Results tagged ‘ Kenny Lofton ’

We need to talk…

Brantley2.jpgEvery hitter is different. Some like talking to their hitting coach during a game. Some like to be left alone, leaving chats about approach and mechanics for sessions in the batting cage.

It is the job of every hitting coach to sort out which players prefer one method over another. Veteran hitters can often be different than young hitters for obvious reasons.

When it comes to Indians outfielder Michael Brantley, talking shop is usually initiated by him. Hitting coach Jon Nunnally said that Brantley is the type of hitter that not only is open to talking things over during games, the young outfielder will be the one to bring certain things up.

“Sometimes they’ll come ask,” Nunnally said. “He’s one of those guys. If he doesn’t feel it, he’ll come and say, ‘Do you see this?’ Or he’ll say, ‘Keep an eye on this and, if I’m not doing it, let me know. “That’s what I want. I don’t want to have to, every time something goes wrong, I have to say, ‘Look at this.’”

Obviously, there is a time for that type of approach. But during games, the last thing Nunnally wants his players doing is heading up to the plate worrying about specific mechanical or approach issues. That’s when hitters start thinking too much and getting away from their plan.

Nunnally likes to have hitters who can feel for themself when something is not right.

“You kind of want the guy to know himself a little bit,” Nunnally said.

Last year, Brantley struggled with getting started on time, causing a chain reaction that made it difficult for him to recognize pitches. Indians manager Manny Acta noted that one problem that came out of that was Brantley had struggles attacking pitches on the outer half of the plate. Nunnally said Brantley became predictable for Major League fielders, who would shade him in and toward the left-field line.

“It was very hard for me to see the baseball,” Brantley said, “and then react, notice what pitch was coming, was it inside or outside, or was it up or down. I really pride myself on my strike zone discipline and I really couldnt do it. I was making bad choices.”

It is obviously early in Spring Training, but Nunnally said he has not seen similar issues in his early sessions with Brantley. He said the outfielder’s mechanics are sound right now. The only thing Nunnally said he is working on right now with Brantley is making sure he stays on top of the ball when taking pitches to the opposite field.

“He’s making it really easy for me,” Nunnally said with a smile.

Notes from Tuesday…

  • Center fielder Grady Sizemore took part in live batting practice on Tuesday, marking the first time he has faced live pitching since undergoing microfracture surgery on his left knee in June. Sizemore also did some sprint and agility work during the day’s workout. “He was fine,” reported Acta.
  • Acta said the backup catching job is not likely to be decided until the final days of Spring Training. Right now, Lou Marson, Luke Carlin, Paul Phillips and Juan Apodaca are in the mix. Marson is the only one among that group on the roster, but the Tribe is currently weighing whether he might benefit from more seasoning in the Minors.
  • With five pitchers vying for the fifth spot in the rotation, the Indians will have a tough time getting them enough innings as spring progresses. One way to help is having an extra game or two. Right now, Cleveland has one “B” game on the schedule. They’ll face the Reds at 9:30 a.m. MT on March 8 at the Indians’ complex.
  • Acta said the Indians will need to make some decisions about the rotation after the first week or two of games in order to help give innings to the players with the most realistic shot of heading north. So in mid-March, expect the Tribe to narrow the list of candidates for that fifth rotation job.
  • As has been well-documented, Josh Tomlin, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Aaron Laffey and Anthony Reyes are the pitchers in the running for the fifth starting job. Acta called Reyes “a sleeper” and noted that the righty was hitting between 90-96 mph with his fastball and showing a strong breaking ball during instructional league in October. Reyes is coming back from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
  • A report surfaced on Tuesday indicating that Indians 2B Orlando Cabrera planned on retiring after this season. When approached about it, Cabrera laughed, shook his head and said,” That’s crazy. He said he had a long radio interview with a station in his home country of Colombia and a newspaper, “El Universal,” must have misunderstood his comments. All Cabrera meant to say was that he wants to leave the game on his own terms. Right now, though, he hopes to play for a few more years. Cabrera said the move to second base might even extend her career by a year or two. So hold off on the retirement party for now.
  • Former Indians outfielder Kenny Lofton was not in uniform with the club on Tuesday — he’s returning as a guest instructor, not as a player — but he should be with the team on Wednesday. Lofton will spend the week working with outfielders and offering tips on baserunning techniques.
  • There was some confusion about the order of the upcoming intrasquad games. To straighten it out, Thursday will be about four innings and Friday will last around seven innings. Thursday’s game is scheduled to be held at Goodyear Ballpark with Friday’s game slated to take place at the Indians complex.

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Photo of the day:

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Due to so many requests for this… Travis Hafner (with hair)

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Be sure to keep checking the blog and Indians.com for updates from camp. Also, make sure you’re following along on Twitter (@MLBastian) and check out the “Jordan Bastian” fan page on Facebook for links to stories, blogs, photos and more. You can view more spring photos by checking out the stream on yfrog.com as well.

Stay tuned for more…–JB

 

Slowing things down

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Any team that has competition in camp deals with the same issue every year, especially when there are young players in the mix for jobs. Too often, inexperienced players will push things too hard during Spring Training in an effort to stand out and impress the manager and coaches.

Every year, the manager and coaches must emphasize slowing things down.

“It’s very early,” Indians manager Manny Acta said on Monday. “We talk to these guys and make sure that they don’t try to make the ballclub in the first workout. Every pitcher that is out there is not throwing the ball 100 percent and every player is not swinging the bat the way they’re probably capable of yet.

“We try to slow the kids down, especially the younger guys. We just try to make sure they don’t try to impress the coaches way too much and end up missing time.”

One thing the Indians have done since Acta has been the manager is hold a meeting with individual players before workouts officially start. The meeting is two-on-one — the GM is also in the room — and the goal is to go over expectations and roles for spring and the season ahead.

Acta does not want any of his players wondering where he stands in the organization’s eyes. Every player in camp right now has been told what is expected of them and the club has let certain players know they are legitimately competing for a job or they are in camp simply to gain experience.

“That’s why we have those two-on-one meetings,” Acta said. “Just about every one of those guys know where we stand right now. We are open minded, but I think those younger kids, they know which ones are really competing, trying to make the club, and which ones are soaking up the experience and learning from being around those other guys.

“We kind of laid the groundwork there in those meetings. It’s just tough at times for them not to try to do [push things]. It’s human nature, especially wen you’re new to somebody. If you come from Double-A or Triple-A and nobody up here has seen you, you want to really show what you’ve got. I don’t think the first day is the right day [to do that].”

Notes from Monday…

  • Siegal2.jpgCleveland native Justin Siegal became the first woman to throw BP to a Major League team when she did so for the Indians on Monday. She’ll do it again on Wednesday with the A’s. Siegal threw to a group of five Minor Leaguers and was then allowed to throw to big league catchers Paul Phillips, Lou Marson and Juan Apodaca. CLICK HERE for a story I wrote on Siegal for MLB.com
  • Acta noted that OF Trevor Crowe, who is in the mix for a backup outfield role with the Indians, is currently behind his teammates health-wise. Crowe had surgery on his right elbow over the winter and is still working to get his arm strength back to 100 percent. Acta said Crowe will miss “at least” the intrasquad games slated for Thursday and Friday.
  • Along the lines of the intro to today’s blog post, Acta noted on Monday that prospect Alex White is not competing for a spot in the Tribe’s rotation this spring. So even with a dynamite showing, expect White to head to Triple-A, where he has yet to log a single inning as a pro. White is definitely in the mix for a big league promotion this year, though.
  • Acta indicated that DH Travis Hafner was able to up his weight lifting over the winter, a sign that his right shoulder is holding up well right now. Even so, Acta plans on closely monitoring Hafner throughout spring and the upcoming season. Hafner will likely see days off against lefties here and there and Acta might give him other days off with the goal of keeping him fresh.
  • On days when Hafner is out of the lineup, Acta could use outfielder Austin Kearns as a right-handed DH. That said, Acta has made it clear that he values Kearns’ defense so much that he prefers to leave him in the outfield. That being the case, Shelley Duncan is in the mix as a righty DH and Carlos Santana, who switch hits, could see action as a DH from time to time this year as well.
  • Tuesday is (unofficially) Kenny Lofton Day here at the Indians’ complex. The former All-Star and Gold Glove winner is due to arrive for his week of serving as a guest instructor for the Tribe. Lofton will help with baserunning techniques and he’ll also lend a hand with Cleveland’s outfielders.
  • The Indians are scheduled to open their Cactus League schedule with exhibition games against the Reds on Sunday and Monday. Josh Tomlin will start on Sunday and Fausto Carmona will get the nod on Monday. Don’t read too much into who starts when right now. We can start getting into all those conspiracy theories later this spring. Tomlin is competing against Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Aaron Laffey and Anthony Reyes for the fifth rotation spot.
  • Pitchers slated to work in Thursday’s intrasquad game include Justin Masteron (starting), Tomlin (starting), Kelvin De La Cruz, Gomez, Nick Hagadone, Huff, Joe Smith, Doug Mathis and Drew Pomeranz.
  • Pitchers slated for Friday’s intrasquad tilt include Carlos Carrasco (starting), Mitch Talbot (starting), Josh Judy, Frank Herrmann, Laffey, Jensen Lewis, Yohan Pino, Reyes, Tony Sipp, Jess Todd, Zach McAllister, Joe Martinez, Bryce Stowell and Vinnie Pestano.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Acta was asked if it was important for the Indians to get off to a good start this season. He smiled. “We accomplished the good start last year,” Acta replied. “We went 2-1.”

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Photo of the day:

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Silhouette of OF Shin-Soo Choo heading to the batting cage

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Be sure to keep checking the blog and Indians.com for updates from camp. Also, make sure you’re following along on Twitter (@MLBastian) and check out the “Jordan Bastian” fan page on Facebook for links to stories, blogs, photos and more.

More tomorrow. Stay tuned…

–JB

 

Managing expectations

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It’s happened a few times this spring. A reporter starts off by saying, “Manny, what do you think…” before pausing every so briefly to turn a thought into a question.

During that quick moment of dead air, Indians manager Manny Acta points a finger at the reporter and answers with an emphatic, “WIN.”

That is Acta’s answer. He doesn’t need to know the question. For Acta, “WIN” is the only thing that matters.

It’s the message he keeps preaching to the media and it’s the same message he has delivered to his players. No matter what the prognosticators are saying, Acta expects his team to win.

And he means it.

On Sunday, a visiting reporter asked Acta about his expectations for the Tribe this season. Specifically, Acta was asked how high he has set his expectations for the coming year.

“Very high,” Acta replied. “Very high, because I’m counting on our rotation and pitching staff to pick up where
they left off last year. They pitched very well in the second half of the season and that’s what
I’m basing it on. I’m not basing my expectations on “Anything can happen.”

“That is part of the
game, but it’s the fact that they got better in the second half and I think they’re going to
continue to get better. With the addition of those guys that were injured, our offense is going
to get better, too.”

Acta was then asked what would be considered a successful season for the Indians, who lost 93 games in 2010 and dropped 97 the year before.

Making the playoffs,” Acta said. “Shoot for the stars. If you don’t make it there, at least you won’t have mud on your shoes. I’m sorry. I just can’t sit over here and tell these guys, ‘Win two more games than last year and we’ll feel that’s fine.’ That’s not fine. You play to win.”

Notes from Sunday…

  • CF Grady Sizemore (left knee) did some sprinting at 50-60 percent in the outfield today. He also added some agility work, moving from side to side and backwards. It’s the first time he added those exercises to his running program since the June microfracture surgery. Sizemore said he had no issues and the goal remains to be ready in time for Opening Day on April 1.
  • Sunday’s workout — the first full-squad workout of the spring — was altered some due to some heavy early-morning rain. Pitchers threw in the bullpen instead of on the field and the hitters moved to the indoor batting cage. The first day of having batters “track” pitches was scrapped. The plan is for hitters to track and not swing on Monday.
  • Infield practice was also canned on Sunday due to the wet conditions on the fields. The Indians did hold a baserunning lecture on the field, though. On Monday, the Tribe plan on going over bunt-play fundamentals as well.
  • The Indians plan on having an intrasquad game on Thursday (estimated seven innings) and again on Friday (estimated 4 1/2 innings). Acta said that Indians catcher Carlos Santana is currently penciled in to start behind the plate on Thursday. Santana has no restrictions after completing his rehab from left knee surgery.
  • Asked who the main competitors for third base were, Acta named Jason Donald, Jayson Nix, Luis Valbuena and Jared Goedert. Jack Hannahan will also get reps there this spring as will Cord Phelps and Lonnie Chisenhall to a lesser extent. Goedert has been criticized for his defense, but Acta said he wants to get a close look at the prospect this spring.
  • Mike Hargrove is scheduled to join the club in camp on Thursday. He and Eduardo Perez will spend time working with the many players expected to see reps at first base this spring. Kenny Lofton, who will help with outfielders and baserunning, should be in camp on Tuesday.
  • Acta said he is in no way worried about Matt LaPorta’s defensive ability at first base. Said the manager: “I’m not concerned at all about LaPorta. LaPorta played very good defense for us last year. I thought that he did a very fine job over there. The second half of the season, he was a little bit worn out, but I’m very happy with how he played defense.”
  • This is from yesterday, but I forgot to toss it on here. Acta was asked about the head of hair that Travis Hafner showed up with this spring. Here’s what the skip, chuckling throughout, had to say: “He said he felt comfortable with that haircut. I just couldn’t believe it. I shave my head because I’m bald. If I had hair, I would try every style. I really don’t comprehend why someone with hair would want to shave it. I’d try every haircut possible until I run out of hair. That’s what I did.”

One last thing…

Have you seen Acta’s new profile picture on Twitter (@Mactriber_11)? No?

Well, then here you go:

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The story behind it: This photo of Acta was taken 24 years ago and was sent to him last year by his brother, who stumbled across it. They found it amusing that Acta was wearing an Indians T-shirt more than two decades before becoming the manager of the team. Why was he wearing it? He was a big fan of the D.R.’s Julio Franco, who was with the Indians at the time.

Be sure to keep checking the blog and Indians.com for updates from camp. Also, make sure you’re following along on Twitter (@MLBastian) and check out the “Jordan Bastian” fan page on Facebook for links to stories, blogs, photos and more.

More tomorrow. Stay tuned…

–JB

Say hello to Uncle Orlando

CabrerasBanner.jpgIt became pretty apparent that Orlando Cabrera passed his physical with the Indians when he was spotted hanging out with his new double-play partner, Asdrubal Cabrera, in the outfield on a practice diamond on Wednesday morning.

Sure enough, Cleveland announced that it had indeed signed the veteran infielder to a one-year Major League contract. The deal is worth $1 million plus incentives, but there is no option for the 2012 season. Ask me, and I’ll say that seems like a nice bargain.

During our sit-down with Orlando, we asked if he knew Asdrubal before today.

“The nephew?” Cabrera replied with a grin.

So a few years back, when baseball started to see an increase in the number of Cabreras in The Show — Asdrubal, Melky, Miguel, Fernando, Daniel — Orlando started referring to them as his nephews.

“And he calls me uncle,” Cabrera said of Asdrubal.

And to answer the obvious question: No, they are not actually related.

That said, Orlando Cabrera is the kid brother of Jolbert Cabrera, who suited up for the Indians in 310 games from 1998-2002. For those wondering how Jolbert is doing these days, Orlando said he is currently still playing ball for a team in Mexico.

As for OC, he’s in camp as the favorite to be the Tribe’s starting second baseman. One way or another, manager Manny Acta — who knows Orlando from their days in the Expos organization — said Cabrera is on the team (barring an injury, of course). So he’ll break camp either as a second baseman or a utlity guy (he’ll see reps at 3B, too).

Cabrera actually sounded genuinely enthusiastic about the chance to play second base. It was the position he played as a Minor Leaguer and he said making the switch to shortstop — a position where he’s won two Gold Gloves — was more difficult that going from short to second. Acta said Cabrera could play second “with his eyes closed.”

Helping matters will be the fact that he’ll play second with them open.

Where will Cabrera hit in the lineup? Acta said Cabrera has the ability to adjust to any spot in the batting order. As of right now though, the Indians do not view Cabrera as a part of the top of the lineup. So I’d pencil him into one of the Nos. 7-9 spots right now if you’re busy doing mock lineups at home.

Other notes and observations from Wednesday…

  • Pitchers and catchers all underwent physicals on Wednesday. They also met individually with Acta and GM Chris Antonetti to discuss expectations for the upcoming season. The first official workout for pitchers and catchers is Thursday.
  • Spotted in camp: Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner and newly-hired special assistant to baseball operations Eduardo Perez. I introduced myself as “Best Buy” to Hafner, because that’s where I ran into him and initially introduced myself over the winter. That’s a story for another day…
  • The Indians need to make another transaction in order to clear room on the 40-man roster for Cabrera. Once the move is approved by the league — likely in the next couple of days — it would be announced. I would think a pitcher is most likely to be removed from the roster.
  • To help account for the high volume of pitchers in camp, the Indians added catching prospect Chun Chen to their group of non-roster invitees. That will help with early bullpen sessions and also provide Chen with valuable experience, especially the chance to work with Sandy Alomar Jr. on his defense.
  • Rumored for a few days, confirmed on Tuesday and official on Wednesday: Kenny Lofton is joining the Tribe as a guest instructor this spring. He will work with outfielders and offer tips on baserunning while he’s in camp from Feb. 22-28. During the regular season, Lofton will have an expanded role as an alumni ambassador, helping with some community initiatives among other things.
  • The Indians could have a bit of a logjam in the infield at Triple-A Columbus this year. If Lonnie Chisenhall is at third and Jason Kipnis is at second, suddenly guys like Jared Goedert (3B) and Cord Phelps (2B/3B) we’ll be searching for playing time if they’re in Columbus as well. Antonetti said Goedert will see some time in the outfield this spring and he could get at-bats at 1B or DH at Triple-A, too. Phelps will see action at second and third, but Antonetti wasn’t sure yet if he’d see innings in the outfield this spring.
  • Antonetti said that no big-league starters are currently faced with any obvious innings restrictions for the coming season. The only one he said the club will “be mindful of” is Mitch Talbot. Antonetti quickly added, though, that the goal is for Talbot to pitch a full Major League season.
  • On Monday, Justine Siegal will become the first woman to throw batting practice to a Major League team when she does so for the Indians. She will also throw BP to A’s hitters on Feb. 23. Siegal is also the first woman to coach men’s professional baseball (Brockton Rox, 2009).

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Photo of the day:


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1B Matt LaPorta. Calling his shot?

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Be sure to keep checking the blog and Indians.com for updates from camp. Also, make sure you’re following along on Twitter (@MLBastian) and check out the “Jordan Bastian” fan page on Facebook for links to stories, blogs, photos and more.

More tomorrow. Stay tuned…

–JB

Pitchers, catchers & tweeters report

PerezBullpen2.jpgThat there on the right is Indians closer Chris Perez, working through a bullpen session on Tuesday morning at the player development complex here in Goodyear.

If we’re to believe @PureRage_Perez, not pictured here are all the people fleeing in terror before this fastball was unleashed. Rumor has it no one was willing to catch Perez and now the Indians are faced with a hefty repair bill after the closer’s heaters ripped apart the chain-link fence behind home plate.

Ah, Twitter.

It’s been a great tool for members of the media to deliver news and interact with readers. It’s also been a good tool for athletes to interact with fans. Twitter has its obvious risks, but it has also proven quite useful. That’s one reason why the Indians are embracing the social-networking site.

Manager Manny Acta joined recently under the handle @Mactriber_11 and you can find players like Perez (@ChrisPerez54), Jensen Lewis (@JLEWFifty) and Matt LaPorta (@Gator4God) on there as well. The Tribe also has prospects Drew Pomeranz, Nick Hagadone and Zach McAllister on the site.

Could Indians GM Chris Antonetti be next?

“I think soon,” he said with a grin on Tuesday. “It’s part of an organizational initiative.”

When we started joking about Antonetti’s policy on not commenting on rumors or discussing contract talks before deals are official, the GM laughed and quipped, “I can do that. I’ll tweet ‘no comment.’”

If he does sign up, Antonetti would become the first active Major League general manager on Twitter.

Notes from Tuesday…

  • Predictably, Antonetti wouldn’t budge on his policy when we asked him if there was any update on the Orlando Cabrera situation. The GM did offer this: “I think you guys have accurately reported to date. I’ll leave it at that.” So, I’ll report here that Cabrera still needs to pass a physical and the Indians will likely announce his 1-year, Major League contract later this week.
  • Also likely to come later this week? News that the Indians are bringing Kenny Lofton in as a guest instructor. He’ll be in camp this spring to help out as a baserunning and outfield coach. Details of his role are still being worked out, but Lofton could have an expanded role during the regular season, assisting with community initiatives, for example.
  • On the starting pitching front, the Indians do not appear close to reeling in any additional help. Talks appear to have stalled with free-agents Jeremy Bonderman and Kevin Millwood. Said Antonetti: “We’re planning to proceed with the group that we have in camp. If an opportunity presents itself as we’re in camp, we’ll certainly look at it. But right now our expectations are that we’ll go with the group that we have.”
  • HuffCatch.jpgManager Manny Acta rattled off some names when asked about the candidates for the fifth job, citing David Huff (playing catch in the photo to the right), Jeanmar Gomez, Josh Tomlin, Anthony Reyes and “to an extent” Aaron Laffey. Acta said Laffey will get some innings early in camp and the Indians will work to quickly determine whether he will prepare as a starter or long reliever. The Tribe will not move him back and forth this season.
  • Beyond working to add Lofton, the Indians announced Tuesday that they hired Eduardo Perez and Jason Bere as special assistants to baseball operations. They will help out on the field this spring and will continue to assist at both the Major and Minor League levels this season. Perez will also continue in his role as an analyst with ESPN.
  • Pitchers and catchers officially reported to Arizona on Tuesday and Acta said everyone is accounted for. Physicals for pitchers and catchers take place Wednesday with the first official workout slated for Thursday. Also on Wednesday, Acta and Antonetti will meet with each pitcher and catcher individually to discuss expectations for spring and the coming season.
  • Both Acta and Antonetti said they have been thrilled with the progress of Grady Sizemore (left knee). Said the GM: “First and foremost, it’s great to see him on the field. And in talking with him, he feels a comfort level swinging the bat and throwing that he didn’t have before with his knee.” Antonetti said, even before Sizemore went on the DL or had surgery, he was having problems putting weight on his back leg while hitting. That has not been an issue so far this spring.
  • As far as Sizemore’s running program goes, Acta said the plan is to “accelerate” the running during the first week of March. That would likely mean baserunning drills and full participation in outfield work and agility exercises. Sizemore noted on Monday that he hopes to begin testing his knee with agility work later this week or early next week.
  • Acta did not bite when asked if Sizemore would automatically be the leadoff man whenever he returns to the lineup. Said the skipper: “He’s going to be in the lineup. It’s a good question and everybody wants to know, but right now we’re trying to get this guy healthy. Then, we’ll give you your material later. It’s just that it’s more than him involved in the situation.” Fair enough.

Be sure to keep checking the blog and Indians.com for updates from camp. Also, make sure you’re following along on Twitter (@MLBastian) and check out the “Jordan Bastian” fan page on Facebook for links to stories, blogs, photos and more.

More tomorrow. Stay tuned…

–JB

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