March 2009

Mama if that's movin' up then I'm movin' out

It's the last day of the month, and my lease is up on my spring rental unit. Ordinarily, move-out day is a celebratory occasion. Today, it just means three nights in an Arizona hotel, as the Eternal Spring continues.

 

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIA OF THE DAY...

 

  • Oh my. Scott Lewis got shelled again today against the Mariners. He gave up 10 runs on 13 hits in 3 2/3 innings, giving up a grand slam to Ronny Cedeno and two homers to Russell Branyan that haven't landed yet. That's 15 runs on 21 hits in his last 6 2/3 innings since being named the Indians' No. 4 starter.
  • Lewis said he's having some issues trying to grip the ball in the dry air. But if I remember correctly, it was pretty dry in his first five appearances, when he had a 3.52 ERA and won the job. Lewis acknowledged that the air won't be any better when he makes the start in assumedly cold conditions in Cleveland at the April 10 home opener. He'll have one more opportunity to figure it out in an extended game here in Goodyear on Sunday.
  • Gary Sheffield cut. Didn't see that one coming. And before you ask (well, actually, some of you already have), while the Indians do have a history of trying to trade for Sheffield, it's hard to imagine them making a run at him here. Last I checked, they already have a DH with question marks. They don't need another. And when you consider that Sheffield's first day with the Tribe would involve him trying to punch teammates Asdrubal Cabrera and Fausto Carmona in the head as retaliation for last September's incident, I don't think he'd add much in the way of clubhouse camaraderie.
  • GM Mark Shapiro met with the media today. Nothing all that newsworthy to report. He offered some thoughts on the division, noting that the White Sox are the defending champs and must be respected as such. But the Twins, he said, have "without a doubt... the best pitching, top to bottom. There's no scenario where the Twins aren't going to be a solid to good team, with that rotation and with the guy they have finishing games for them [Joe Nathan]."
  • Shapiro said 90 wins could be enough to take the AL Central this season. Hard to dispute that, when you look at the rosters.
  • Summing up camp: "The overwhelming positive is we've got a minute injury list right now. At least what that allows is that the club you plan, by and large, will be on the field. It doesn't mean it will definitely be a championship team, but that's a strong positive. That's not something you take for granted. When you like the team you plan, you go through spring training holding your breath every game."
  • One guy we haven't discussed much is left-hander Tony Sipp, who will open at Triple-A Columbus and is very much back on the radar after '07 Tommy John surgery. "I think he's back on the trajectory he was on prior to his injury, which is a good thing," Shapiro said.
  • Getting away from Shapiro and speaking of Columbus, here's the Clippers' rotation (in no particular order): LHPs David Huff, Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey, RHPs Kirk Saarloos and Jack Cassel. If the Indians had an opening in their rotation at this moment, Sowers would probably get the first call. But this will be a fluid situation all season, and any one of those guys (particularly the young lefties) could step up at any time.
  • The Double-A rotation (in no particular order): LHPs Chuck Lofgren, RHPs Hector Rondon, Steve Wright, Josh Tomlin, Frank Herrmann. LHP Ryan Edell has been moved to the bullpen. Lofgren, who was once a promising prospect, is likely on a short leash.
  • It needs to be said: Ryan Garko is not that bad in the outfield corners. He won't be climbing walls or making diving catches in the gap, but it doesn't look like he'll kill the Indians out there, either. And if his bat remains as productive as it was today, when he ripped a two-run single in the sixth, then finding another way to keep him in the lineup is a good thing.
  • Last home game of the spring. And for all that talk earlier this spring about the small crowds, the Indians drew a club-record 99,824 fans, an average of 5,546 per game. Last year, they drew an average of 5,820, with the boost of people paying their last respects to Chain of Lakes. In '07, they drew an average of 4,773.

~AC

Tribe signs Lara 16 months after car accident

Just 16 months after a car accident nearly took his life, Juan Lara is going to try to take the mound.

The Indians have signed Lara to a Minor League contract, and he will report to the Player Development Complex today to begin a return-to-throw program.

Lara, 28, was in an accident in his native Dominican Republic after a Winter League game in November 2007. A motorcycle traveling at a high speed slammed into the driver’s side of Lara’s SUV, which was stopped at an intersection. The driver of the motorcycle and his passenger died immediately upon impact, and Lara suffered a spinal fracture, an arm fracture, broken ribs, a punctured lung and severe brain trauma.

At the time of the accident, the Indians were merely hoping Lara could recover enough to maintain a healthy life. So this news that he’s going to try to revive his career is both surprising and heartwarming.

Lara, a left-handed reliever, made one appearance for the Indians in 2007 and nine in ’06. He owns a career Minor League record of 28-31 with a 3.94 ERA in 257 appearances, including 59 starts.

UPDATE: Farm director Ross Atkins said Lara was medically cleared to pitch, and that, in and of itself, exceeds all previous expectations. All Lara has done to this point is play catch, so it’s way too early to speculate on when or if he can return to a professional setting. But for the next two months (at least), he’ll be down here in Goodyear in a return-to-throw program.

The doctors believe Lara’s spine can handle the torque of pitching, but the Indians will see how his muscles and core respond.  

3/31: Indians vs. Mariners

The final home game of the spring is at 4:05 p.m. ET. It will be broadcast live on SportsTime Ohio and Indians.com.

INDIANS: DH Grady Sizemore, 1B Mark DeRosa, C Victor Martinez, LF Shin-Soo Choo, RF Ryan Garko, CF Ben Francisco, 2B Asdrubal Cabrera, 3B Jamey Carroll, SS Wilson Valdez. LHP Scott Lewis.

Also available to pitch: RHPs Joe Smith, Masa Kobayashi, Jensen Lewis.

MARINERS: Coming soon. RHP Chris Jakubauskas.

Out by those mountains, west of the moon

It's a 1.5-mile trek to the top of Pistewa (formerly known as Squaw) Peak, which is part of the Phoenix Mountains. Thousands of people huff and puff their way to the top each day, and for good reason -- the view up there is incredible.

 

Now if only they could add a water fountain at the top and a slide to bring you down. Then you'd have fun for the whole family.

 

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIA OF THE DAY...

 

  • As reported yesterday, Eric Wedge still has no plans of dropping Travis Hafner down in the lineup. Wedge says he hasn't looked at the stats even once this spring. He's going by what he and the coaches see in Pronk's at-bats, and what they see is progress.
  • The rest of us finally got a taste of that progress today, as Hafner hit a lined solo shot out to right-center off Padres right-hander Kevin Correia to lead off the second inning. It was Pronk's first homer of the spring and one of the few times he's really driven the ball this month. Alas, Hafner wasn't heard from again in this one. His timing looked off as he struck out against Eulogio De La Cruz in the seventh.
  • Jhonny Peralta will bat in the fifth spot, Wedge said.
  • Some more good news today on Adam Miller, who threw his slider off the mound for the first time since he began this experiment of pitching without the ability to bend the tip of his right middle finger. Pitching coach Carl Willis said Miller's slider is now more of a "slurve." It's a pitch that needs some work, but the results today were positive enough that we can safely say Miller took another step forward.
  • It's interesting to talk to Willis and the others who are involved in this Miller experiment. Willis said one of the first things they did was have Miller try to pitch with a three-finger grip. That didn't work out so well. Miller has reportedly been very thoughtful in this process, asking all the pertinent questions about the potential surgery and what he has to do to avoid it.
  • Jake Westbrook also threw a bullpen today. He's been doing so every Monday and Friday, and that will continue as the Indians leave camp and Westbrook stays behind. Over the course of April, he'll progress to facing live hitters and eventually get into some games. He could be ready to go out on a rehab assignment by mid- to late-May. Today, Westbrook threw 60 fastballs off the mound and 15 curves and changeups off flat ground.
  • Now that Trevor Crowe's on the big club in place of Affliction model David Dellucci, you can pencil him and Ben Francisco in as the backup center fielder. But as Crowe himself pointed out, that's basically a "once a year" kind of job, given Grady Sizemore's penchant for playing every day. Then again, Wedge did say he expects to give Sizemore more time off this season. I guess we'll see about that.
  • Jhonny Peralta booted the first ball hit to him (or anybody) at third base today.
  • Left-hander Shawn Nottingham -- a Canton native acquired as the player to be named later in the trade that brought Shin-Soo Choo from the Mariners for Ben Broussard -- has been traded to the Pirates for a player to be named later. Nottingham split last season between Class A Kinston and Double-A Akron. He went 3-4 with a 4.58 ERA in 14 starts at Kinston and 0-2 with a 7.09 ERA in 19 relief appearances in Akron.
  • The April 10 home opener has officially sold out. The April 11 and 12 games against the Blue Jays still have seats available, including the $32 "All You Can Eat Seats" in the upper deck and the Pepsi half-off tickets in the bleacher, mezzanine and upper box sections. Those games fall under the "spring value" ticket pricing, which is detailed at Indians.com/valuepricing.
  • Speaking of tickets, you do have a birthday, right? Well, the Akron Aeros wish to recognize this incredible feat by providing you with a free ticket to one of their home games during your birthday month. And if you're one of those unfortunate souls with a birthday from September through March, have no fear of discrimination. Those born from January through March will be treated to a game in April, and those born in September through December will get a free ticket to a game in August. Visit www.akronaeros.com and click on the "Free Ticket on Your Birthday" link to register.

~AC

Opening Day roster (essentially) set

No roster move was made with regard to the pitching staff, but Vinnie Chulk will be reassigned to Columbus. Right-hander Matt Herges, catcher Damaso Espino, and infielders Andy Marte, Wilson Valdez and Tony Graffanino will also be reassigned to Columbus, but all those guys will first make the trip with the Indians to Houston for the last two exhibition games this weekend. Ed Mujica will be designated for assignment.

The Indians’ 25-man roster, in case you lost track, will look like this on April 6:

Catchers: Victor Martinez, Kelly Shoppach

Infielders: Josh Barfield, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jamey Carroll, Mark DeRosa, Ryan Garko, Travis Hafner, Jhonny Peralta

Outfielders: Shin-Soo Choo, Trevor Crowe, Ben Francisco, Grady Sizemore

Starting pitchers: Cliff Lee, Fausto Carmona, Carl Pavano, Scott Lewis, Anthony Reyes

Relievers: Rafael Betancourt, Zach Jackson, Masa Kobayashi, Jensen Lewis, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, Kerry Wood

DL: David Dellucci, Jake Westbrook

Jackson given bullpen job

Zach Jackson will break camp with the Indians as the seventh reliever in the bullpen. It’s pretty much a long man role, and the Tribe views the left-handed Jackson as a nice complement to their three right-handed starters.

Vinnie Chulk, who had better numbers than Jackson in Cactus League play, will be reassigned to the Minors. His contract stipulates that he must accept an assignment to Triple-A Columbus, but he has an out clause on May 15. If the Indians don’t call him up by then, he can become a free agent.

More info on Indians.com in a little bit.

UPDATE: Basically, the Indians don’t feel all that comfortable with their starting rotation going into the season, so they value the length Jackson can give them. He can handle up to 90 pitches at the moment. Chulk only recently got stretched out to three innings of work.

3/30: Indians vs. Padres

Today’s 7:05 p.m. ET game at Goodyear Ballpark will be broadcast live in technicolor on SportsTime Ohio, as well as WTAM 1100 and Indians.com.

INDIANS: CF Grady Sizemore, RF Shin-Soo Choo, 3B Jhonny Peralta, DH Travis Hafner, C Kelly Shoppach, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B Josh Barfield, 1B Andy Marte, LF Trevor Crowe. RHP Carl Pavano.

Also available to pitch: RHPs Joe Smith, Rafael Betancourt, Matt Herges.

PADRES: 2B David Eckstein, 3B Edgar Gonzalez, DH Brian Giles, RF Emil Brown, LF Chase Headley, 1B Kyle Blanks, CF Scott Hairston, C Nick Hundley, SS Luis Rodriguez. RHP Kevin Correia.

Dellucci to DL, Crowe recalled

David Dellucci won’t be breaking camp with the Indians, after all.

The left calf tightness that led to Dellucci getting scratched from Saturday’s lineup has now landed him on the 15-day disabled list. Trevor Crowe, who was optioned out of camp on Saturday, will assume Dellucci’s spot on the Opening Day roster as a reserve outfielder.

Dellucci is entering the final year of a three-year, $11.5 million contract that hasn’t turned out the way anyone expected. He missed the majority of 2007 with a torn left hamstring and he hit just .238 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs in 113 games last season. Dellucci will make $4 million this season, and his spot on the roster was considered tenuous even before the injury.

 

The Indians gave Crowe, their No. 1 pick in the 2005 Draft, a good, hard look in camp. He was under consideration to either bump Dellucci or to claim the utility job that went to Josh Barfield. Ultimately, the Indians decided Crowe, who batted .289 (13-for-45) with six stolen bases in 17 Cactus League games, was better off getting regular at-bats at Triple-A Columbus. He was optioned out of camp mere hours before Dellucci’s calf began bothering him.

Got on my dead man's suit and my smilin' skull ring


322938259.jpgI thought the Indians' clubhouse featured a lot of guys in Affliction T-shirts.

 

Then I went to dinner last night at a restaurant next to an arena hosting a Disturbed concert. The attendees were lined up outside, ready to rock out and bang their heads to such easy listening tunes as "Down with the Sickness," "Violence Fetish," "Sons of Plunder," and "Ten Thousand Fists."

 

There are graveyards with fewer skulls and crossbones than what I witnessed last night.

 

The Affliction epidemic continues, as does the Spring Training that won't die.

 

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIA OF THE DAY...

 

  • Just hours after Trevor Crowe was optioned down to Columbus, David Dellucci's calf muscle tightened up on him. If it doesn't respond to treatment immediately, Dellucci's spot is very much in jeopardy. If he has to start the year on the DL, I'd expect Crowe to get called up, unless the Indians decide to keep Tony Graffanino around for a little while. Not much word on Dellucci's condition, other than it was the same today as yesterday and he was getting treatment back at the complex. So stay tuned.
  • Expect an announcement about the last bullpen spot either Monday or Tuesday. It's coming down to Zach Jackson and Vinnie Chulk, and Eric Wedge made it clear that Saturday's game, in which Jackson struggled and Chulk shined, will not serve as a deciding factor. "We look at everything," Wedge said. "I don't think [Saturday] was necessarily good or bad for either one of those guys. We're working through some other things outside of that... what we saw last year, where we're at now, how we see us breaking, how we look at the entire year. So we're going to still stay with that criteria."
  • Given all those qualifiers, it appears to me that the Indians are still leaning toward Jackson. He'd be a left-handed complement to their three right-handed starters, and he can provide length. But that's my own speculation. I guess we'll know the answer any day now.
  • Mark DeRosa made quite an impression on the Cubs and their fans in just two years in Chicago. He was getting lots of love pregame today at HoHoKam Park. And then he stepped up and jacked the first pitch he saw from Ted Lilly over the left-field wall.
  • DeRosa wasn't done. In his second at-bat, DeRosa took Lilly deep to left again -- this time nailing the top of the scoreboard. In his third at-bat, DeRosa hit a shot off the center-field batter's eye that, strangely, is in play. That was very nearly homer No. 3. Looks like DeRo is locked in.
  • Wedge says Masa Kobayashi is on the club, but he took another step back today (two runs on three hits, including a Reed Johnson homer, in one inning). He'll be on a short leash this season.
  • You might want to check out the Bill James Goldmine 2009, which is filled with little nuggets of info, as well as essays and statistical profiles. James unearthed several interesting facts about the '08 Indians. I'll share a few of them here. 
  • According to James' research, the Indians were leading their opponents 83 times in the fifth inning last year, and that was the best fifth-inning record in the AL and the third-best in the Majors. The fact that the club went 81-81 just shows you how lousy that bullpen was, because no other team in baseball finished the season with less total wins than fifth-inning leads.
  • James found that Grady Sizemore's batting average on pulled grounders was .172 last year, compared with .202 in 2007. Defenses have begun to shift on Sizemore, and it's worked pretty well.
  • Asdrubal Cabrera reached base leading off an inning 27 times in '08, and the Indians scored 43 runs in those innings. James says that's the highest production rate in the Majors in that situation.
  • There's plenty more where that came from, but I'll leave it to you to seek out James' book.

~AC

3/29: Indians at Cubs

Today’s 4:05 p.m. ET game at HoHoKam Park will be broadcast live on WTAM 1100, the Indians Radio Network and Indians.com.

INDIANS: CF Grady Sizemore, 3B Mark DeRosa, C Victor Martinez, SS Jhonny Peralta, RF Ryan Garko, LF Ben Francisco, 2B Jamey Carroll, 1B Tony Graffanino, RHP Fausto Carmona.

Also available to pitch: RHP Masa Kobayashi, RHP Kerry Wood, LHP Rafael Perez.

CUBS: LF Alfonso Soriano, SS Ryan Theriot, 1B Derrek Lee, RF Milton Bradley, 3B Aramis Ramirez, 2B Mike Fontenot, C Geovany Soto, CF Joey Gathright, LHP Ted Lilly.

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