Monday, were in favor of the MLB’s ruling, especially since it has language that admits that some collisions are invitable. If a throw creates a reactionary play that puts a runner and catcher on a collision course, as long as the runner is not deemed to have intent to collide, it’s fair game.

Here are the details of the experimental Rule 7.13:

A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other baserunners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.

Rule 7.13 comment: The failure by the runner to make an effort to touch the plate, the runner’s lowering of the shoulder, or the runner’s pushing through with his hands, elbows or arms, would support a determination that the runner deviated from the pathway in order to initiate contact with the catcher in violation of Rule 7.13. If the runner slides into the plate in an appropriate manner, he shall not be adjudged to have violated Rule 7.13. A slide shall be deemed appropriate, in the case of a feet first slide, if the runner’s buttocks and legs should hit the ground before contact with the catcher. In the case of a head first slide, a runner shall be deemed to have slid appropriately if his body should hit the ground before contact with the catcher.

Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.

To read more about the rule, and Cleveland’s reaction to it, read my story on


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The hot topic? The hot corner.

Chisenhall2Bring up the lone at-bat that Lonnie Chisenhall had in September, and the Indians third baseman will begin to smirk.

“Yeah, I hit 1.000,” Chisenhall said with a slight laugh.

It was a sixth-inning single off White Sox lefty Charlie Leesman on Sept. 14 in Chicago. Prior to that, Chisenhall hadn’t faced a lefty since Aug. 8. Before that, his last at-bat against a left-hander fell on July 19. Do you see the pattern here? With the Indians in the postseason chase, manager Terry Francona put Chisenhall’s development aside and utilized him primarily as an against-righties option to squeeze the most out of his bat.

Bring up Chisenhall’s history against lefties, and Francona expresses confidence.

“I’m sure he can [handle left-handers]. He’s a good hitter. He has bat speed,” Francona said. “Sometimes you have to grow into it. Sometimes you have to, before you really get the opportunity, or a fair opportunity, sometimes it comes in increments. That’s a balance that’s sometimes hard. It tugs at me a little bit.

“You’ve got a young kid that’s talented. Last year, you’re trying to work him in, but then you have [Mike] Aviles sitting over there and you’re in a playoff hunt. So you try to strike that balance. Sometimes it’s difficult.”

Chisenhall’s monthly at-bat splits against lefties looked like this last season:

April: 21
May: 1
June: 7
July: 5
August: 1
September: 1

Chisenhall dealt with a demotion to Triple-A between May and June, but after he hit .095 off lefties in April, it became clear how Francona was going to use the third baseman. On the season, Chisenhall hit just .111 (4-for-36) off southpaws, dropping his career mark to .194 (.612 OPS) in 124 at-bats. Against righties, he’s hit .256 (.714 OPS) in 519 career at-bats.

“It’s just different,” Chisenhall said, “because coming up through the Minors you get every at-bat and then, once you get to the Majors, it’s about winning. No more development. You have to be ready to play.”

Santana2Chisenhall understands what he is up against this spring. Competition is no stranger to the third baseman, but this spring’s situation is different. Cleveland has pulled Carlos Santana out from behind the plate and is giving him a look at third. Maybe Santana can develop into the everyday option (he’s certainly looked comfortable and competent so far), or perhaps the switch hitter will prove to be an option there against tough left-handers.

One of Francona’s skills — one that was on display all season during the Tribe’s run to the playoffs in ’13 — is using players in a way to maximize their abilities. He understands Chisenhall’s career shortcomings against lefties and, while more development might be needed there, knows the third baseman can do damage against righties. Consider September, when Chisenhall had that one at-bat against a left-hander, but posted a strong .270/.325/.595 slash line in he final month.

It is possible that the same kind of role awaits Chisenhall come Opening Day, or it’s possible that he wins the third-base job outright if the Santana experiment ultimately flops. Or, Cleveland might send Chisenhall down to the Minors to get the everyday at-bats in order to focus on development. No matter the final decision, Francona said all he offered Chisenhall in their pre-camp one-on-one meeting was the truth.

“We told Lonnie the truth in our meeting,” Francona said. “We believe we’re a better team with him on it. But we want him to earn it. That’s being very truthful and I think he agrees with it.”

Chisenhall said he’s been delivered the same message each spring.

“There have been more bumps in the the road than I have wanted,” Chisenhall said early in camp. “But, I’m still young. I know what I can do for the Cleveland Indians, and I know what I can do at third base.”


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Masterson, Indians reach deal

Masterson2Justin Masterson left Cleveland’s complex on Tuesday morning hoping to settle his contract situation before boarding a flight to Florida. The Indians sinkerballer got his wish.

The Indians and Masterson have reached a deal on a one-year contract worth $9,762,500, avoiding arbitration. Te big right-hander will be able to skip the four-hour flight to St. Petersburg, where he was scheduled to have an arbitration hearing on Thursday.

“I’m here for this season, man,” Masterson said before leaving the clubhouse.

During Tuesday’s morning workout, Masterson threw off a mound in a bullpen session with general manager Chris Antonetti looking on. Assistant general manager Mike Chernoff, who had been slated to fly to Florida to help argue the Tribe’s case, was also on hand at the facility. Antonetti has maintained all along that the Indians hoped to avoid a hearing.

Through the arbitration process, Masterson is seeking $11.8 million, while the Indians had countered with $8.05 million. The agreed upon contract falls just short of the midpoint, which was $9.925 million.

Over the winter, and again in the past few days, Masterson’s camp also tossed out ideas for a long-term extension. Right now, though, the two sides are concentrating on a one-year pact to avoid arbitration with the plan of potentially rekindling long-term talks later this spring or this season.

Masterson is eligible for free agency next offseason.

“We’ve got plenty of time to work on anything like that,” Masterson said. “It’s just working through it, what the value is, what’s reasonable pay, how things work. It’s a different system, especially when you’ve got to be really smart about how you move your money around and you want to make sure you’re making a good investment.

“You’ve got to truly believe in the guy. Not that they don’t truly believe in me, but it’s what you’re working through in that process. It’s easy for us when it’s not our money to throw it around and say, ‘Just do this.’ When it’s your own money, you say, ‘ I think we’re going to think about this a little bit more.’ It doesn’t bother me.”

Masterson, who will turn 29 years old in March, went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA in 193 innings for the Indians last season. The sinkerballer made his first American League All-Star team and ended the season with a team-high 195 strikeouts. He has gone 44-55 with a 4.08 ERA in parts of five seasons with Cleveland.


“I missed these guys, man.”

Tito4Spring Training has been underway for about a week now, but things finally felt official on Monday. Everybody was on hand and moving between the fields for Cleveland’s first full-squad workout of the year.

All morning, plenty of laughter could be heard around the complex.

“I missed these guys, man,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I was so happy to be back.”

It seemed fitting that the real Day 1 coincided with the news that Ubaldo Jimenez agreed to a four-year contract with the Orioles. Will the Indians miss him, too? There is no denying Big U’s impact on Cleveland’s run to the Wild Card last season, that’s for sure.

It’s an old cliche, but only time will tell if the loss of Jimenez crushes the Tribe’s chances of returning to the playoffs. The double-whammy of losing both him and Scott Kazmir is a blow to the Indians’ rotation, no doubt. But were they worth the kind of deals they signed with Baltimore and Oakland, respectively?

Maybe you disagree with me, and that’s fine, but I completely understand why the Indians passed.

It was a miracle that Kazmir went through his renaissance in 2013, after being out of affiliated ball a year earlier. The lefty himself often joked that he led the league in medical mound visits. Two years for a guaranteed $22 million. I wish Kazmir well, but that’s all kinds of risk. No thanks.

As for Jimenez, let’s not forget that one year ago, many Indians fans wanted him out of the rotation and kicked to the curb that Kazmir came from. Let’s also forget that, with the exception of the first two and a half months in 2010 and the final five months in 2013, Jimenez was a mostly wreck for the past four seasons. Consider that the righty had a 5.03 ERA with a 1.46 WHIP in the 502.1 IP between June 23, 2010-April 21, 2013. In the other 267 IP in the 2010/2013 seasons, Ubaldo had a 2.06 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP.

Maybe you’ll call that cherry picking. I call it mediocre performance 65 percent of the time over a four-year period. Granted, the other 35 percent was steller, but was that worth a reported $50 million over four years? I’m not sure, and I’m not sure a team in Cleveland’s position can afford that kind of risk.

For now, Cleveland will hope that Danny Salazar can give them around the same or more than what Kazmir provided. Corey Kluber, if his 2013 was any indication, seems to have the potential to provide the kind of innings Jimenez gave the Indians (and with fewer walks). In the short-term, having Jimenez would’ve shored up the staff, rendered this spring’s fifth spot competition moot, but “short-term” wasn’t in the cards.


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