March 2010

"Every moment's a little bit later"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
http://www.twitter.com/castrovince

Still a couple days remaining in the desert. But after everything that transpired today at the Player Development Complex and Goodyear Ballpark, I think we can pretty much call it a camp, barring injuries or unforeseen developments.

I will, of course, blog any news or particularly pertinent notes that come up before my Saturday departure. And over on the Indians.com site on Friday, we’ll have my Q&A with manager Manny Acta and a feature on Opening Day starter Jake Westbrook.

Now, with the roster all but set, let’s do a rundown of the ramifications of today’s activity.

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • huff2.jpgDavid Huff probably locked up the rotation job today. With Acta and the bulk of hte coaching staff traveling to Los Angeles tomorrow, that won’t be announced until Friday (UPDATE: Turns out, Acta will address reporters before he leaves tomorrow, so expect the rotation announcement then), but it seems like a no-brainer, particularly with four right-handers in the rotation. Huff went seven innings against the White Sox and allowed one run (an Alex Rios solo shot) on five hits with three walks and four strikeouts. After Carlos Carrasco’s rough outing Sunday, Huff just had to come in today and pound the strike zone. He wasn’t spotless, as the three walks illustrate. But he did a solid job against a Sox lineup nearly full of regulars.
  • The rotation, then, seems set. These were GM Mark Shapiro’s thoughts on the rotation, with the season on the horizon: “I’m pleased with [Jake] Westbrook and [Fausto] Carmona. I think Justin Masterson’s last outing was extremely encouraging. Hopefully he’s trending in the right direction and can build off that. Mitch Talbot, other than the first couple innings [Tuesday] night, has had a good camp. But there’s a certain level of anxiety with pitching. Our pitching is going to be a work in progress. It’s going to require some time and adjustments along the way. I feel there are enough guys here, enough quality alternatives, to put a staff together. I’m just not sure we’re going to get that staff April 5. It may take us some time to get there.”
  • Westbrook made his final spring tuneup before his Opening Day start Monday in Chicago. He pitched for Triple-A Columbus against Nashville today and went six innings, allowing four runs on five hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
  • Andy Marte made the club. For how long? Who knows? But he’s here, and he’ll probably play about two days a week at first the first couple weeks, as Matt LaPorta gets up to full speed following October hip and toe surgeries. If Marte falters, the Indians could turn to fourth outfielder Austin Kearns as the backup backup first baseman. Kearns played a little first today.
  • Shapiro and Acta both said that of all the decisions announced today, the final outfield decision was probably the most difficult one to make. Ultimately, the Indians wanted Trevor Crowe to play every day in Triple-A, and they value the right-handed bat Kearns brings to an otherwise all-lefty outfield. Kearns is a solid outfield defender with a “cannon for an arm,” as Shapiro put it.
  • Non-roster invitee Jamey Wright will be rewarded for a strong camp. He was durable for the Royals the last couple years, and he followed the strike-throwing mantra this spring. “He came as advertised,” Shapiro said. “He can add great value to our ‘pen and provide some stability as well as some leadership. I was impressed with him, both as a guy and how he pitched.”
  • On the other side of the spectrum, non-roster invitees Luis Rodriguez, Brian Buscher, Saul Rivera, Niuman Romero and Chris Gimenez will all be reassigned to Minor League camp Friday. The Indians are keeping them around through Thursday because of the split-squad. The Tribe will probably hold onto Anderson Hernandez through the weekend, as Mark Grudzielanek has to prove he’s past the right hamstring tweak he suffered Sunday before his contract is officially purchased. Grudzielanek will start tomorrow in Tempe.
  • Rain is in the forecast tomorrow, so that Tempe game might be in jeopardy.
  • Here’s what Shapiro had to say about “Grudz”: “The guy’s amazingly athletic and plays a lot younger than his age. He moved around extremely well and played good defense at second. The only question is what should we expect if we put him at third base. As far as playing second base and complementing Valbuena, I think he’s going to help us in multiple ways.”
  • Regarding the split-squad, if you’re attending the game at Dodger Stadium (and several of my readers have e-mailed to inform me they are), you’re getting something closely resembling a regular lineup. Michael Brantley, LaPorta, Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta, Asdrubal Cabrera and Chris Perez are all making the trip, and Carmona will get the start. Acta and every member of the coaching staff, with the exception of bullpen coach Scott Radinsky, will be there, too.
  • brantley2.jpgGood to see Brantley rewarded with the left field job. “He did everything,” Acta said. “He never got caught up in the [Russell] Branyan signing. He went about his business and put up a great spring.”
  • Brantley followed all the service time speculation as much as any of us, and it still might become an issue at some point this season. “Ideally, you’d get a little more Minor League time with a guy like that,” Shapiro said. “But he’s earned an opportunity up here. We told him at this point that he’ll be making the decisions going forward.” Obviously, though, Branyan could come back and complicate matters. Branyan, as scheduled, did not play in the Minors today. He was in the dugout for the game against the Sox.
  • Branyan or no Branyan, Shapiro feels good about the offense. Here’s what he had to say: “Good pitching like Felix Hernandez and top-of-the-rotation guys can shut down any offense. We’re going to run into some good pitching in our division. Rick Porcello, Justin Verlander, Mark Buehrle, Jake Peavy, Zack Greinke. But I feel like our lineup’s got the ability to put up runs with anybody in our division, except maybe the Twins. [The offense] is not a concern. As a general manager, you’re concerned about everything. But our offense and our outfield defense would be in the lowest rung of my concerns.”
  • Speaking of the outfield defense, that’s a pretty dynamic unit the Indians will put out there on Opening Day. Brantley stole 46 bags in Triple-A last year, while Shin-Soo Choo stole 20 in the big leagues. Obviously, Sizemore was hurt last year, but he stole 38 bases in ’08. “It’s a very athletic outfield,” Shapiro said. “It should be a fun outfield to watch.”
  • Shapiro on Sizemore’s spring: “Seeing him play this spring made me realize how hurt he must have played last year. His injuries were significant. He just doesn’t say anything. But to watch him run how he’s running now, to watch him swing how he’s swinging now, it makes it more striking what he must have endured last year.”
  • Shapiro’s take on Acta, as the manager’s first camp with the Indians wraps up: “Just acta5.jpgpositive energy. He brings it every day, and it resonates throughout the clubhouse and with everyone around him. He’s a great communicator, easy to approach and a smart baseball guy. I’ve never had a moment where I’ve questioned who we picked. It’s been fun to work with him. We haven’t lost a game yet, but it’s been fun to work with him, and I’ve definitely learned from him, which is what you want in any relationship.”
  • And while we’re on a roll with the Shapiro synopsis, here’s what he had to say about his feelings on the team now vs. December: “I don’t think we knew what to expect from Carmona or Hafner. We’ve seen very positive indicators from those guys. Not definitives, but positive indicators. Westbrook is healthy. We didn’t expect Kerry Wood to get hurt, so that’s a negative. Spring Training can be an inaccurate reading. There are areas where it’s heightened anxiety, and there are areas where it may have falsely made us feel more secure. But the biggest questions out there — Hafner, Carmona and Westbrook — are three resounding positives.”
  • Finally, the Indians announced today a new “Volunteer Challenge” with Business Volunteers Unlimited. Those who sign up for the program through BVU’s Volunteer Center and log a minimum of four hours of volunteer work with nonprofits will receive a ticket voucher for two upper box tickets to one of 24 preselected Tribe games. Find out more at indians.com/volunteer.

~AC

Opening Day roster nearly set

As speculated Sunday, this is what the Indians’ 25-man roster is expected to look like on Opening Day, with the appropriate asterisks where they’re needed:

Starters (5): Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, David Huff*, Mitch Talbot

Relievers (7): Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, Aaron Laffey, Joe Smith, Lewis, Wright**.

Catchers (2): Lou Marson, Mike Redmond.

Infielders (6): Matt LaPorta, Luis Valbuena, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Andy Marte, Mark Grudzielanek**.

Outfielders (4): Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Michael Brantley, Austin Kearns**.

Designated Hitter (1): Travis Hafner.

*Pitching today against the White Sox to lock down the final opening in the rotation.

**Must get through the final four days of camp healthy before contract is purchased.

1B Russell Branyan, closer Kerry Wood, Rule 5 reliever Hector Ambriz and right-hander Anthony Reyes (60-day) will all open the season on the disabled list.

Roster moves coming

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

The Indians are expected to announce several roster decisions this morning.

I’m still expecting an Opening Day roster similar to what I posted here. My hunch is that the Indians will watch David Huff’s outing against the White Sox today before officially announcing anything regarding that last open rotation spot, but the other decisions could all be announced today.

One change to that roster speculation I posted: FOXSports.com reported this morning that Jeremy Sowers has been placed on outright waivers. That’s not terribly surprising, given Sowers’ struggles the last few years, his status coming back from shoulder soreness and the need for roster spots. The Indians will need at least three spots for Minor League invitees Austin Kearns, Mark Grudzielanek and Jamey Wright.

As soon as the moves are official, I’ll post them here.

~AC

UPDATE: Here’s what I know so far…

Michael Brantley made the team. He’ll be the starting left fielder.

Jensen Lewis made the bullpen.

Reliever Saul Rivera (a non-roster invitee) did not make the bullpen. He’ll head to Columbus. He has an out in his contract in mid-May, if he’s not with the big league club.

Wyatt Toregas was optioned out. No surprise there, though Toregas did have a strong camp. This means that Lou Marson is the starting catcher, as was anticipated all along.

Chris Gimenez didn’t make the club. But that was clear when he was removed from the 40-man last month.

More to come on Indians.com.

UPDATE No. 2: Trevor Crowe was also optioned out, meaning Austin Kearns has also made the club as the fourth outfielder.

Sowers was, indeed, placed on waivers, and he cleared. He has been outrighted to Triple-A Columbus.

Rule 5 pickup Hector Ambriz will be placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 27, with right elbow tendinitis. So the Indians don’t yet have to offer him back to the D-backs.

UPDATE No. 3: Aside from the last rotation spot (which will be determined today) and ensuring the non-roster guys who will be added get through the next few days healthy, the Indians are set.

Andy Marte was also informed he made the team, and the Indians will purchase the contracts of Mark Grudzielanek, Jamey Wright and Kearns this weekend.  

"Surprise, surprise, come on open your eyes"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
http://www.twitter.com/castrovince

A few items of interest as I watch newly minted rotation member Mitch Talbot take one on the chin in Surprise Stadium…

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • Russell Branyan got four plate appearances as a DH in a Triple-A game against Louisville this afternoon. He went 2-for-3 with a home run and a walk. “Pretty good for the first day,” Acta said. “He came out feeling fine.” Branyan is expected to play in the field at first base his next time out.
  • Mark Grudzielanek, the odds-on favorite to claim a utility job in which he’d spell Luis Valbuena at second base against certain (if not all) left-handers, is expected to be back in the lineup Thursday for the split-squad game in Tempe, against the Angels. Grudzielanek tweaked his right hamstring Sunday morning and hasn’t appeared in a game since.
  • Shin-Soo Choo bounced around the outfield spots a little bit (20 games in left, one game in center) last year, but that won’t be the case in 2010. “Choo’s not moving around,” Acta said. “Unless there’s a big-time necessity, he’ll be playing right field every day.” The Indians will be able to use Michael Brantley and/or Austin Kearns and/or Trevor Crowe to fill in when Grady Sizemore gets a day off.
  • Speaking of Choo, if you were holding out hope (however faint) of a long-term deal with the Indians this spring, don’t hold your breath. That’s too much holding for one person to handle, anyway.
  • That above link is part of a new “All Access Beat” format we’re trying on the MLB.com club sites. It’s essentially a notebook, with separate little items on the same page. The ones of utmost importance will be linked on the Indians.com homepage. That will be a good source for all the long-form news, notes and minutiae of the upcoming season. And I’ll still be blogging here, too, of course.
  • At some point, the Indians have to start getting concerned about some of the things they’re seeing in the bullpen this spring. Closer Chris Perez has 10 walks in 9 1/3 innings, left-hander Tony Sipp has seven walks and a 7.71 ERA in seven innings, and Joe Smith has eight walks and a 5.19 ERA in 8 2/3 innings. Rafael Perez was pretty effective at preventing runs before a rough one against the Dodgers last night, but he’s walked eight guys in 9 1/3 innings.
  • Sipp said this is the worst spring camp he’s ever had, in terms of performance. But he’s encouraged by how good his arm feels after all the problems he endured on the road to the big leagues. “Mentally, this has been a productive spring for me,” he said. “I finally came in healthy. I’m still looking forward to the season.” Acta said Sipp “hasn’t had a good Spring Training,” but that doesn’t change anything with regard to the bullpen spot that is assured to him. “This guy had a dominant second half in the big leagues last year,” Acta said. “I’m new, but that still has to count for something.”
  • Valbuena is in similar standing. He has not lost hold of his starting second base job, despite entering tonight’s game batting .222 with a .595 OPS in 36 at-bats. “Defensively, he’s played well,” Acta said. “He hasn’t swung the bat the way he did last year. But he didn’t come to camp to compete for a spot. He came to camp as our second baseman.” And he’ll leave that way. “I’m not going to surprise you guys with two days left,” Acta said with a smile.
  • Does a 16-7 record in exhibition play mean anything? Well, sure it does. At least, in Acta’s eyes. “If our record was horrible, everybody would be saying horrible things about us,” Acta said. “When you win and play good, it’s good for the soul and it’s good for the confidence of the young kids.”
  • For the season-opening series in Chicago, it will be Jake Westbrook vs. Mark Buehrle on Monday, Fausto Carmona vs. Jake Peavy on Wednesday and Justin Masterson vs. Gavin Floyd on Thursday.
  • Matt LaPorta’s looking for your help with his at-bat music. The best I could come up with is “This Little Light of Mine.”

~AC

"I know you haven't made your mind up yet"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
http://www.twitter.com/castrovince

acta4.jpgWe have hit the home stretch here in the first Spring Training camp of the Manny Acta Era, and the Indians still have 38 guys in camp and several jobs undecided.

So, for the sake of clarity…

The last starting spot will go to either David Huff or Carlos Carrasco.

The last two bullpen jobs will go to any two of these three guys: Jensen Lewis, Saul Rivera and Jamey Wright.

The left field job will go to Austin Kearns, Michael Brantley or Trevor Crowe.

The fourth outfielder’s job will go to Kearns or Crowe (Brantley’s going to play every day somewhere).

The utility infield spot will go to Mark Grudzielanek, Anderson Hernandez or Luis Rodriguez.

The other utility infield spot will go to one of those three guys or Andy Marte.

If I had to guess, I’d say your Opening Day roster looks (something) like this:

Starters (5): Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Huff, Mitch Talbot

Relievers (7): Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, Aaron Laffey, Joe Smith, Lewis, Wright.

Catchers (2): Lou Marson, Mike Redmond.

Infielders (6): Matt LaPorta, Luis Valbuena, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Marte, Grudzielanek.

Outfielders (4): Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Brantley, Kearns.

Designated Hitter (1): Travis Hafner.

Disabled List (4): Russell Branyan, Jeremy Sowers, Kerry Wood, Anthony Reyes (60-day).

If I’m right, the Indians will have to make roster room for three guys – Wright, Grudzielanek and Kearns. Obviously, they can remove Rule 5 pickup Hector Ambriz. As for the other two spots, well, that’s why Mark Shapiro makes the big bucks.

How accurate are my predictions? We’ll find out Thursday. That’s when Acta is expected to announce the roster.

In the meantime…

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • Grudzielanek was a late scratch from today’s lineup because of tightness in his right hamstring. It’s not considered serious, and Acta said it shouldn’t affect Grudzielanek’s standing in the battle for a roster spot. It was Acta who had to talk Grudzielanek out of playing, as a precaution. I listed Grudzielanek above, but Acta also speaks highly of Hernandez. Hard to say which one of those guys gets carried. 
  • Carrasco was erratic today, walking six guys in 3 2/3 innings. He was a longshot for a rotation job to begin with, pitched his way into consideration and might have pitched his way back to Columbus with this start. It’s up to David Huff to decide. Huff gets the start Wednesday against the White Sox. Full story on Carrasco.
  • Acta and the coaching and front office staffs will huddle up after Wednesday’s game to make the final roster decisions.
  • Here’s the full story on the Branyan-to-the-DL decision and its implications on the Opening Day roster.
  • marte.jpgYou know who really stands to benefit from the Branyan decision? Marte. The Indians are going to need somebody to not only back up Peralta at third base but also spell LaPorta at first. LaPorta has come a long way from his October surgeries, but he’s not expected to play seven days a week for at least the first two weeks of the season. Enter Marte, who is, as you know, out of Minor League options. “We’ve taken a  long look because he’s out of options,” Acta said. “He brings that above-average defense at first and third. He’s had some good games offensively, too. We’ve seen some progress with him. Now the issue will be whether he can make the adjustment, if he doesn’t make this club as an everyday guy, to sit on the bench for a few games and maintain his hitting approach and give us quality at-bats.”
  • What’s playing out under the surface of the Branyan situation is a tell-tale symbol of small-market reality. The fact is that if a big-market ballclub had an opening in left field and a player of Brantley’s pedigree and performance on-hand, he’d probably be assured of the job by now. Not here, necessarily. As I’ve written several times here and elsewhere, one long-term cost benefit to signing Russell Branyan to a one-year, $2 million contract was the year of contractual control of Brantley that the Branyan signing could buy the Tribe down the line. If the Indians can avoid promoting Brantley from Triple-A Columbus until midseason, they can ensure themselves pre-arbitration contractual control of Brantley through 2013, rather than 2012.
  • brantley.jpgThe Branyan injury might not have much impact here, anyway, as the Indians expect to have him back within the first two weeks of the season, barring further setbacks. We’ll see how that goes, but it’s too early to tell how long the guy playing left field on Opening Day will actually be playing there. Even if it is Brantley, he could be sent down in a matter of weeks.
  • Still, the fact remains that Brantley had a stellar September and has had a stellar camp, coming into today’s game with a .343 average, .457 slugging percentage and .452 on-base percentage. He feels he deserves the job. “I’ve done everything I need to do,” Brantley said. “I feel like I’ve done a great job. I’ve given 110 percent, I’ve prepared my body and I’m really happy with where I’m at.”
  • Brantley was hobbled by a bum ankle for much of 2008 at Double-A Huntsville and 2009 at Columbus. In ’09, he still managed to swipe 46 bags in the Minors and make an immediate impact at the top of the big-league lineup, but he said he played through pain all year. He strengthened the ankle over the winter. “My ankle’s 100 percent,” he said. “I’m so excited about that. I feel I can run again. I always felt I had more to prove. Last year, I was banged up all year. It was a long season and a long grind, but it made me tougher mentally.”
  • That mental toughness could come in handy for Brantley later this week, if he gets sent down. And if that happens, then Kearns is the Opening Day left fielder for your Cleveland Indians. Crowe is more of a fourth-outfielder type who could provide speed off the bench.
  • So, what about Kearns? He’s here as a non-roster invitee, he has an out clause in his Minor League deal if he’s not on the Opening Day club and he’s batting .308 this spring. The odds of sticking are in his favor, as he could be a serviceable fourth outfielder even if he’s not the left field starter. Acta is a big fan, having managed Kearns in Washington the last three years. “I always liked him, because he’s a pro,” Acta said. “He goes hard every single day. He’s a great teammate. He’s one of those guys that can only help you, when he’s healthy. He’s the ultimate pro.”
  • Marson’s status as the starting catcher still hasn’t been officially announced, but that’s coming. marson.jpgWhat’s a little odd is the sporadic playing time Marson has received in spring camp. Today marked just his ninth start behind the plate. He came in with 21 at-bats. (For the sake of comparison, Shelley Duncan missed a week with an elbow injury and was removed from camp a week ago and nonetheless managed to log 21 at-bats.) “It’s been hard to get in a rhythm,” said Marson, who went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI today to improve his spring average from .190 to .240. You’d have to imagine Acta will ramp up Marson’s participation this final week.
  • Talbot and the winner of the battle between Huff and Carrasco for the final rotation spot will not exactly break camp with the club. Both pitchers will remain here in Goodyear to throw against Minor Leaguers on Sunday before joining the Tribe in Chicago.
  • The last available reliever listed on the Indians’ roster card today was “CC Lee.” No, that wasn’t some cruel joke about past Cy Young winners. It was short for farmhand Chen-Chang Lee, who came on in the sixth inning.

~AC

Bad back to hold Branyan back

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

http://www.twitter.com/castrovince

 


branyan.jpgYou might not be shocked to learn that Russell Branyan's bum back will force him to open the season on the 15-day disabled list.

 

Branyan was informed of the Indians' decision this morning.

 

The Indians signed Branyan to a one-year, $2 million contract near the beginning of spring camp to be their starting first baseman this season. However, the herniated disc in Branyan's lower back, which kept him off the field for the final month of his '09 season with the Mariners, has not cooperated and responded to rehab as much as either side hoped. Branyan has yet to appear in an exhibition game, and he took batting practice for the first time Saturday.

 

If Branyan doesn't appear in a Cactus League game this week (and he might), the Indians can back-date his placement on the DL to March 27. GM Mark Shapiro said the expectation is that Branyan will be ready to join the team "sometime in the first two weeks of the season," provided he continues to progress in rehab.

 

Matt LaPorta will remain at first base. Michael Brantley (whose arbitration clock is an issue), Austin Kearns (whose out clause is an issue) and Trevor Crowe are in competition for the starting left field job.

 

More info to come soon at Indians.com.

Talbot to the rotation, Laffey to the bullpen

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
http://www.twitter.com/castrovince

talbot.jpgWe have some more clarity regarding the composition of the starting rotation and the bullpen.

Mitch Talbot, as anticipated, has won a rotation job. That was expected coming into camp, and Talbot, who is out of Minor League options, sealed the deal by going 1-0 with a 0.79 ERA in four appearances in Cactus play. He worked six innings in a Triple-A game Thursday.

The other, more surprising development is Aaron Laffey heading to the bullpen. Based off spring performance, Laffey (1-1, 3.07 ERA in 14 2/3 innings) seemed to have a slight leg up on David Huff for a starting job, and the Indians are already expected to carry two lefties in the ‘pen in Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp.

laffey.jpgLaffey, however, did have success in the bullpen last year, and he can obviously provide the Indians with some length. With at least four and possibly five right-handed starters (and the potential for some short nights for those starters), the Indians have the ability to counter with three lefties out of the ‘pen (Laffey, Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez).

So it’s down to the left-handed Huff and the right-handed Carlos Carrasco for the final spot in the rotation. Carrasco pitches Sunday in Tempe against the Angels, and Huff pitches Tuesday in Surprise against the Rangers, so a decision could come Wednesday.

This news also pretty much assures Jeremy Sowers of starting the season on the DL.

Full story, with quotes, coming soon on Indians.com.

Might as well just follow this news with today’s notes…

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • So now it’s anybody’s guess what the Indians will do with the last two available bullpen spots. I had thought the injury to Kerry Wood all but assured jobs to Jensen Lewis and non-roster invitees Saul Rivera and Jamey Wright. But now your guess is as good as mine as far as which two of those guys will claim a job. (I am, by the way, operating on the premise that Rule 5 pickup Hector Ambriz, who was limited for a while because of an elbow injury, will not come away with a job, as he hasn’t pitched in an “A” game in a couple weeks).
  • The Indians would have to clear room on the 40-man for Wright or Rivera, so that’s an issue. And here’s something else to consider: Wright has an out clause in his contract if he’s not on the Opening Day club, whereas Rivera’s out clause isn’t available to him until May 15. So he could potentially be sent to Triple-A Columbus. Lewis has one Minor League option year remaining, so he’s a Columbus candidate, as well.
  • Rivera and Wright both pitched against the Rockies today. Rivera came on in relief of Jake Westbrook with the bases loaded and none out in the fifth. He walked Jason Giambi to bring home a run but then got out of the jam. In the sixth, he walked the leadoff man, gave up a double to Matt Miller and gave up an RBI single to Jay Payton. That was the first run charged to Rivera in eight innings of work this spring.
  • Wright was sporting a 1.04 ERA in 8 2/3 innings this spring when he came on in the seventh and walked the first two guys he faced. That’s never good. He went on to give up an RBI single to Ryan Spilborghs before getting out of the inning.
  • Manny Acta on Wright: “This guy made 65 appearances for Kansas City last year. He’s resilient. He struggled today, but we’re not evaluating guys after every outing. We like Jamey.”
  • While Joe Smith and Sipp are both assured spots in the bullpen, the Indians have to be concerned that Smith has a 6.75 ERA in 6 2/3 innings (and somehow let Ryan Garko… yes, that Ryan Garko… swipe a bag off him Thursday) and Sipp has walked six batters in five innings. 
  • Speaking of walks, Acta was not at all happy that closer Chris Perez walked the first batter he faced on four pitches in the ninth. Perez did, however, finish off the save.
  • Speaking of relievers, our old buddy Rafael Betancourt worked a scoreless inning against his former mates today.
  • Westbrook was not sharp today. He had trouble finding the strike zone. He was expected to go six or seven innings but didn’t record an out in the fifth. He was charged with two runs on seven hits with five walks and three strikeouts, and he threw around 80 pitches. “I felt good about where I was,” he said. “I was real close to being right where I want to be. But I was just kind of all over the place and threw a lot of balls and a lot of pitches.”
  • This was Westbrook’s final start in an “A” game. His next day to throw is Wednesday, when the Indians will be facing the White Sox. The Indians don’t want the Sox to get a look at Westbrook before Opening Day, so he’ll throw in a Minor League game.
  • Carrasco is excited to be under real consideration for a starting job. He said that after he got roughed up by the Rangers on March 13, he and pitching coach Tim Belcher took a hard look at video of his delivery and made some changes. “I felt so bad because I gave up three runs [to the Rangers],” he said. “I had to work on my mechanics. I was flying open. I worked on it, and the next game I felt so good. I was throwing all four pitches for strikes.” That next game was March 17 in Tucson, when he held the Rockies hitless for four innings.
  • The Indians have placed an added emphasis on the importance of infield defense because of the poor play last year and the number of sinkerballers in the rotation. But shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was never a concern. “Here’s what I like about Cabrera,” Westbrook said. “He can make the routine play, but he can also make the unbelievable play. That’s nice to know as a starter. That’s what excites me about him.”
  • I’m doing my annual manager Q&A with Acta next week. I asked my Twitter followers to send me their questions, and I’ll pick the best one(s) to ask Acta. I’m extending that invite to you, as well, so post your question in the comments section below or tweet me @castrovince.
  • Better mark your calendar for the release of the new Gaslight Anthem album on June 15.

~AC

"Each wash brings him one step closer to dying. That's what makes the T-shirt such a tragic figure."

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
http://www.twitter.com/castrovince

Went on a little hike in the White Tanks with Indians iTrac vision coordinator Jason Stein, known both here on flat ground and up in mountainous terrain as “The Master of Self-Promotion,” during yesterday’s off day.

Lo and behold, an argument erupted, as it usually does.

I had come straight from the gym and was wearing my usual workout apparel, which consists of running shoes, shorts and a ratty old t-shirt. Stein, a minion in an increasingly vain society, found my shirt offensive.

rocky.jpgConsider Stein a fitness fashionista. He’s one of those people who is willing to plop down 30 bucks for a T-shirt billed as “performance gear,” falling for the sales pitch promising an “ergonomic fit” and “higher efficiency output.”

In reality, of course, a workout shirt is just a workout shirt. All you’re doing is wearing it while you run and lift and sweat. When Rocky Balboa was drinking egg yolk, jumping rope, chasing chickens, hustling up the steps of the art museum and punching raw meat, he was wearing your standard-issue cotton tank-top, not a “compression sleeveless T with accelerated moisture transport.”

Stein, of course, disagrees. He says if you’re going to a fitness facility, you better look the part. New shoes, new shirt, microbe-reducing socks with scent suppression. In our debate, he actually used the verb form of the word “wick,” which had previously only been used by Under Armour pitchmen. (Job well done, fellas.)

I countered by saying that if looking the part is so necessary, why weren’t we walking the mountain trail in buckskin jackets and carrying a canteen?

My readers — most of them, anyway — are sane, rational people, and I assured Stein they would side with me on this one.

Make me proud, folks.

ADDENDUM: Stein would like me to include in here his “golf course analogy,” which goes as follows: Being the guy in the fitness center with holes in his shirt is like being the guy on the golf course in jean shorts. I’m not sure if that strengthens his case, but there you go.

ADDENDUM No. 2: The most rational response to this comes from Stein’s girlfriend, Liz: “There’s no difference,” she said, “unless you’re trying to pick up women.”

carrasco.jpgEXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • The rotation battle is a little more complicated than previously expected (or reported). Carlos Carrasco has really made an impression on the new coaching staff, and pitching coach Tim Belcher told me Carrasco is officially a contender for one of the last two rotation spots. Though Belcher didn’t say so directly, Mitch Talbot seems to have won a job. Meanwhile, the inconsistent outings from David Huff and Aaron Laffey (who looked really good today), combined with two superb outings from Carrasco his last two times out, appear to have made it a three-way battle for the last spot. Here’s the full story on Indians.com.
  • I mentioned to Belcher that perhaps all the attention that’s place on the starting battle is a bit overblown, considering it could be a revolving door in the rotation this season. “Now what would make you believe that?” he said with a wry smile.
  • That being said, Belcher seems to feel better about the rotation than he did a month ago, thanks to the spring performance of Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona. “They’re right on track,” Belcher said. “Justin [Masterson] has been a little up and down. But there’s still time for him to get where he needs to be.” Belcher mentioned Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Rondon and Yohan Pino as three guys he’ll be paying close attention to at Columbus this season.
  • Masterson had trouble finding the strike zone in a Minors game against Triple-A Columbus (he was pitching for Double-A Akron) on the off day. He went five innings, allowing two runs on three hits with five walks and two strikeouts.
  • Today’s lineup might have been an Opening Day preview – SS Cabrera, CF Sizemore, RF Choo, DH Hafner, 3B Peralta, 1B LaPorta, 2B Valbuena, C Marson, LF Brantley. The wild card, of course, is the Russell Branyan situation and how it pertains to Brantley. (Branyan took soft toss today and was actually in the dugout for the game… that’s a start.) Manny Acta had said he wanted to get his regulars together for the last week to 10 days of spring camp, and we’ve reached that point.
  • The Indians had three recently signed members of their Dominican Summer League squad test positive for steroids. All three had their contracts (which were not yet finalized) voided, at no cost to the club. But John Mirabelli, the Tribe’s assistant GM in charge of scouting, said the team is close to doing its own drug testing prior to international players signing a contract. This is one way the Indians hope to combat a deceptive culture in the Dominican. DNA testing, which the Indians decided to initiate in the wake of the Wally Bryan/Jose Ozoria situation, is another.
  • But Mirabelli said it’s going to take a true overhaul of the scouting and signing system to make the situation more tolerable for teams. MLB recently rehired Sandy Alderson to oversee reform efforts in the Dominican. “You’ve got a culture now,” Mirabelli said. “This is a rampant part of their culture. It’s dog-eat-dog and very short-term thinking down there. That’s how it’s evolved. Until you change the culture and we make some very, deep changes in how you conduct business down there [it will remain this way].”
  • What changes can be made? The establishment of an MLB academy would help, Mirabelli said. “You’re almost going to need a clearinghouse,” he said. “Players are going to have to be cleared and vetted by Major League Baseball so we know they are who they say they are, they’ve been drug-tested and these are the guys eligible to be signed right now.” Mirabelli said he’d also like to see the Dominican government get involved to register player agents (known as “buscones”) and penalize them when their clients test positive for performance-enhancing drugs or misidentify themselves.
  • Saul Rivera (0.00 ERA in six innings) and Jamey Wright (1.04 ERA in 8 2/3 innings) both seem deserving of a bullpen spot, though their fates could be tied to what the Indians do with the remaining combatants from the rotation race. Belcher has been impressed with Rivera and Wright, two veterans who have been durable in the past. “They’re nice options to have to be considered for the bullpen, because they can give you length multiple times a week,” Belcher said. “Saul looks like he can pitch every day. He’s so effortless and there’s not any overthrowing in his delivery. Both those guys have experience, too. It’s just a matter of finding a way to keep one or both.”
  • The Indians (4,267) and Reds (4,220) had the two lowest average attendance totals in the Cactus League, entering today.
  • The deck of cards sitting in the middle of the Tribe locker room this morning was a promotional item from the 2004 season, with members of that team on each card. The ace of spades was Jason Davis. Wow.
  • Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto demanded that my minutiae today include mention of his invention of “The Pluto” at a nearby QuikTrip gas station this morning. He took unsweetened iced tea, added a little bit of peach iced tea and a splash of lemon. Voila… “The Pluto.” Even by minutia standards, this bit of info qualifies as minutia.

~AC

"You can't always get what you want"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
http://www.twitter.com/castrovince

lays.gifA reporter (not me) goes to a Goodyear Ballpark concession stand to order a pizza and some potato chips. But the chips, he’s informed, are only available as part of a combo meal.

“Can’t I buy them separately?” he asks.

“No,” he’s told.

“Can’t I make the pizza a combo?” he asks.

“No,” he’s told, “they’re only available as part of the hot-dog combo.”

He walked away chipless, with burnt pizza.

And people thought our health care system needed revamping.

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • The Indians will decide this weekend if Russell Branyan (herniated disc in lower back) is ready to appear in a Cactus League game. If he is cleared to play, he’d have the one week he feels he needs to prepare for the regular season. Ultimately, though, the decision will be in Manny Acta’s hands. Acta said some guys need roughly 60 at-bats to be ready and other guys just 30 or so. You, of course, have the right to remain skeptical that Branyan will be on the Opening Day roster. For what it’s worth, he did re-initiate baseball activities this week. He’s taking grounders and playing catch and taking swings off a tee in the indoor cage. “Now,” Branyan said, “it’s just a matter of putting it all together.” And tolerating the volume. Here’s the full story on Branyan.
  • Michael Brantley rolled his right ankle Sunday — and that might seem like a red flag, considering Brantley’s ankle trouble at Double-A Huntsville in ’08 and Triple-A Columbus last year. But Brantley said he was removed from Sunday’s game merely as a precaution. “I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m healthy as can be. I rehabbed hard this winter to make sure both my ankles are strong.” Brantley said his conditioning program involved the use of balance balls and leg press machines to strengthen the muscles in his ankles.
  • When last I wrote about Kerry Wood on Thursday, Acta was essentially telling reporters we were wasting our time even bringing up his right lat soreness because it wasn’t considered serious. Now, Wood is slated to miss six to eight weeks, Chris Perez is the temporary closer and the bullpen battle is either much more clear or much more complicated, depending on how you look at it.
  • With spots guaranteed to the two Perezes (Chris and Rafael), Joe Smith and Tony Sipp, that would leave Hector Ambriz, Jensen Lewis (who had a rough outing today but has otherwise looked sharp this spring), Saul Rivera and Jamey Wright competing for three spots. Unless, of course, Mitch Talbot and/or Aaron Laffey miss out on a rotation spot and get placed in the ‘pen. But I’m still predicting Talbot will be in the rotation and either David Huff or Laffey will end up in Triple-A, because the starting depth they’d provide is more valuable than anything they’d contribute in middle or long relief.
  • Perez worked the ninth inning against the Brewers today. You might chalk this up as good preparation for him, until you note that the Tribe was trailing 9-2 when he came in. It was not a clean outing for Perez, who walked two batters with one out, leading to a run.
  • Perez isn’t letting himself get overly excited about taking over the closing duties. “There’s so much emphasis put on the ninth inning compared to any other inning in the game,” he said. “But you can lose a game in the eighth just as much as you can in the ninth. And there are times when it’s easier to work the ninth than the eighth, depending on where you are in the lineup.” Perez briefly closed for the Cardinals at the end of the ’08 season and blew a couple saves along the way. But he said nothing he experienced in that regard sticks with him the way his disastrous first outing with the Indians last summer does.
  • Carlos Carrasco isn’t vying for a rotation spot, but he’s looked pretty darned good the past week. He worked four no-hit innings in Tucson last Wednesday, and he worked five innings of scoreless relief against the Brew Crew today. “He threw the ball very well,” Acta said. “He was aggressive in the zone. The kid has good stuff.”
  • Jeremy Sowers, on the other hand, was roughed up to the tune of seven runs (six earned) in one-plus inning today. “He didn’t throw enough strikes,” Acta said. “He’s basically finishing his rehab. You’re not expecting pinpoint control. He’s just getting stretched out.” Sowers, out of Minor League options, will probably begin the season on the disabled list as he builds up his workload after battling shoulder soreness.
  • The Indians will be featured on MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” show on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET and again at 9 p.m. ET. The show will feature interviews and analysis previewing the upcoming season.
  • I returned to Arizona just in time for the first and last off day of the Cactus League calendar. It arrives Wednesday. How will Acta spend it? “Mama’s coming to town,” he said of his wife, Cindy. “That’s a good thing.”
  • No “mama”? No worries. You can look for an edition of the Indians Inbox on the Indians.com site to satiate you on an otherwise quiet day.

~AC

Eight more cut from camp

The cuts keep coming in Indians camp.

On Tuesday morning, eight more players were discarded from the Major League side of the Player Development Complex. Right-handed reliever Jess Todd was optioned to Triple-A Columbus, while left-hander Mike Gosling, right-handers Frank Hermann, Josh Judy and Yohan Pino, catcher Damaso Espino, infielder Brian Bixler and outfielder Shelley Duncan were reassigned to Minor League camp.

While the Indians have had a rash of cuts in the past week, none of the players sent packing were considered favorites to win a job on the Major League club. The more intriguing decisions will be made over the next two weeks, as the Indians prepare to break camp and head to Chicago for Opening Day. There are 38 players left in camp.

Of those given the axe on Tuesday, only Duncan was viewed as a legit candidate for a spot on the Opening Day roster. He had hoped to compete for a job on the Tribe bench, helping out in the corner outfield and first base. But an elbow issue prevented him from getting in any Cactus League games between March 8 and 17, and that significantly hampered his chances.

Todd, Gosling, Hermann and Judy all have the potential to provide bullpen depth this season. Bixler had been acquired as a middle infield utility option over the winter, but he was removed from the 40-man roster last week, when the Indians acquired Anderson Hernandez off waivers from the Mets.

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