March 2010

Stand Up and Cheer

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

IMG_1455.jpegThe crowd at Majerle’s Sports Bar had to wonder where these green-and-white-clad goofballs came from. Goodyear, Ariz., to the best of my knowledge, does not have an Ohio University alumni chapter. Yet the ruckus that arose with each made basket or Georgetown turnover had a way of enveloping the otherwise inane chatter taking place at 5 p.m. on a Thursday at the local watering hole.

Indians media relations director (and OU grad) Bart Swain had seven of his old college buddies in town, and it was my pleasure to accompany them to root on our beloved Bobcats.

Now, I don’t throw around the word “beloved” loosely. Because if you want to know the truth, OU is a drinking school, not a school in which the students routinely rally around the athletic squads. I’d say that the majority of my fellow OU grads are “fair-weather fans,” except we really haven’t had all that much fair weather to speak of in our sporting history.

However, the gentlemen I was surrounded by at Majerle’s, I’m happy to report, were true fans. Any time you see a guy rocking a Gary Trent jersey, you know you’re in good company. And any time you’re sitting next to a guy who can actually tell you, without batting an eyelash, the name of Ohio’s all-time assists leader (Dennis Whitaker), you know you’re surrounded by Bobcat brilliance.

We were bonded there together, rooting for 15-point underdogs and expecting the worst, hoping for the best, and taking solace in the fact that an OU team that was a No. 9 seed in its own conference tourney even made it to the Big Dance.

We reached a point, with about two minutes left in the first half and OU leading by double digits, where Swain summed up the events of the past hour perfectly.

“Is this happening?”

And it kept happening. It got a little too close for comfort around the five-minute mark, and I’m hazy on the exact details as to how OU managed to hold off the Hoyas (did I mention OU is a drinking school?). But somehow, it happened. What has to rank as the greatest moment in OU athletic history (like I said… not much to speak of here) happened.

So this one’s not just for the OU alumni, as a whole, but for those of us who actually did live and die with the athletic results or, at the least, acknowledge the existence of the teams during our time on Court Street … err… campus.

ohio.jpgThis one’s for my buddy Brad, who invented “The Claw” (think of the Florida State “Tomahawk Chop,” only much more lame).

This one’s for me, who had to somehow manage to write an unbiased game story for the school paper after Jason Grunkemeyer broke my heart with a last-second three-pointer to oust the ‘Cats from the MAC tourney semifinals in 2001.

This one’s for my buddy Jon, who was writing for the local Athens paper that same night and threw all down-the-middle journalistic decorum aside when he wrote the lead, “Bring me the head of Jason Grunkemeyer.”

This one’s for all of us who are proud to correct people and say, “No, OU, not Ohio State,” when we are asked about our alma mater.

And if I may get a little bit sentimental, this one’s for my buddy Dan Lowe, who is looking down and loving this.

OU? Oh yeah. We are a drinking school, sure. But for the first time in my lifetime, we’re drinking in a tourney win.

~AC

"Heaven knows I've been away too long"

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

I’m off to watch my Ohio University Bobcats tackle Georgetown in the first round of the NCAAs. And then I’m really off, heading home to Cleveland for a few days.

I’ll be back in the Spring Training saddle on Tuesday. Until then, I’ll be leaving you in the more-than-capable hands of my MLB.com colleagues Tom Singer and Jesse Sanchez, who will have the daily reports on Indians.com.

But before I leave you, here’s a few days’ worth of minutiae to keep you as satiated as possible.

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • Check out Indians.com for a feature on Fausto Carmona and the latest edition of the Indians Inbox. Also, take a look at an esteemed panel’s take on the Indians’ All-Decade team for the 2000s.
  • Asdrubal Cabrera will be back in the lineup Friday in Scottsdale, against the Giants. He’s been out since last Friday with a mild left groin strain suffered on a headfirst slide into third base. Cabrera had another baserunning mishap earlier this spring when his belt broke on a slide. “That was crazy,” he said. “I had to borrow Sandy Alomar’s belt. The big belt.” Cabrera took groundballs and batting practice Wednesday and ran the bases today.
  • Veteran reliever Jason Grilli had what figures to be season-ending surgery to repair the quadriceps tendon in his right knee on Wednesday in Vail, Colo. Grilli injured the knee on the agility field while doing a running drill. He had been hoping to compete for a spot in the Tribe bullpen.
  • Kerry Wood (right lat soreness) played catch today, but that’s about it. Not sure when he’s getting back into games, but Manny Acta continues to say the injury is nothing serious. “I know you have to write about it, but it’s not an issue for us,” Acta said. “It’s not a big deal.”
  • Russell Branyan’s lower back issue, on the other hand? Who knows? All I know is Acta was asked if there’s been any progress with Branyan, and all he said was, “No. We’ll let you know the day before he’s ready to play.” (Countdown to Opening Day: 18 days.)
  • Jeremy Sowers, likely headed for the DL as he gets stretched back out following shoulder soreness, made his spring debut against the Reds today, allowing a pair of runs on three hits with no walks and no strikeouts in two innings. Jonny Gomes took him deep in the second. “In terms of health, I felt fine,” Sowers said. “In terms of effectiveness, I had highs and lows. But you don’t expect to come out with guns a blazin’ and painting the knees the first time out in Spring Training.”
  • Sowers is out of Minor League options and knows he could be nearing the end of his tenure with the Tribe. The Indians will stretch him out as a starting alternative, but who knows if they’ll have a need for him in the rotation early in the year? What is Sowers expecting? “I just want to be healthy,” he said. “Whatever else happens is out of my control. If my place isn’t here but with somebody else, it’s fine. I’ve been treated very well by this organization. It’s a first-rate organization. They’ll do whatever is best for the team.”
  • Sowers was running sprints across the warning track as his Vanderbilt Commodores fell to Murray State. He was not pleased to learn about Murray State’s win on a last-second three-pointer. And neither was Jensen Lewis, who had Vandy in his Final Four. Hang with ‘em.
  • Travis Hafner’s starting to drive the ball. He doubled the other day and homered to dead center today, off Reds right-hander Enerio Del Rosario. “He’s feeling good,” Acta said. “He’s getting all the extra work he asked for, and we’re able to play him back to back to back games. I’m sure if this guy’s healthy, he’s going to help us out.” Acta is expecting Pronk to enter the season with “no restrictions” after two years of shoulder issues.
  • Carlos Carrasco is not in the mix for one of the Indians’ rotation vacancies and is ticketed for Triple-A Columbus. But the Cliff Lee trade acquisition made a nice impression on the coaching staff by pitching four no-hit innings against the Rockies’ regulars in Tucson on Wednesday. “That’s what I want to do,” Carrasco said. “I was aggressive and felt I could throw anything in any count. … I want to prove they can trust me that I can make the team and keep the ball down.”
  • Hector Rondon will also be a guy worth tracking in the Columbus rotation. He worked three scoreless against the Reds today, striking out four batters along the way. “He threw the ball very well,” Acta said. “He had a good slider today, and that’s something we’re looking for from him.”
  • Tony Sipp is assured of a bullpen spot, but he’s having a rough spring. He walked three batters in Tucson on Wednesday and has walked five batters total in four innings of work in the Cactus League. He’s carrying a 6.75 ERA. The walks bother Sipp more than anything else. “You don’t give yourself a chance when you do that,” he said. Sipp knows it’s too early to read too much into the results, but that’s no consolation. “Nobody wants to go out and do bad,” he said. “You want to have some good momentum going into the season.”
  • Wes Hodges has been on a tear this spring. Today he got the Indians on the board with an RBI single in the second inning and followed that up with a solo homer of Homer Bailey in the fourth. Hodges is batting .391 this spring, if you need him. It’s just a shame he doesn’t have a position to call his own. Moving to first base this season means he’ll have the potential to be blocked by Matt LaPorta (or Branyan… but… well… you know).
  • Quietly, Trevor Crowe’s been swinging the bat pretty well, too. He was in the leadoff spot today and went 2-for-3 with a walk. If Crowe can bring those kind of contributions to the plate on a regular basis, he’d be a nice piece of the bench — a switch-hitter with speed.
  • Minor League exhibition games begin Friday, with the Indians’ farmhands taking on the Brewers. Columbus and Akron will play host to Nashville and Huntsville, while Kinston and Lake County will travel to Maryvale to take on Wisconsin and Helena.
  • Lewis, Lou Marson and Mitch Talbot were tossing a football around in the clubhouse this morning. Somewhere, “The Room” director Tommy Wiseau was smiling.
  • Finally, the line of the day goes to the legendary Bob Feller. Rapid Robert, 91, threw out a ceremonial first pitch at an old timers’ game in Mesa on Wednesday. “One of these days,” Feller said with a smile, “it will be the last first pitch.”

~AC

Indians acquire INF Hernandez, designate Bixler

The Indians have made a waiver claim, grabbing infielder Anderson Hernandez from the Mets. To make room for Hernandez on the 40-man roster, infielder Brian Bixler was designated for assignment.

Hernandez, 27, was with the Mets and Nationals last year, batting a combined .251 with 15 doubles, four triples, three homers, 37 RBIs and 39 runs scored in 123 games.

In 186 career Major League games, the switch-hitting Hernandez has hit .245 with 20 doubles, five triples, four homers and 57 RBIs.

So count Bixler out of the running for the middle infield utility spot and count Hernandez in. Mark Grudzielanek and Luis Rodriguez are also competing.

"I'm gonna watch you shine, gonna watch you grow"

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

image001.jpgNot much has changed about Goodyear in the past year. This is presumably a growing area that we won’t even recognize in five years, so fast will the development be.

Alas, the only new obvious developments I see from 2009 to 2010 are the Red Robin near my apartment and, of course, the Cincinnati Reds’ complex that neighbors that of the Tribe. So it’s a work in progress, obviously and understandably slowed by the nation’s economic picture.

But I am happy to report that Peanut Butter (which always gets capitalization in this space) has been added to the media lunch room at Goodyear Ballpark. And in the eyes of this scribe, that’s major progress.

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • Purported Opening Day first baseman Russell Branyan arrived at the complex about noon today for his daily rehab work. Opening Day, for the record, is in 20 days.
  • Where’s Shelley Duncan? Ostensibly competing for a spot on the Tribe bench, he hasn’t appeared in a Cactus League game since March 8 in Tucson, against the D-Backs. Apparently he’s been dealing with an elbow issue, but he’s expected to make the trip back to Tucson tomorrow, to face the Rockies.
  • Where’s Rule 5 pickup Hector Ambriz? He’s also been dealing with an elbow issue and hasn’t appeared in a Cactus game since March 9. He’s expected to throw a bullpen session Wednesday. Obviously, this doesn’t help Ambriz’s chances of sticking with the Tribe.
  • No throwing schedule has been announced for closer Kerry Wood (right lat soreness), but he was fielding grounders and tossing the ball around during BP this morning, so I’d say his injury is nothing serious. Also, Asdrubal Cabrera (strained left groin) took grounders and some swings today and should be back in the lineup soon.
  • Jake Westbrook looked particularly sharp today in his third outing of the spring. He was perfect through three innings against the Giants before giving up a pair of base hits that led to a run in the fourth. But he got out of the mini-jam with an inning-ending double play. He threw 39 pitches in the game and another 20 in the bullpen, and he’ll now officially be on the normal pattern of four days’ rest between starts. “I’m excited about the way I came back from three days’ rest the last two outings,” he said.
  • Westbrook said he stopped throwing bullpen sessions between starts four or five years ago, to combat soreness in his arm. But he’s begun throwing those sessions here in camp and plans to take that routine into the regular season. That tells you a lot about how good Westbrook’s arm feels, nearly two years removed from Tommy John surgery.
  • Manny Acta named Westbrook his anticipated Opening Day starter even before Westbrook took the mound in winter ball. He’s pleased to see Westbrook is living up to expectations thus far. “I couldn’t backtrack from that anyway,” Acta joked. “I made the decision based on his track record. But he’s getting better each outing. Right now, he’s throwing well.”
  • Shin-Soo Choo went deep for the first time this spring, and he did so against two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. Choo had never faced Lincecum and his funky delivery before. “I’ve watched him a lot on TV,” Choo said. “I was watching his release point [from the on-deck circle]. He’s quick.” Choo, who is batting .350 with five RBIs in seven games this spring, said he feels ready for the season to start. “I’m seeing the ball good and not swinging at bad pitches,” he said.
  • chis.jpgOne young guy who has really stood out in camp, for all the right reasons, is third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, and he’s profiled at Indians.com today. Farm director Ross Atkins said Chisenhall has a special ability to not get caught up in his environment and just go about his work. “He can block out those derailers and distractions that don’t matter,” Atkins said. “He has such a natural swing and ability to square up the ball, and that probably contributes to his relaxed state.”
  • Atkins said right-hander Omar Aguilar, acquired earlier today in a trade with the Brewers, will most likely head to Double-A Akron to start the season. Aguilar is a power arm with a hard fastball, and he’s shown flashes of what Atkins described as “an average Major League slider.” The Brewers were hyping him as a closing prospect a couple years ago, but his stock took a hit last year.
  • Mitch Talbot said his outing against the Brewers on Monday was the best he’s thrown all spring. It certainly looked that way, as Talbot retired nine straight Milwaukee batters, then headed to the bullpen to keep throwing until he reached his pitch count. The Indians believe Talbot’s best pitch is his changeup, and Talbot agrees. “It hasn’t been my best pitch out here,” he said. “In Arizona, the ball slips out, and it’s harder to get a grip on it.” Talbot learned the changeup his junior year of high school. He initially threw a circle change that came in around 88 mph and didn’t have much differentiation from his fastball. His high school coach showed him a different grip, and he began to have success with it, after a little trial and error. “The first one I threw went about three feet above the head of the catcher,” he said. “But it had good action on it.”
  • Outfielder Jordan Brown is back at the Player Development Complex following the arthroscopic knee surgery he had performed in Cleveland last week. Brown is walking without crutches already. “It’s amazing what they can do,” Brown said. “It was a 20-minute procedure, and I was putting weight on the knee in two to three days.” The official timetable for Brown’s return to action at Triple-A Columbus is four to eight weeks. Obviously, he hopes to be on the front end of that spectrum. “It’s a really aggressive rehab,” he said, “which is nice.” Brown will rehab here in Goodyear.
  • Before today’s game, Carlos Santana was given the Lou Boudreau Award winner as the organization’s top Minor League position player of the year from 2009, and Hector Rondon was given the Bob Feller Award as the top Minor League pitcher of the year (with Feller, of course, on hand to present it to him).
  •  The Indians are facing the Reds for a 7:05 p.m. PT game on St. Patrick’s Day (aka Wednesday), and the two clubs are using the game to enhance their partnership with the city of Goodyear. All proceeds from Wednesday’s game, including ticket, merchandise, concessions and parking sales, will be donated to the Southwest Valley Family YMCA. As far as the St. Patrick’s Day occasion is concerned, Irish music will be played throughout the game, green beer will be served at the concessions and the Reds will wear green hats.
  • Seniors were invited to run the bases after today’s game. As he walked off the field, Acta passed the line of people waiting for their turn and reminded them, “No sliding!”
  • Secretly, way deep down, despite having gone to Georgetown for undergrad and served as student manager under John Thompson on the men’s basketball team, I believe Chris Antonetti is rooting for my OU Bobcats in the first round of the NCAAs on Thursday.

~AC

UPDATE: I neglected to mention that I’ve got an Inbox in the works for Thursday, so if you have a question to submit, go ahead and do so at tribemailbag@yahoo.com. Be sure to include your name and hometown.

Tribe completes trade with Brewers

Left-hander Chuck Lofgren didn’t stick with the Brewers after they claimed him from the Indians in December’s Rule 5 Draft, so the two clubs worked out a trade.

The Brewers will retain possession of Logren. In exchange, the Tribe will receive Minor League right-hander Omar Aguilar.

Aguilar, 25, spent ’09 at Class A Brevard County and Double-A Huntsville, going a combined 3-1 with a 4.72 ERA and 14 saves in 41 relief appearances. He also pitched nine games in the Arizona Fall League. He was outrighted off the Brewers’ 40-man roster in January.

Since being selected by the Brewers in the 30th round of the 2005 Draft, Aguilar has posted a Minor League record of 13-9 with 40 saves in 136 appearances, including six starts. He has struck out 215 and walked 104 in 186 innings pitched.

Lofgren went a combined 9-11 with a 4.15 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus last year. He was trying to win a job in the Brewers’ Opening Day bullpen.

"It's just dry lightning on the horizon line"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
http://www.twitter.com/castrovince
 
Cactus-League-Logo.gifWe’re about one-third of the way through the Cactus League schedule, and we’re exactly three weeks away from Opening Day. What have we learned about your 2010 Cleveland Indians?

Uh, can I get back to you in a few weeks?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned covering spring camp the last six years, it’s that the eyes play tricks on you in this environment, and you have to condition yourself not to read too much into what you witness, good or bad, in exhibition play. And you definitely don’t read too much into the first 10 games of exhibition play.

That’s a lesson general manager and team president-to-be Mark Shapiro has also learned over the years. But he spoke with reporters and gave his thoughts about what’s transpired, to this point, and those thoughts, as well as my own, are all detailed here.

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • The most puzzling element of spring camp to this point has been the Russell Branyan saga. He strolls into the complex around the time his teammates are heading out to stretch, and he’s coy — if not completely evasive — with the media regarding the status of his recovery from lower back problems. Branyan has a herniated disc in his back, and it has prevented him from setting foot on the field with his teammates for something so simple as a morning batting practice session. He told reporters the other day that he had stopped taking groundballs and swings and was hoping to play catch on Sunday. Not the best timetable to be on with three weeks left in camp, obviously. But the company line is that as long as Branyan can play the final week of games, he can be adequately prepared for the season. (Which leads me to ask… what are we doing out here for six weeks?)
  • Any early regrets for Shapiro from signing Branyan to a $2 million guarantee? “We knew there was rehab to finish when he came in,” Shapiro said. “The pace of that was going to be somewhat undetermined until we got him going. He hadn’t performed at an intensity or day-to-day level like Spring Training requires. I still feel optimistic and positive that he’ll be ready for the season. If something changes on that end, [head athletic trainer] Lonnie [Soloff] would be the one to comment.”
  • Also of note on the injury front, Kerry Wood did not throw his anticipated bullpen session today, and Manny Acta gave no timetable for Wood’s return to Cactus action. Here’s the full story on that.
  • What if Branyan isn’t ready to go by Opening Day? Well, you could see an Opening Day lineup with ties to the lineup the Indians turned in against the Brewers today, in that Matt LaPorta could be at first base and Michael Brantley could be in left field. But that’s not guaranteed. The Indians are certainly going to keep Brantley’s arbitration clock in mind with any decision they make. As of now, he’s ticketed for Triple-A Columbus. LaPorta, on the other hand, is on the big club no matter what happens with Branyan.
  • Here’s Shapiro on the distinction between LaPorta and Brantley (who is profiled on Indians.com today): “LaPorta’s a guy that, age-wise, profile-wise and experience-wise, is ready to compete at the big league level. Regardless of what adjustments he has to make, he has to be up here in order to get better. Michael Brantley is a different story. He’s 22 years old, he had a solid but not special Triple-A season, and he had 100 good plate appearances up here, whatever that means. He does have an approach on the field that’s above his chronological age. That being said, there’s benefits to him being here and there’s benefits to him being finished in the Minor Leagues. We’re not going to make a decision off a Spring Training performance for anybody.”
  • Tratalbot.jpgde acquisition Mitch Talbot, who turned in three perfect innings against the Brew Crew today, is getting rave reviews — from Shapiro, from the coaching staff and from Manny Acta. He’s out of options, and he’s all but assured a job in some capacity, as long as he’s healthy. If he doesn’t make the rotation, he can be a long man out of the bullpen. “I’ve been impressed with Talbot,” Shapiro said. “He has a looseness to his delivery. I’ve seen him go out without his best pitch, his changeup, and still compete in Glendale the other day. His slider has been surprisingly good. We had that as his third pitch. In talking to him, he hasn’t thrown his best changeup yet, so that’s a good thing.”
  • Talbot seemed to have his best changeup, and then some, today. He was so efficient against the Brewers that he had to throw 20 extra pitches in the bullpen, so that Rafael Perez could get into the game. “He’s flying high right now,” Acta said of Talbot.  
  • Of the three candidates for the last two rotation spots, Talbot is the most likely to land a bullpen job if he doesn’t win a starting job. The Indians might consider that possibility with Laffey (though it seems doubtful, given that there’s already depth to the ‘pen, and Laffey is much more valuable as a starting alternative). I haven’t heard one person mention Huff as a bullpen candidate.
  • Speaking of the bullpen, Acta has confirmed jobs for Wood, Chris and Rafael Perez, Joe Smith and Tony Sipp. That leaves several guys (Hector Ambriz, Jensen Lewis, Saul Rivera and Jamey Wright) competing for two spots, with the potential for Talbot and, to a lesser degree, Laffey, to enter that mix.
  • Huff got knocked around today, to the tune of five runs on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings. “I left some pitches up, and they definitely capitalized on them,” Huff said. “I saw some good signs on a few pitches to guys like Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.”
  • Lonnie Chisenhall, Nick Weglarz, Zach Putnam (sent out today) and Josh Judy were among the young prospects that have stood out to Shapiro. But he also had this to say about early spring evaluations: “Go back and look at the history of interviews done 10 days into Spring Training and the guys marked as future superstars, and you’ll probably find a pretty low success rate.”
  • Listening to Shapiro and pitching coach Tim Belcher, all indications are that Jeremy Sowers (sore left shoulder) will begin the season on the disabled list so that he can adequately stretched out as a starting alternative. The Indians don’t seem to see much value in putting Sowers, who is out of Minor League options, in the ‘pen at this point. Sowers will make his spring debut Thursday, working two innings against the Reds.
  • Mark Grudzielanek, 39 years young and vying for an infield utility job, has made a positive first impression in camp. The Indians want to see how his body holds up to the grind, but so far, so good.
  • There have been rumblings among scouts that the Brewers have decided they don’t have room to keep Chuck Lofgren, who they plucked from the Tribe in the Rule 5 Draft. If that’s the case, the two sides could work out a trade, or the Indians could buy him back for $25,000 and stick him in their Columbus rotation. We’ll see.
  • Believe in the Bobcats.

~AC

Indians make first cuts of spring camp

Minor League camp begins in earnest today with the first full workout, and it’s no coincidence that the Indians made their first cuts of spring camp.

Right-handers Jason Grilli, Zach Putnam and Alex White were all reassigned to Minor League camp. Left-hander Kelvin De La Cruz was optioned to Double-A Akron.

Grilli, a veteran reliever brought in on a Minor League deal, is having surgery on his right quadriceps this week, and it’s expected to end his season.

Putnam, possibly bound for the Columbus bullpen, made a strong impression in camp but was not considered a factor in the bullpen battle. UPDATE: Pitching coach Tim Belcher told me Putnam will actually begin the season in the Akron rotation. A change in course after Putnam was converted to relief work early last season.

White was the Tribe’s No. 1 Draft pick last year and is likely headed to Class A Kinston.

De La Cruz missed most of last year because of an elbow injury but is one of the more promising young arms in the system.

There are now 56 roster and non-roster players remaining in camp.

Wood's soreness considered minor; Sowers progressing

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

Indians closer Kerry Wood was scratched from his scheduled appearance Saturday against the Rangers because of soreness near his throwing arm. But Wood said Sunday that he’s back on his normal spring schedule. He’ll throw a bullpen session Monday and is expected to appear in Wednesday’s Cactus League game against the Reds.

Wood said the soreness is actually in his lat muscle, which runs under the arm and across the back. He said it is minor and is something he typically deals with in Spring Training.

“I was playing catch [Saturday] and didn’t feel as good as I wanted to,” Wood said. “We were just being cautious.”

Also on the hurting hurler front, Jeremy Sowers, who is behind schedule this spring because of left shoulder soreness, threw a simulated session Saturday and is hoping to start appearing in Cactus games by the end of this week.

Sowers, though, has no idea if he’ll be competing for a spot in the Indians’ bullpen.

“The main concern was getting healthy, then worrying about everything else,” Sowers said. “We’re getting close to that spot. I still have some hurdles to pass over, in terms of building up my workload. It’s too soon to tell how my arm will respond to the stress of game situations.” 

"All that you have wished for, I know will come your way"

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

The truth, when you get down to it, is that baseball is a job for me. Yes, in the grand scheme of life, it’s just a game. And sure, there are days, like today, when the sun is shining down on a pristine field, and typing a few sentences about how Fausto Carmona looked in mowing down the Angels in the bottom of the fourth is certainly an easier profession than digging ditches or performing surgery.

But it’s a job all the same. I report to a ballpark, interview players and managers and GMs and scouts, throw a bunch of words at a screen and see what sticks. And sometimes, I’ll admit, I forget how much this game means to the people sitting in the seats below. You get so used to watching Carmona that you don’t fully appreciate what it means to pay to watch Carmona, or to live and die with his successes and failures and those of the team.

For that reason, reading the winning submissions for the Indians’ 12-Pack Essay Contest was a treat, and a much more emotional experience than I bargained for. In many cases, I was stunned by the depth of meaning attached to those tickets. As expected in this economic climate, the Indians received a ton of entries from families dealing with job losses or pay cuts who can no longer fit Major League Baseball games into their budget.

But I didn’t expect to hear such compelling stories from such devoted fans. This is a cynical society filled with endless negativity, and that’s too often evident in the comments posted on the Indians.com site or the Facebook wall where all these blog posts land. But these essays came from real fans who aren’t so caught up in whining about the Cliff Lee and trade to remember that a night at the yard can still be a wonderful thing, whether you’re rooting for a rebuilding ballclub or a juggernaut.

DSCN6537.JPGNone of the essays struck me more than the one submitted by Amy Hendershot. I had tears in my eyes as I read about her daughter Ashley’s bout with the H1N1 virus, and how the complications from the virus lead to Ashley’s untimely and unexpected death last month. Ashley’s little sister, Katie (that’s her on the right, with Ashley on the left), reads this blog every day. She’s a huge Tribe fan who loved nothing more than going to games at Progressive Field with her big sis/best friend. And though nothing in this world could possibly fill the void left by her sister’s death, the Indians gave her something to smile about, something to make her summer a little bit warmer. And it warms my heart to know that while I’m up in the press box working this summer, she’ll be down in the seats and smiling.  

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • Asdrubal Cabrera left today’s game with an injury, shortly after hitting a leadoff triple in the fifth. He remained on base for several pitches, but he injured his upper left leg on a headfirst slide back to the bag on a pickoff attempt. The Indians had no further information, though Cabrera did walk without a noticeable limp when he left the field to catch the shuttle back to the Player Development Complex. They’ll have an update Saturday, but it doesn’t sound serious.
  • The numbers weren’t pretty, but Jake Westbrook felt much better about today’s outing against the Angels than he did about Monday’s outing against the Diamondbacks. Westbrook gave up four runs on three hits with a walk and three strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings today. He started off the game by giving up a double to Reggie Willits, an infield single to Jeff Mathis and a three-run blast to Mike Napoli. He was charged with another run in the third.
  • Said Westbrook: “I gave up four runs, but I feel 100 percent better than when I gave up one run the last outing. I feel so much better, confidence-wise.” Why? Because Westbrook was in and around the zone much more consistently in this start, and he feels he’s getting good action on his sinker. Plus, his arm feels great, which is obviously a plus. “It starts with getting my mechanics solidified,” he said. “What I’m hoping is to get stronger and better each time out.”
  • Carmona made his 2010 Cactus debut tossed three scoreless, allowing just one hit and striking out a batter. “He pounded the zone and was able to use all his pitches,” Acta said.
  • Joe Smith coughed up a three-run lead in the ninth. He got two quick outs against right-handers but struggled against the lefties in the Angels lineup. Smith is a side-armer, so he’s often pegged as a situational righty. But he’s hoping to get more chances against lefties, and he struggled with this one. That’s what Spring Training is for. “Left-handers gave him a little bit of trouble,” Acta said. “This is a good time to see if guys can handle situations.”
  • The Indians and Angels didn’t bother to play a 10th inning today, even though the score was knotted at 7. This was a split-squad day for the Angels, and they ran out of pitchers.
  • The Tribe’s cumulative ERA of 3.11, coming into this game, was the lowest in the Majors this spring. A far cry from last year, but, then again, it’s early.
  • Shin-Soo Choo is the first guy in the indoor cages, nearly every day. Choo told me he wakes up at 4:30 a.m. and is in the cage by 7:30 a.m., at the latest. He likes getting one-on-one time with hitting coach Jon Nunnally, so the early wake-up call, he figures, is the best way to make it happen. Choo is in bed by 8 p.m. most nights.
  • Choo doesn’t just lean on Nunnally for advice about his swing. He’s also turned to veteran Mark Grudzielanek, who he feels has a similar swing. “I hit the ball well when it’s middle-away, but not so well when it’s inside,” Choo said. “He told me to try hitting off a tee, and set the tee up inside. I’m learning to hit that way, more toward the middle, and I’m not rolling over on the ball [and hitting groundballs].”
  • The schedule for the 2010 Cleveland Indians Charities High School Hardball Classic presented by MinuteMenJobs.com has been announced. The event will take place Friday, April 23, and Saturday, April 24, at Progressive Field, with all proceeds benefiting CIC. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the participating schools or online at Indians.com for $5. They can be purchased at the gate on the day of the game for $7.
  • Here’s the schedule: On April 23, Gilmour Academy and University School will play at 3 p.m., St. Ignatius and Avon Lake will play at 5:30 p.m. and Holy Name and Padua Franciscan will play at 8 p.m. On April 24, Berkshire will face Cuyahoga Heights at 10 a.m., Midview will face Amherst Steele at 12:30 p.m. and Midpark will face Berea at 3 p.m. For more info, visit this site.
  • That’s all for this weekend. The blog will be back up and running on Monday. I’ve got a Flip Cam coming in the mail, so hopefully I’ll be able to start posting some videos here, assuming I can actually figure it out.

~AC

UPDATE: Seriously… how about those Ohio University Bobcats?

"The last thing he saw was the flashing red light…"

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

In 1992, my sixth grade class at St. Robert Bellarmine in Euclid, Ohio, was visited by backup Cleveland Lumberjacks goalie Bruce Racine. No offense to Racine, should he happen to stumble upon this (hey, we all Google ourselves from time to time), but I had no idea who he was then and I have no idea what he’s doing now.

But Racine’s name sticks in the vast recesses of my memory, for some reason. He came to us to talk about being a pro hockey player, then he offered up two tickets to that night’s Lumberjacks game. Cleveland_Lumberjacks.gifSomehow, I got my grimy little 11-year-old hands on them, and my brother and I went to Richfield Coliseum to check out all the glory that is Minor League hockey.

Now, what I’m about to say is in no way intended to offend the thousands of genuine hockey fans in the city of Cleveland. Believe me, I know you exist, and a few of you are even friends and acquaintances of mine. But I think I speak for the general Cleveland populace — a populace that was ultimately unable to support the Lumberjacks and various incarnations of the Barons, and one that I sincerely hope will allow the Lake Erie Monsters to thrive — when I say that, for whatever reason, hockey just doesn’t have the pull on us that it has on our neighbors in Detroit or Buffalo or Pittsburgh. I’m sure there are people smarter than me who have analyzed this situation and can point to various socioeconomic reasons as to why this is the case. But I’ll let them write their own blog entries.

My entry is about that Lumberjacks game, which was a thriller. It went into overtime and then a shootout, and the ‘Jacks (that’s what we, uh, big Lumberjacks fans would call our favorite team) pulled it off. The crowd of 122 people went wild.

Up until last night, that was my only professional hockey experience, and I was content to let it remain that way, because I figured nothing beats an IHL shootout.

Now I know better. An NHL shootout is even more spectacular.

I got to witness just such an event at last night’s Phoenix Coyotes game against the Vancouver Canucks. Adrian Aucoin’s goal in the sixth round of a shootout gave the Coyotes the go-ahead (not a hockey term, I’m sure), and Mason Raymond’s attempt to answer it was rejected by Phoenix goalie Ilya “Can I Buy A Vowel?” Bryzgalov. In that thrilling moment, something stirred in the inner resources of my soul… though it might have just been indigestion.

Anyway, I’m not going to pretend last night’s game has made me a huge hockey fan. But I can say with certainty that one way professional hockey might work in Cleveland (and Phoenix, for that matter, as the Coyotes recently declared bankruptcy) is to guarantee a shootout, every single night. Because I’m 2-for-2 and loving it. And I owe it all to Bruce Racine.

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • Speaking of “overtime,” the Indians and White Sox played to a 10-inning, 5-5 draw today. “I was thinking about a shootout at the end,” Acta said. “Home Run Derby.”
  • Mitch Talbot worked three innings against the Sox, allowing a run on two hits with two strikeouts and a hit batter. Five of the nine outs he recorded were on fly balls, which is a little disconcerting, especially to Talbot. “I’m not a fly-ball pitcher at all,” he said. “I usually get a lot of groundballs … This is blowing my mind.”
  • Talbot said his pitches have felt good, but the hitters are telling him something else. It could be the Arizona effect that hounded virtually everybody on the Tribe staff last spring. Having come from the Astros and Rays organizations, Talbot has never trained out here, aside from his Arizona Fall League stint after the ’09 season.
  • Manny Acta thought Talbot’s ability to change speeds might have contributed to the fly balls. He felt the hitters he was getting the hitters out in front with his changeup.
  • Still no telling who will win the rotation battle between Talbot, Aaron Laffey and David Huff. Two spots are open. Talbot is out of options, which will certainly come into play and, unless he gets hurt or completely falls on his face, ensure him a role on this club, in some capacity.
  • Michael Brantley continues to look like the sparkplug he was at the top of the Tribe lineup last September. Batting in the leadoff spot today, he went 2-for-2 with a walk and a run scored. It is, of course, too early to know what we’re looking at, but Brantley is simply fun to watch.
  • A few fans have compared the Brantley outlook (he’s currently ticketed for Triple-A Columbus) to what happened with Grady Sizemore in 2005. That year, an aging Juan Gonzalez was signed to a free-agent deal, ensuring Sizemore, who had a strong first showing in the bigs at the end of ’04, would begin the year in Buffalo. But when Gonzalez went down with an injury the first day of the season, Sizemore came up, and the rest, as they say, is history. Quite a few fans seem to be rooting for a similar scenario in the wake of the signing of Russell Branyan, who is still hobbling around with a herniated disc in his lower back and has yet to appear in a Cactus game.
  • The only two projected starters in today’s lineup were Luis Valbuena and Lou Marson. Acta said it’s important in these early games to get a look at the young guys who might factor into the Indians’ plans later in the year or in the years to come. Wes Hodges (2-for-3 today) and Lonnie Chisenhall (RBI triple) are making the most of the opportunity. Acta said Chisenhall is “very advanced for his age.” 
  • 232x266.jpgChris Perez is profiled at the Indians.com site today. And as the story mentions, his resemblance to “Eastbound and Down” character Kenny Powers has inspired him to seek a cameo role on the HBO show.
  • But the only role that matters to Perez right now is the Indians’ setup role. He’s off to a strong start this spring, having worked three scoreless outings, though Paul Konerko and Mark Kotsay both took him to the track today. “My slider’s not where I want it to be,” Perez said. “The more I get out there and pitch in ballgames, the more it will come around.”
  • Perez is working on a new two-seam fastball. It looked pretty good in his bullpen sessions early in camp, but he’s thrown exactly one sinker in the games. It came today on a pitch to Kotsay, and it was outside the zone. “It was awful,” Perez said. Perez is working with different grips on the pitch, trying to get a consistent feel for it. He’s hopeful it can become part of his repertoire and help him induce more groundballs with runners on.
  • Kenny Powers.jpgPerez, as you’ll recall, had his struggles against the White Sox last year, and he also had some trouble with the Twins. He was asked about pitching in the Metrodome, and he said the Twins making the move to outdoor Target Field this season is “one of the dumbest moves in the history of baseball.” He continued, “Just look at their winning percentage at home vs. on the road. I don’t know why they did it. Let alone the weather factor. Mike Redmond said it’s sweater and jacket weather there until June. They’ll have to play 40 games in that.”
  • Perez was one reliever acquired in the Mark DeRosa trade last year; Jess Todd was the other. Todd got roughed up thoroughly today by the Sox (three runs on five hits with a walk, a strikeout and a homer from C.J. Retherford in 2/3 of an inning). He got roughed up last September, too. He’s not considered a top candidate for one of the open spots in the Opening Day bullpen, and, generally speaking, he’s yet to show the big league promise that made him a Tribe trade target.
  • Jeremy Sowers threw to hitters for the first time on Wednesday and will throw a simulated session Saturday. Still no word on when he’ll get into Cactus games, but he’s obviously out of the rotation race. He could factor into the bullpen race, though his stuff, from a relief standpoint, probably isn’t suited for anything more than a long relief job.
  • Ben Broussard’s baseball career has come to a close. But the former Tribe first baseman is actively pursuing his music career, and he’s on the bill for tonight’s “Woodjock” charity event in Scottsdale. White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy organized the show. Omar Vizquel, Barry Zito, Bronson Arroyo and Bernie Williams are among the other scheduled participants.
  • The Professional Bull Riders tour is in town here in Glendale, and “Amazing Race” participant Cord McCoy is doing some promotional work for it. McCoy and Indians third base coach Steve Smith struck up a friendship during the filming of the show, and Smith posted a sheet in the clubhouse where Tribe players could sign up if they want to attend the PBR event. Shin-Soo Choo looked particularly puzzled as he read the sheet. Someone had to explain the concept of bull riding to him. I guess they don’t have that kind of thing in South Korea.

~AC

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