"Dream beneath the desert sky"
- Grady Sizemore. Grady Sizemore. Grady Sizemore. It’s the No. 1 rule of Indians coverage at this juncture. If you write Grady Sizemore’s name, people – even non-Indians fans… and especially fantasy baseball folks — will read it. (I mean, at least, I hope so… I am here, in part, to do a Grady column, after all). So I’m going to lead off with some Grady Sizemore news. He is… wait for it… ahead of schedule in his rehab, in that the Indians are overjoyed with the way he’s swinging the bat, given all the time missed. “If you could have a designated runner for him right now,” Acta said, “he’d be in the lineup.” (IMPORTANT NOTE: This doesn’t, of course, mean he’s ahead of schedule in every other facet of baseball. Just hitting. I didn’t make that distinction clear enough, initially. Count me among the highly skeptical that we’ll be seeing Sizemore before mid-April, at the absolute earliest.)
- But you know the line on Sizemore: The fearless (reckless?) way he approaches the game is what led to his downfall (I’ve already taken to comparing him to Billy Mumphrey, in that regard). So as he progresses in his rehab from a rare surgical procedure, he’ll simultaneously have to learn to rein himself in, where appropriate. “Right now, we’re in a dangerous spot, because he’s swinging the bat so well,” Acta said. “We don’t want him to get overly excited and do something that’s not going to be in his best interests.”
- It will certainly be interesting to see if two years’ worth of injuries affect Sizemore’s style, once he is in the lineup. I asked Shin-Soo Choo, who returned from Tommy John surgery in 2008, about that process, and he said, “When I came back, I didn’t worry about sliding or anything. You can’t control anything. You can’t worry about injury and play scared or afraid.”
- Kenny Lofton arrived today as an Old Guy Teaching the Young Kids – a Spring Training specialty. You’d have to imagine Lofton would be a good influence on a young player like Michael Brantley, who is learning how to make the most of his speed and developing as a potential leadoff man. “Kenny participated in our baserunning lecture [Wednesday morning],” Acta said. “Kenny and Eduardo Perez have already made an impact in our camp. They’re full of energy and knowledge. They’re part of that group of players that not only had good careers at Major League level but have a lot of savvy they can pass on. Kenny, in his first day, right away made an impact.”
- Beware anybody who offers assurances, positive or negative, about a Major League bullpen. Nobody really knows what they’re talking about. That’s why it helps to have depth, and this is one area where – on paper, at least – the Indians possess such a luxury. Acta was asked if he thinks there’s such a thing as “momentum” carrying over from one season to the next for a bullpen. After all, Tribe relievers posted a 2.95 ERA after the All-Star break last year – the second-lowest such mark in the AL and the fourth-lowest in MLB. “I think the offseason can stop any momentum, because it’s four months of inactivity,” Acta said. “Confidence [carries over]. Guys were pretty dominant in the second half, and they feel pretty good about themselves. I just don’t see them backing down right now.”
- As written here and elsewhere, the first five spots in the ‘pen are assured to the Perezes, Tony Sipp, Joe Smith and Jensen Lewis. It’s a traffic jam in the mix for the last two spots –http://www.indians.com– Frank Herrmann, Vinnie Pestano, Josh Judy, Justin Germano and Zach Putnam are among those getting consideration. You also have to factor in Josh Tomlin, Aaron Laffey and even Anthony Reyes, if they don’t land a rotation job. “I feel I have about 10 [relievers] I can count on,” Acta said. “It’s going to be an interesting competition. You can say that five guys are probably in there, but those other guys… Herrmann pitched well for us and so did Germano. So did Pestano. And then the way Judy threw the ball in Triple-A, that gives another guy we feel can come up and help us out.”
- Acta said non-roster invitee Bryce Stowell, who posted a 5.49 ERA in 17 appearances at Columbus last season after blowing past Double-A competition, is not competing for an Opening Day job. “He’s made big strides in our system,” Acta said. “But Bryce knows he has work to do with his secondary pitches and command of his fastball.”
- And Reyes? Really? The guy has plenty to prove, considering he made just eight starts in ’09 before blowing out his elbow and having Tommy John performed, costing him essentially all of 2010. The Indians consider him a viable rotation candidate, but today, to my knowledge, was the first time he’s been mentioned as a potential bullpen candidate. Acta quickly admitted the Indians would have to be careful with how they use him in a relief role, if it comes to that. “We’re going to find out in Spring Training,” Acta said. “But if you have a guy like him in the bullpen, you have to take [his elbow history] into consideration. You’re not going to be getting him up and down, up and down, up and down.”
- Closer Chris Perez had his ups and downs very early in 2010 but he righted himself with improved command of his fastball and slider as the year progressed. From June 18 on, his ERA was 0.96. It was 0.53 from June 28 on. “Repetition,” Acta said. “That’s what makes people better in the game. Last year was basically the first opportunity this guy had to pitch consistently at the big league level. Even when he wasn’t closing games for us, he was still the most important guy in our bullpen. He was the guy that was a bridge to our closer. Even when season started, he was closing games [when Kerry Wood was on the DL]. The fact that he was able to go out there three times a week, that helped.” Perez is working on a changeup this spring. Acta said that would be a “huge” weapon for him.
- If the Indians do, indeed, go with five right-handed starters, then you have to like Laffey’s chances of landing in the ‘pen as a long man. “Last year, we started with that,” Acta said. “It can help us, especially in our division. It helps to have a left-hander with some length in the bullpen, based off all those right-handed starters we have.”
- Looking forward to seeing the Jason Donald Experiment at third base. Donald is
one of my personal favorites in the clubhouse. A true gamer/grinder/whatever buzzword Eric Wedge would use for guys who put the team first and uniform cleanliness second. I have, however, voiced some concerns about him as a third baseman, but the reports, thus far, have been positive. “His footwork and his clock from third have been really good,” Acta said. “We’re excited. Workouts are not the same as game speed. We’ll wait and see. We like what we see.”
- The Indians will see some semblance of game speed tomorrow, when they have their first intrasquad game at Goodyear Ballpark. First pitch is set for 10:45 a.m. local time. Jeanmar Gomez gets the start for Sarby’s Sour Balls (coached by Mike Sarbaugh), opposite Justin Masterson of Smitty’s American Racers (coached by Steve Smith). Another intrasquad is scheduled for Friday here at the complex, where Carlos Carrasco and Mitch Talbot will get the starting nods.
- My good friend and MLB.com comrade Jesse “Save the Money” Sanchez was here today to profile Carrasco. Be sure to check that out on Indians.com later.
- Tomorrow’s game will be followed by a charity golf outing with the Reds. Acta will be among those hacking up the local links. Choo won’t be taking part, though he will be receiving his first set of golf clubs tomorrow. Mizuno offered him a personalized set of clubs. Choo said he’s planning to try to discover his inner Y.E. Yang next offseason.