Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

"This is the long goodbye"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

When I arrived here in Orlando to cover the GM Meetings earlier today, I checked my Twitter account and found it inundated with kind words from many of you who read my announcement about leaving the Indians beat. Overwhelmed by the show of support, I thought back to that day, nearly five years ago, when I arrived here under much different circumstances. I was en route to Winter Haven to cover the Cleveland Indians’ Spring Training camp in my first year on the beat as the reporter for the team web site.

That’s still quite a concept to wrap my head around. Because to a Euclid kid who would head to Cleveland Municipal Stadium on many a summer day with his old man to scalp a couple general admission seats in the right-field stands (so that I could see my favorite player, Cory Snyder, up close) and who spent every morning of every day in grade school and high school reading every last inch of the sports page and hoping to one day be the one providing the words within it, this was a dream job.

billyjoel1.jpgIn many ways, it still is a dream job. It still boggles my mind that they pay people to write about baseball and you fine folks devotedly read the ensuing product. I can’t thank you enough for that.

So I thank you, also, for the many wonderful experiences that have come with this job, from covering the 2007 playoff run (and ensuing collapse) and the Armando Galarraga perfect game (I’ll always refer to it as such) to walking through the Iowa cornfields with Bob Feller to shaking hands with Billy Joel. I even got to interview Snyder one time.

The perks of the profession extended to the personal side, too. Having my dad, who made me a baseball fan in the first place, along for the ride on a few road trips was a great bonding experience for us both.

And while all of the above led to some meaningful memories, nothing compares to that day when I met the girl who, in a few weeks, will become my wife. Naturally, we met at Jacobs Field.

Of course, to do this job right is to give up a lot. That can include your sanity, as any ball scribe worth his credential can tell you after covering a day-night doubleheader in which both games go into extras or getting up at 5 a.m. after covering a night game in Kansas City so that you can catch that flight to Minneapolis that includes the three-hour layover in Chicago.

Fortunately, my bosses at MLB.com value my work enough to allow me to continue to do what I love – i.e. attempting to put this great game into words — while stepping away from the daily grind and the relentless travel that come with beat responsibilities. I owe them a big, public thank you, as well.  

Over on the Indians.com page, I’m turning you over to the highly capable hands of Jordan Bastian, one of MLB.com’s best. Jordan is inheriting a front office that is a joy to work with. Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti and Co. have always been accomodating and responsive, and Curtis Danburg, Bart Swain and the rest of the guys and gals in media and community relations are extremely helpful, as well. Toss in the cast of characters in the Progressive Field press box — including Paul Hoynes, Sheldon Ocker and Jim Ingraham, who have been on the beat longer than I’ve been alive yet never made me feel anything less than welcomed — and you’ve got a tremendous work environment.

As noted in the Inbox, I’m not completely stepping away from all this. Here at CastroTurf, I plan to continue to track the Tribe, provide some insight into their decision-making and direction, some analysis of their performance and, yes, some excruciating minutiae, too. It won’t be on the nightly basis that it once was, but hopefully it’ll be enough to keep the writer-reader relationship we’ve built up over the years going strong.

I hope you’ll also check out my columns for MLB.com (they’re linked here) and keep an eye out for my other work on the site. You can always follow me on Twitter (@Castrovince) to see what I’m up to.

Thanks to all you “Castronauts” for making this job a joy.

~AC

PS: On a completely unrelated note, don’t forget to buy the Darkness box, in stores now.

Reviewing "Time in the Minors"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

timeinminors.jpg

The percentages are against those who begin a Minor League
career hoping to one day get that call to the big leagues. So the percentages
were equally against independent documentary filmmaker Tony Okun picking two
faces in the crowd and getting the chance to chronicle such an ascent.

So, no, we don’t get that rise in “Time in the Minors,” Okun’s
recently released film that follows two players — an eight-year Minor League
veteran named Tony Schrager and a newly signed first-round pick named John
Drennan — through the 2006 season. What we get is more the Minor League norm: two
guys, at two distinctly different stages in their career, whose experience in
the professional game is one of big adjustments, low pay and long road trips.

At the risk of spoiling the ending, neither of these guys got
the call to the bigs in ’06. In the present day, Schrager has
moved on from the game and Drennan is still plying his time in the Indians’
system (he was at Double-A Akron in 2010). Maybe Okun’s film would have
benefited from the ability to show Schrager getting that long-awaited call and
the emotion of the moment, but it certainly succeeds in instead reflecting
reality. Minor League baseball, after all, is all grind and no glory, and the movie does a
fine job of stressing that.

Schrager’s tale is the more compelling of the two. The film
takes a look at a season that saw a 28-year-old Schrager humbly accept a job
with an independent league team when no professional unit came calling, only to
latch on with the Marlins’ organization when they had a need for middle-infield
depth. We see how the threat of a dream denied begins to weigh on Schrager and
his wife, though I thought Okun could have delved a little deeper into the
mounting frustration and lack of opportunity that ultimately led to Schrager’s retirement and a new career in real
estate.

Drennan’s annoyingly vague California surfer speak doesn’t make
him all that compelling a character. But Indians fans will enjoy seeing the
club’s Minor League operation behind the scenes, including some fine shots from
the decrepit Winter Haven spring facility (which is probably worth a
documentary in its own right). And Drennan homers off a rehabbing Roger
Clemens, so that’s pretty cool, too.

Overall, what you get here is an honest look at what some might
be surprised to learn is an unglamorous profession. It serves as good food for
thought for young ballplayers anticipating a pro career, and it’s also worth a
look for those curious about the inner workings of the Minor League game.

Here’s the link to Okun’s web site, where you can check out the
trailer and order the DVD.

~AC

"Here where the blood is spilled, the arena's filled and Giants played their games"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

giants.jpg

The first question Indians fans will ask themselves, in the wake of the San Francisco Giants’ unlikely rise to World Series glory, will be, “Can that happen in Cleveland?”
The answer, from my perspective, is yes. And no.
This Giants team was not your traditional underdog. It’s easy to get caught up in the talk of their collection of “outcasts and misfits” and lose sight of the fact that the Giants opened the season with the ninth-highest Opening Day payroll in the game, at $98.6 million. They are in the nation’s sixth-largest television market, and their fans can hardly be construed as fair-weather. The Giants lost 91 games in 2007 and 90 in 2008 and still drew 3.2 million and 2.8 million fans, respectively, in those seasons.
Now, you can look at the Giants and suggest that they actually won with a payroll in the mid-$60 million range, because several of their big-money makers — Barry Zito, Mark DeRosa and Aaron Rowand — were either not a major factor in the postseason run (Rowand) or off the postseason roster altogether (Zito and DeRosa).
But the fact remains that this was an organization with the payroll flexibility to absorb some pretty outrageous financial blunders.
So, no, in one sense, the Giants’ situation and that of the Indians isn’t even remotely comparable.
Yet what strikes me about the Giants’ postseason roster and its key contributors is the way it was built. Brian Sabean’s major ventures into free-agent waters proved ill-fated. The strength of this club was its internal, homegrown talent, with some low-cost pieces/parts filling in the gaps.
The Giants are world champs primarily because they drafted well. In the first round in the last decade, they took Matt Cain in 2002, Tim Lincecum in 2006, Madison Bumgarner in 2007 and Buster Posey in 2008.
Right there, the Giants provided themselves with the pieces that would fill three rotation spots and a catcher for the middle of the order.
Not a bad haul. And not that any of you need to be reminded, but while the Giants were pulling in that talent, the Indians were making the likes of Jeremy Sowers, Trevor Crowe and Beau Mills top 15 picks in the Draft.
The Giants were able to rebuild relatively quickly (they had four straight losing seasons from 2005-2008) as the Barry Bonds era wound down and eventually ended because they had that next wave of talent coming through the farm system. That’s something the Indians simply didn’t possess when the 2007 club became besieged by injuries and the pending free agency of several core players.
What the Indians received when the walls caved in and they dealt those core players to other clubs will go a long way toward their current rebuilding effort. But the early returns on those trades of CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez obviously leave quite a bit to be desired.
Still, as if the message hasn’t been hammered home enough, I’ll hammer it home again: The Indians have to hope they got it right with Alex White, Drew Pomeranz and their other prominent Draft picks in recent years.
The Indians don’t have the money, the market or the reliable fan support to compare to the Giants, but they do have the ability to build this thing from within, as the Giants (in some ways in spite of themselves) did. You have to hit on your No. 1 Draft picks, and you have to have some luck — something the Indians haven’t majored in, to this point.
~AC

"Let's raise our glass and let the hammer fly"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

http://www.twitter.com/castrovince

 

Way back in those halcyon days of early April, I matched each member of the Tribe lineup with the Bruce Springsteen song that best captured their outlook for 2010.

 

It is only fitting, then, that here on the final day of the 2010 season, I am turning to "The Boss" once again, using his song titles to hand out some hardware for the best, worst and everything in-between this year.

 


choo9.jpgTHE "PAY ME MY MONEY DOWN" AWARD:

Big raise coming for Shin-Soo Choo, who, some have speculated, could be worth between $3 million and $4 million next year based on his second straight season with a .300 average, 20 homers and 20 stolen bases. The Indians would be wise to try to work out a three-year deal with Choo to give themselves some cost certainties through Choo's arbitration years, before he inevitably bolts as a free agent.

 

THE "GOOD EYE" AWARD:

An impressive year, all around, for Choo, but his .401 on-base percentage is his most impressive mark of all.

 

THE "WRECK ON THE HIGHWAY" AWARD:

Grady Sizemore was once billed to be one of the greatest players of his generation. Now, he's played 139 games over the course of two seasons, and he'll be entering 2011 coming off microfracture surgery. Not good.

 


acta5.jpgTHE "I'LL WORK FOR YOUR LOVE" AWARD:

Manny Acta has the perfect temperament not only for a manager's job, but for a rebuilding manager's job. He has done a nice job of making pointed remarks about certain players over the course of the season without ever getting to the point of embarrassing them. Ultimately, it will take real contention for Acta to become a true crowd-pleaser, but he has handled a difficult year with class and likely endeared himself to some of the fan base in the process.

 

THE "REASON TO BELIEVE" AWARD:

Carlos Santana sure looked like the real deal before wrenching his knee. With surgery will come questions about how well-prepared he'll be for 2010 and how much time he'll have to log at first base. But if the kid is healthy, he gives the skeptics a reason to get excited about the future of this club.

 

THE "SURPRISE, SURPRISE" AWARD:

You might have predicted we'd see Carlos Carrasco or Jeanmar Gomez, but nobody imagined Josh Tomlin would be a regular in the rotation at any point this season. He proved to be a viable option, and his dominant debut against the Yankees was one of the highlights of the season.

 

THE "CODE OF SILENCE" AWARD:

Congratulations to lefty reliever Rafael Perez, who went an entire season, including Spring Training, without doing a single interview with anybody in the media. I've checked with PR man Bart Swain, and I believe this is a first. Perez has been pretending not to understand English for a while now, and he has successfully turned off every beat reporter enough to avoid any requests altogether. Personally, I gave up trying to talk to him last year. But Plain Dealer scribe Paul Hoynes made one run at him this spring, and Perez told him he was "too tired" to talk after running sprints following a Cactus League appearance.

 

THE "A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND" AWARD:

perez3.jpgRaffy Perez stands in stunning contrast to Chris Perez, who gets this award not only for his approachability and the respect he shows reporters but also for the fact that he is easily the best quote in the clubhouse. These days, it's increasingly rare to find a player genuinely willing to speak his mind about anything related to his team or other teams, so Perez is a gem. And his performance backs up his bravado, which is more than I can say for some others I've encountered.

 

THE "I'M GOIN' DOWN" AWARD:

Jensen Lewis was optioned out four times this year (and was told he'd be optioned out one other time, only to be recalled the minute his plane landed in Columbus). Now, he's probably entering arbitration-eligibility through "Super 2" status, so he could find himself on the transaction wire yet again this winter.

 

THE "NO SURRENDER" AWARD:

Dealt at the Trade Deadline, Jake Westbrook hasn't had his name in these parts in a while. But here's to Jake for returning from Tommy John surgery and working more than 200 innings between the Indians and Cardinals this season. A nice achievement for a true class act.

 

marte.jpgTHE "MY BEST WAS NEVER GOOD ENOUGH" AWARD:

This appears to be the end of the Andy Marte era, as he is approaching salary arbitration. Nice guy, Marte. Just couldn't live up to the expectations of being the primary acquisition in a trade that robbed Cleveland of future Hall of Famer Coco Crisp.

 

THE "SHUT OUT THE LIGHT" AWARD:

Give Marte credit for this, though. On a night in which none of the Indians seemed capable of throwing a strike, he put the Yankees down, 1-2-3. Amazing.

 

THE "BRILLIANT DISGUISE" AWARD:

I've noted before that Chris Gimenez is a pile-jumper, the kind of guy you want in your clubhouse and dugout. The Indians apparently feel the same way, because Gimenez, despite a .160 career batting average, has compiled well over a year of service time with the Tribe over the last two years. Kudos to him.

 

THE "SOULS OF THE DEPARTED" AWARD:
Mark Grudzielanek and Mike Redmond, we hardly knew ye.

 

THE "ALL THE WAY HOME" AWARD:

So much happens over the course of a 162-game season. But please, let's not let lose sight of the fact that Jhonny Peralta, of all people, hit an inside-the-park home run.

 

THE "TAKE 'EM AS THEY COME" AWARD:

Travis Hafner wasn't physically fit to play seven days a week and his old power stroke was lost to shoulder woes. But Hafner played more than 100 games for the first time in three years and provided a .943 OPS in the second half, so the Indians' investment, while far from money well spent, was not a total loss.

 


brantley.jpgTHE "ONE STEP UP" AWARD:

Michael Brantley had a .174 average after 121 at-bats. He entered the final day with a .246 average in 293 at-bats. That's significant improvement, and the Indians have to feel pretty good about penciling him in as their potential leadoff man for next season.

 

THE "TWO STEPS BACK" AWARD:

After leading the team in wins in 2009, David Huff was 2-11 with a 6.21 ERA in 15 starts this year and wound up in Triple-A, sans September callup. Huff's resilience showed with the way he quickly bounced back from that A-Rod liner to the head, so here's hoping he shows it again and comes back strong in 2011.

 

THE "YOUR OWN WORST ENEMY" AWARD:

Huff, or somebody with access to his Twitter account, tweeted that he'd be making a spot start for the Indians within 15 minutes of the club giving him the news and asking him to keep the information to himself. Because of this breach, the start instead went to Gomez, who has basically been a regular in the rotation ever since.

 


donald.jpgTHE "STOLEN CAR" AWARD:

No matter what else happens in his career, Jason Donald will always be remembered for being incorrectly called safe by Jim Joyce to break up Armando Galarraga's perfect game with two outs in the ninth at Comerica Park.

 

THE "SEEDS" AWARD(S):

Big years down on the farm for second baseman Jason Kipnis, who made a successful conversion from the outfield, and right-hander Alex White, who proved to be a viable starting pitching prospect. Honorable mention also goes out to third basemen Lonnie Chisenhall and Jared Goedert, second baseman Cord Phelps, left-hander Matt Packer and right-handers Vinnie Pestano and Bryce Stowell.

 

And finally...

 

THE "NONE BUT THE BRAVE" AWARD:

This one goes out to all you fans out there who stepped through the turnstiles at Progressive Field this season. The Indians had the lowest home attendance in baseball and their lowest season attendance since 1992. But the Tribe showed its appreciation for those who showed up by having players high-five kids as they ran the bases on Sundays, sign autographs near the dugout before weekend games and toss out autographed baseballs after the last home game. These were all nice touches to thank true fans.

 

~AC

"It's lonely out in space, on such a timeless flight"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

continental.jpg

This is an ode to A2, my home that takes me away from home.
It is the seat I have frequented on Continental’s Embraer jets for the last five years on the Indians beat. As “first class” as you can get on a regional, 50-person flight.
You know those flights. One seat on the left side, two on the right. But the beauty of sitting in A2 is that you are removed from the exhausting small talk that must be kept up with the flight attendant when you’re sitting in A1, and you are removed from having a person sitting on either side of you. Nobody bothers you in A2. You are free to complete your Jumble puzzle or read your Nicholas Sparks novel in peace.
Ah, A2. You are the perfect seat to soothe me when the sobering reality that I am about to spend three days in Arlington sinks in. You are a true companion when those tiny bags of even tinier pretzels serves as lunch. Your prime location at the front of the plane ensures me a quicker trip to baggage claim and fresher canned apple juice than those poor saps in the back.
We sat together today, A2. We’ll be together again Sunday night. Times are changing, though. The Continental and United merger became effective today, and the rigors of the baseball beat have me contemplating a career change to my first love, providing closed-captioning services for “Judge Alex.” Frankly, I’m not sure what the future holds for either of us. So I just wanted to take this moment to say thank you for the cushiony comfort and the livable, if not lordly, leg room.
A2, you are A-OK.
EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…
  • Before I get to the usual Tribe notes, I’m going to give myself a little link love. Here’s a feature on our old buddy Brandon Phillips. Here’s a column examining Miguel Cabrera’s MVP chances. Here’s another column on Reds manager Dusty Baker. Here’s a column on Joakim Soria’s underrated season. And here’s the latest installment of the Indians Inbox. Click to show you care.
  • With the home slate now complete, we can officially report that the Indians had the lowest home attendance in baseball this season, at 1,391,644. Will the fans come back if the Indians improve? “Just because they’re not showing up doesn’t mean our fans aren’t passionate,” Acta said. “I get the letters. There is a lot of bitterness and borderline offending [words]. Wherever I went, I saw people wearing Indians stuff. Everybody likes a winner. Why do you think everybody showed up in the mid-90s? Because they liked the way the uniforms looked on some guys?”
  • Justin Germano gets the starting nod Sunday, followed by a bunch of other relievers. Quite an ending.
  • Head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff gave a final update on various Tribe players, most notably Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana. Sizemore has had two post-operative checkups and is progressing to “ground-based activities,” meaning lunging and squatting, in two weeks. Santana has had two post-op checkups and is doing well, though Soloff said he could not confirm Santana’s statement from earlier this week that he’ll begin running in November (Soloff did not have the calendar handy).
  • That “ground-based activities” description is a new one. But it is a welcome clarification for those accustomed to seeing baseball players hovering above ground while strength training.
  • When Soloff was done with his session with reporters, a local scribe said, “Does he do that a lot? Because last time you guys were in town, he had one of those.” I don’t have an official tally, but I’d have to believe Lonnie is among the league leaders in press sessions by athletic trainers over the last two years. He’s had a lot of territory to cover.
  • You know who else has been busy the last two years. Hand specialist Dr. Thomas Graham. He recently moved his operation from Baltimore back to Cleveland. Can’t blame Graham for that move. Adam Miller alone provided him enough business to make it worthwhile. But in all seriousness, the Indians view Graham as a tremendous asset to have nearby. He is very well-regarded in sports circles.
  • Heck of a squeeze bunt put down by Trevor Crowe to push across the game-winner in Wednesday’s nightcap. You don’t see too many well-placed bunts on 99 mph fastballs delivered head-high and out of the strike zone. 
  • Manny Acta was asked what he’s thought of Crowe’s season. “We didn’t envision Crowe on this ballclub, with the personnel we had going into Spring Training,” Acta said. “I had heard he was talented, which you expect from a first-round pick, but that he sometimes plays a little out of control. He’s made a lot of progress, in that respect. He had a legit opportunity to make a big-time impression here and put himself on the inside track of being an everyday player. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. But he did enough good things for me to continue to think he’s going to be a good part of what we’re trying to do here.”
  • The subject then turned to second baseman Jason Donald, who was also not expected to get such a meaningful opportunity at this level this season. Acta said that while Donald’s final numbers don’t capture the attention or imagination, he was pleased with the way Donald never went through a major swoon and continually worked hard to make improvements at the plate and in the field. “He kept his head above water and played good enough to not get sent back down once [Asdrubal] Cabrera came back,” Acta said. “It’s a tribute to him.” Will Donald enter 2011 as the starting second baseman? “It depends on what we do in the offseason,” Acta said. “He proved he can compete, and he got one more year under his belt.”
  • Today was pay day for the players. One guy approaching arbitration-eligibility for the first time was heard to remark, “This is the smallest paycheck I’m going to get until I’m a 40-year-old retread.” Line of the day.
~AC

"My friends, it's been a long, long time"

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

The demand has been overwhelming. The (non-existent) late-night calls, the (two or three) e-mails, the (four or five) messages on Twitter, the (one) in-person request (from blog favorite Jim Rosenhaus).

Yes, the people have spoken, and they have demanded more minutiae.

My apologies for the lack of consistency in CastroTurf in recent weeks. I have been pulled away on some other assignments for MLB.com and have been doing less Indians beat stuff in the waning weeks of the season.

But with the season winding to a close and all eyes turned to 2011, we must make some sense of all we’ve witnessed over the last six months. And we start by turning to manager Manny Acta, who held his postmortem press conference today, despite the fact that we have yet to reach the “post” portion of the season schedule.

Acta won’t be in Cleveland for several weeks, as he’ll be shuffling off to Arizona to check out Instructional League action and helping out with Fox en Espanol’s coverage of the NLCS and World Series, so he met with local scribes today to discuss a wide array of topics.

We’ve got it all covered here in a long-awaited batch of minutiae.

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • acta9.jpgWhen he took the Indians’ job a year ago, Acta said he didn’t view this as a rebuilding project. Another 90-plus loss season would tend to disagree with that statement, but it’s Acta’s contention that the rebuild is within the pitching staff, not the lineup. So when Acta evaluates the 2010 season, he focuses on the progress that pitching staff has made. “I think we’ve taken huge steps,” he said.
  • Acta points to the progress of Fausto Carmona, the late-season improvements made by Justin Masterson, the eye-catching performance of Carlos Carrasco, the unexpected help provided by Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez and the exceeded expectations provided by Mitch Talbot. When asked to name favorites for next year’s rotation, he mentioned Carmona, Masterson, Carrasco and Talbot, though he said nothing is set in stone.
  • Would the Indians go after a veteran starter this winter? “Not a veteran, but a good pitcher,” Acta said. “You can’t just bring in a 40-year-old guy to say you brought in a veteran.”
  • Because good pitchers cost good money, I would say it’s somewhat safe to assume the Indians will stick with the arms they have in place. But I’ve been wrong before.
  • While it’s the pitching staff that Acta deems to be in rebuild mode, he feels the arms made much more progress this season than the bats. That’s obviously evident in the season numbers for Matt LaPorta, Luis Valbuena, Trevor Crowe and Lou Marson, each of whom had a legit starting opportunity at one point or another.
  • Acta said the perpetual struggles of Luis Valbuena came as a major surprise to him. “He’s never been overmatched, but he has nothing to show for the season,” Acta said. “He was unable to get his head above water.”
  • As far as LaPorta’s uninspiring numbers are concerned, Acta said he gives LaPorta a “mulligan” for the year. “He spent his whole offseason rehabbing from two surgeries, not training for baseball,” Acta said. “It was a long year, mentally and physically. [This winter] he’s going to get to train for 162 games.” With more stamina, Acta believes LaPorta can more consistently demonstrate the right-handed power he’s provided in flashes this season.
  • To Acta, the offensive woes this season essentially come down to the injuries suffered by Grady Sizemore, Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera. “I don’t believe in luck,” Acta said. “But our eighth hitter never got hurt or anybody on the bench. It was from the leadoff to the fifth hitter. To be the type of team we are, I don’t think we can absorb that. We’ll be better for it next year, because a lot of guys who weren’t supposed to be here got Major League experience, and that’s going to give us depth.”
  • When asked what he would say to Cleveland sports fans to get them excited about the Indians again, Acta admitted small-market baseball can be a difficult sell to some. “People pick and choose what they want to support,” he said. “I can’t tell people what to choose. I am excited about this franchise. It’s a fact that we have to do things a certain way. It’s tough to tell people that’s what we have to do. But this is the way we have to operate. Our best chance is to draft and develop our players and make as few mistakes as we can. That’s the reality. All I can do is try to accelerate the process as much as I can to make this an exciting, blue-collar unit that people will want to come watch play.”
  • Carlos Santana drew that kind of excitement in his short time in the big leagues before a season-ending knee injury. Santana was in the clubhouse before today’s doubleheader. He’s still using crutches, but he said he hopes to stop using them in about a week. He is also hoping to begin doing running drills in November, at the Goodyear, Ariz., complex, where he’ll spend his winter. “I feel great,” he said. “Everything’s going well with my knee. I feel strong.”
  • The Indians will release their full list of winter ball participants on Thursday, but Jayson Nix is headed to Puerto Rico to work on his defense at third base, and Cabrera will be playing in Venezuela for the first time in three years, as he’s still trying to get his rhythm back after missing two months with the forearm injury.
  • Some unfortunate news about Bob Feller, who has dealt with an array of ailments in recent months. Here’s hoping Rapid Robert can pull through.
  • I’ll have a brand spankin’ new edition of the Inbox up on Indians.com for Thursday’s off day.

~AC

"Grab your ticket and your suitcase"

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

australia.jpgAs a thank you for sticking with me and this blog throughout a long and difficult Cleveland Indians season, I have a special announcement to make to all of you Castronauts out there.

We’re going to Australia!

We’re going to Australia!

We’re going to Australia!

Oh, no. Wait. That’s Oprah’s audience.

Sorry for the confusion.

Forget Australia. Let’s just go to the Minutiae.

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY… 

  • The Indians were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention last week. To soften the blow, there’s good news tonight — the release of the 2011 schedule! Yes, it’s time for renewed hope, reborn optimism, visions of a healthy Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana and, most importantly, three more games against the Pirates to look forward to.
  • The big news is the Indians opening at home for just the third time in the last 14 years, and that opener (Friday, April 1, against the White Sox) will be earlier than usual, with the bulk of teams starting their season on Friday as opposed to the usual Monday. It’s the first time since 1905 that the season, by and large, will begin on a Friday. MLB pushed it up to avoid World Series games in November.
    The aforementioned Pirates have become an annual Interleague foe for the Tribe, much like the Reds have been since 1997. The Pirates did not have a natural AL rival built into their yearly schedule the way most teams do and they pushed MLB to make the Cleveland-Pittsburgh series a regular feature. It seems to have been good for attendance in both cities when the Indians and Bucs play each other.
  • So ,why were the Indians mathematically eliminated this year? I don’t have enough gigabytes to get into all the grim details. But to break things down as simply as possible, Manny Acta believes that to be a viable playoff contender, you must score 800 runs, have an on-base percentage of .340 or higher and have an ERA of 4.00 or lower. There are exceptions, of course, but those are his basic benchmarks. The Indians, in case you’re now wondering, have an OBP of .320, a team ERA of 4.32 and are on pace to score just 635.5 runs. How they’re going to get that last half a run is beyond me.
  • Obviously, the losses of Sizemore and Santana (and Asdrubal Cabrera for two months) contributed to that run total (which, at 561 coming into the night, is third-lowest in the league). But when evaluating what went wrong with this team in 2010, Acta looks no further than these two numbers – 521 and 106. Those are, respectively, the number of walks issued and the number of errors made by the Indians this season.
  • Consider this: The Twins, on their way to winning the AL Central title (they can all but wrap it up with a three-game set against the Sox this week), have walked 319 guys and made 61 errors. So the Indians have let somewhere in the neighborhood of 240 extra men on base (depending, of course, on the nature of the errors) when compared to the Twins. That’s, uh, going to lead to a run or two.
  • Here’s what Acta had to say about the long-term outlook for the Tribe: “In order for us to turn things around here, we’re going to need some pitching. The depth here, with the way [Josh] Tomlin, [Jeanmar] Gomez and [Carlos] Carrasco have thrown the ball, is better. That’s a key for us. Bullpens are unpredictable, and they’re easier to put together than a starting rotation. I think we’ve made some progress [in building starting depth].”
  • Jason Donald is out at least a week with a bruised tendon in his right index finger, which is why Drew Sutton (known to some of you as “Who?”) was summoned from Triple-A Columbus today. Obviously, Sutton is pleased to be here, though he was pulled away from the Governor’s Cup against Durham, which began tonight. He’ll help out at second, third and short, if need be. Luis Valbuena will see the bulk of the time at second.
  • As of this writing, the Indians are still getting a read on whether Mitch Talbot’s shoulder inflammation will prevent him from making his next scheduled start, Saturday in Kansas City. Acta said the injury did not appear serious. If Talbot can’t go, Justin Masterson will take his turn. If Talbot can go, then Masterson’s season is likely over, because the Indians don’t want to push his innings total (currently 173) any higher if they don’t have to.
  • Hard to know what to make of Masterson’s season, though he’s certainly shown improvement and reasons to believe in August and September. There were times this season when his spot in the rotation appeared tenuous, at best, but the Indians, it appears, never seriously considered removing him from the rotation (until he reached his innings max, of course), in part because of his performance but also because there simply weren’t other intriguing options to turn to. The Indians hope their patience has paid off and that something clicked for Masterson in the second half, and I don’t foresee a scenario in which he’s not in the Opening Day rotation.
  • In case you missed it, here’s the latest Indians Inbox
  • I’ll be part of the panel for the Tribe Social Forum, taking place here at Progressive Field on Thursday at 5:45 p.m. (doors open at 5 p.m.). General manager Mark Shapiro will give some opening remarks before the panel on how social media is changing the way we communicate. The $50 ticket gets you access to the discussion, a buffet meal with drinks and a spot in the Champions Suite for the Indians-Angels game at 7:05 p.m. More details here.

~AC

"Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

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I’m no doctor, so I don’t pretend to know the implications of Bob Feller’s leukemia diagnosis. I do know that he appeared to be in good spirits Sunday in his return to the Progressive Field press box after a week and a half of treatments, and I do know that he was going back to the Clinic for an evaluation today. 
I also know that as I look to my left and see an empty seat in the place where the 91-year-old Feller is usually perched to check in on his beloved Cleveland Indians, I hope that seat is filled many, many times in the future.
I’m not old enough to have ever seen Feller pitch. In fact, he’s been classifiable as an “old man” for my entire life. But through this job, I have had the honor and the pleasure to get to know the man behind that sometimes-brash and cantankerous personality and see a guy who loves the game, loves discussing it and, yes, loves to rile us up from time to time with his remarks.
From his roots on an Iowa cornfield to his glorious baseball career to his service in the Navy during World War II, Feller is a living legend and a veritable walking American history textbook. Having access to his insight, his instincts and his humor has been a real treat, and I hope to see Feller come out victorious in yet another battle.
Best of luck and best of health, Bob.
EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…
  • Though seeing him come out of Sunday’s game with an injury to a surgically repaired area raised a red flag, it doesn’t sound like Matt LaPorta’s hip injury is serious. The Indians weren’t even planning to have an MRI taken on the hip. LaPorta is expected back in the lineup Tuesday.
  • Manny Ramirez is obviously the story of the day around here, as his first week with the White Sox will feature visits to his old haunts, Progressive Field (where he has a lifetime .312 average, 132 homers and 436 RBIs in 493 games) iand Fenway Park. This is such a momentous acquisition that MLB.com has placed me on White Sox coverage for this series. I’m filling in for the inimitable Scott Merkin, who, quite unfathomably, would rather see the Eagles in concert than Bruce Springsteen (seriously, Merk?). Should be a fun change of pace, aside from the difficult process of trying to transcribe Ozzie Guillen quotes.
  • Speaking of Guillen, this is what he had to say about Omar Vizquel, who has been a nice addition for the Sox (yes, the Indians pursued him, to no avail): “Awesome. Oh my God. Omar? You want to talk about somebody’s savior, Omar has been a savior for the White Sox for a long time. We never thought Omar was going to be playing this long, this good, this many days. I’m very proud to be managing this kid. A kid who is three years older than me. He’s unbelievable. I never thought he would be this good for us, and he really, really picked us up.”
  • Things have gone so well that Vizquel, who is batting .288 for the season and .333 over his last 40 games, is no longer viewing this as his final season. “The numbers are telling me that maybe there is another good year left,” he said. “I feel good about myself, my body feels good. No adjustments at all. I play the game the same way I was before. I just keep working out, which is the main reason I’m here and am going to be here next year. I keep my body in shape in order to play another year.”
  • Though the Indians weren’t able to woo Vizquel last winter, they’d be remiss not to try again this offseason. He’d be a practical addition to this team, particularly now that he’s proven himself to be an asset at third base, too. And not that people come to ballgames to see utility infielders, but at least Vizquel would provide some measure of marketability in what should be another tough year for attendance.
  • In the meantime, the 1990s Indians reunion so many fans clamor for is happening in the White Sox locker room this week. “It’s going to be fun to have Manny around again,” Vizquel said. “I haven’t played with Manny for about 12 years, and a lot of things have happened since. But it’s always nice to have a guy who can change the outcome of the game with one swing of the bat.”
  • You know who can change a game with one swing of the bat? Andy Marte. Or at least, that’s what Bruce Chen thinks. When asked about serving up that dead-center blast to Jason Donald yesterday, this was what Chen had to say: “I don’t want to say anything [negative], but you imagine that [Donald] would not go to deep center field. If you think of a guy on that team, you think of Hafner, LaPorta and Marte.” Rare love for Marte. 
  • Still waiting on word on September callups. The Indians are waiting to see how Triple-A Columbus’ season shakes out. Aaron Laffey is not guaranteed to join this team in September, given that he is still not 100 percent in his recovery from left shoulder fatigue. If Laffey does come back, it will be in the bullpen. But he’ll have to show a lot of progress in the next couple days to convince the Indians he’s ready.
  • Fausto Carmona has tweaked the grip of his changeup, which has Acta encouraged. In Sunday’s loss to the Royals, Carmona’s changeup was clocking in around 85 mph, giving him a nice separation of speeds from his sinker. The Indians were concerned that his changeup speed was getting too close too consistently to the fastball speed.
  • Acta said Carmona has been throwing his changeup more often this season. According to data on Fangraphs.com (one of Acta’s favorite web sites), Carmona is definitely throwing less sinkers (67.8 percent, as opposed to 72.2 percent last year and 80.9 percent in ’08) and more sliders (18.3 percent, way up from 7.6 percent last year and 8.8 percent in ’08). The changeup is at 13.9 percent, according to the site, which is actually down from 20.2 percent last year but way up from 2.6 percent in ’08. Obviously, this data is not guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate, but Carmona is definitely deviating from the sinker with more regularity.
  • Speaking of Acta’s favorite web sites, he told me the other day that he just noticed, for the first time, the tagline at the top of this blog: “Manny Acta’s favorite Indians blog… or if it’s not, it ought to be.” That’s been up there, I believe, since the day Acta was hired. That it’s taken him this long to notice doesn’t bode well for that tag line being accurate.
  • Russell Branyan trade acquisition Ezequiel Carrera is batting .375 over his last eight games at Columbus, with five multi-hit games.
  • Columbus closer Vinnie Pestano has a 0.81 ERA and eight saves in eight opportunities over his last 21 appearances. He’d be an intriguing September callup option.
  • Best of luck to media relations intern Vince Gerbec, who is working his final series before heading back to Athens, Ohio, the Navel of the Universe and the Land of Milk and Honey, for his senior year at Ohio University. See you at my bachelor party, Vince.
~AC

An exclusive interview with two Chris Perezes

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A long, losing season needs its subplots and surprises to keep things entertaining. And if you’ve been following the 2010 Cleveland Indians on Twitter this year, you’ve probably found entertainment in the recent creation of closer Chris Perez’s Twitter alter ego, @PureRage_Perez.
The real Chris Perez is on Twitter at @ChrisPerez54. But as of this writing, the real Perez has 54 less followers than the fake one.
Thanks to the cooperation of both Chris and Pure Rage, I was able to gain unprecedented access into the minds and lives of both men, and it is my pleasure to share the results with you here. Below are 13 questions I posed to each Perez, followed by their respective answers.
Your job, as reader, is to distinguish which answer, A or B, came from the real Chris Perez. I’ll post the answers in the comments section below. An early hint: Pure Rage is addicted to grape Gatorade, while the real Chris Perez prefers red.
1. This whole thing started because Chris Gimenez said you showed “pure rage” in a save you converted against the Yankees a few weeks back. Are there other situations in life in which you show pure rage?
A. Not really. I’m pretty easy-going. Not happy-go-lucky, but I roll with the punches. Except when it comes to baseball, when I get on the field. I don’t get mad in traffic or mad at my dogs when they chew up stuff. But on the field, I take it personally. Pitching is one of the most selfish aspects of baseball. It’s up to you. If you give up that big hit, that’s on you, because you made the pitch. It sucks. You feel like the whole world is watching you. So I take it personally.
B. A better question would be are there other situations in life in which I refrain from showing Pure Rage? And the answer is no. As a side note, going forward I would like Pure Rage to always be capitalized.
2. What do you do to get fired up before an appearance?

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A. Nothing gets me fired up. I’m pretty calm before I pitch. But I take my warmup throws, and my last one I try to throw as hard as I can. I grunt as the catcher’s throwing it back. That kind of gets me in the zone. 
B. Do you remember in the movie Pearl Harbor, when the bomber dudes had pictures of the boats they were to destroy? I do something similar with pictures of the opposing players. Except I pay a cartoonist to draw little discussion bubbles coming out of their mouths saying mean things about me.
3. Any rituals that get you ready for a game and an appearance?
A. I really don’t have a ritual. I don’t have a stretching ritual like Mariano. I sit down in the bullpen, watch the games, watch the hitters. I’m in the bullpen the whole game. I never understood closers who stay in the clubhouse until the late innings. I like to get a feel for the game and what the umpires are calling and what the hitters are doing, rather than having the bullpen coach or bullpen catcher telling me. If it’s a close game after the sixth, I cut out talking to anybody and just focus. 
B. As has been well documented, I fuel up on mass amounts of Grape Gatorade. I occasionally get into Slim Jims if it’s really needed. Usually this is done in complete darkness while listening to either Pantera or Elton John. I also do my best to dominate every single game we play out in the bullpen, especially Monopoly. (I use the thimble as my marker by the way.) I have yet to lose any game we’ve played, except when Raffy Perez brought Ouija. I don’t mess with that witchcraft crap.
4. Is there anything that opposing players do while you’re on the mound that makes you angry?
A. If a hitter does a fake bunt kind of a thing, trying to get a first-pitch ball, that makes me mad. And sometimes a guy… well, one guy, in particular, [Nick] Swisher takes forever to get into the box. He has his whole routine down pat. It doesn’t matter if he’s coming up with the bases loaded or leading off the inning. He just takes his time. That kind of gets me mad.
B. No, not really. Well, I guess I get a little riled up when they take practice swings, adjust their helmet, adjust their batting gloves, look at the third base coach for signs, blink, breath, stretch, rub dirt on their hands, ask the umpire a question, talk to my catcher, try to bunt, swing away, take a pitch, hit a foul ball, look at me or call timeout. I guess I am a pretty tolerable guy!
5. What angers you more? Walking somebody, or giving up a hit?
A. I’d rather walk a guy than give up a hit. To me, giving up hits means they’re actually touching you and can beat you. When you’re walking people, it’s on you. If you walk a guy or two, it feels like you’re just a mechanical adjustment away.
B. I’d say C: Letting the batter live.
6. What is the key to being a good closer?
A. Just living in that moment. A lot of stuff can happen quickly in a one-run or two-run game. You just have to be able to bear down and live in that moment. It also helps to be a strikeout pitcher who can pitch away from contact. A lot of times you can’t afford to give up a fly ball or a groundball. Some guys can be closers, but they don’t have the stuff where they can miss bats late. And obviously, you have to be able to bounce back from tough outings. 
B. I guess having good pickup lines. You can’t close on a woman unless you have a good opening line. I don’t really understand why you are asking me this question, I am already married.
7. Does intimidation come into play?
A. I think there’s something to that. I know when I first signed and got in pro ball, I was taught that the hitters can pick up when you’re going good and feeling it, and they can pick it up when you’re going bad and hesitant. You don’t want the hitters to be comfortable. Anything can disrupt that comfort. If somebody’s worried about this guy coming in with this hair and beard and that distracts him, that’s an advantage that I have. 
B. Absolutely. Unless you intimidate and scare those workers at Subway, you are not getting any extra pickles.
8. Do you ever peek at your velocity while you’re on the mound?
A. I do. It’s not every time, but some days when I don’t feel I threw that good in the bullpen, I want to make sure I know what I’m working with. If I have my best stuff, I can challenge guys and go right after the big part of the plate, whereas some days, if I don’t, I need to know I have to hit the corners and throw more sliders. Also, if I throw one really good, I like to look back and see what it was. It’s easy at our place. I can just turn around, look like I’m getting some rosin, and it’s right there.
B. Don’t have to. I usually just look at the urine stains on the batter’s pants for reassurance.
9. Velocity-wise, where do you like your fastball to be?
A. When I’m throwing 95, I feel I can pump it up and get higher if I need to, but I also feel I can really hit my spots and make it tough on them. I get good movement on 95. For some reason, 94 is pretty flat, 96 is straight and 95 has got the movement.
B. If I throw it at the batter and he has time to move out of the way, it isn’t fast enough.
10. What products do you use on your hair?
A. I like the cream stuff. Whatever shampoo has cream in it. That makes it nice and fluffy for the next day. I also wear my hat backwards before the game. That gets it flowing the right way. I comb it to get all the knots out, then put my hat on to get it flowing. I have to have it just right when I throw. I can’t have it in my eyes or anything.
B. I see what is going on here. You want me to perjure myself, a la Roger Clemens. Well, for the record (in my best Rafael Palmeiro voice) I have never used performance-enhancing products on my hair, period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.
11. You’ve really cultivated a nice look for yourself. I remember when they traded for you, you were clean-shaven and you looked like you were about 18 years old. Where did your current look come from?
A. It’s funny you say that, because coming up in college and in the Minors, we couldn’t have more than two days’ growth. No goatees, nothing. Until you got to Triple-A. So my second big-league Spring Training, I was the youngest one in camp, I think. And my agent actually said to me, ‘You know, Tony [LaRussa] and [Dave] Duncan are kind of old-school. They see the young guys and just put them aside, so maybe you should grow some facial hair.’ So I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll try to.’ So I grew this goatee thing. It didn’t help me stick around, but it made me look older, and it just went from there. I did good, and I kept it for a while. This year, I told my wife I would grow the beard to keep my face warm in the cold weather. I had a good start to the year, and it happened to stick. No reason to change. My wife doesn’t mind it. She says I just need to trim it.
B. Ever heard of James Carville? I told myself I would never look like that bald yay-who.
12. You said last year that you wanted to start playing the guitar. How’s that coming?
A. I’m not very good at it. I have a good teacher in the bullpen in Scott Radinsky. He told me electric is a lot easier to get the notes down and learn how to play. So I might get an electric this offseason.
B. Yeah I said that when I heard there was a chance my new catcher was going to be Carlos Santana. I went out and bought all this really nice guitar stuff preparing myself to learn from a guitar god. When I found out it wasn’t the same Carlos Santana, I decided to try a new and cheaper hobby. Twitter.
13. Your wife is due to give birth to a baby boy this offseason. Any names in mind, other than Little Pure Rage?
A. I do not like alliterative names or names that are two first names. That rules out any name that begins with P, including Perez. That being said, I like to lean on history for things like this. There were guys named Babe, Honus, Yogi, Three Finger, Rollie, Oil Can, Shin-Soo, Orel, Catfish, Dizzy, and Enos, and they all turned out to be Major League Baseball players. I think we will go one of those.
B. Maxwell Alexander. I wanted Maximus, for obvious reasons. “Gladiator” is a good movie. But you have to pick your battles. But I get to pick the girl’s name. That was our deal.
~AC

8/25: Indians vs. A's

Tonight’s 7:05 p.m. ET game at Progressive Field is on WTAM and STO.cle7.gif

INDIANS (50-75): CF Brantley, SS Cabrera, RF Choo, DH Hafner, 3B Nix, LF Crowe, 1B LaPorta, 2B Donald, C Marson. RHP Mitch Talbot (8-10, 4.23).

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ATHLETICS (62-62): CF Crisp, 1B Barton, C Suzuki, DH Cust, 2B Ellis, LF Davis, 3B Kouzmanoff, RF Gross, SS Pennington. RHP Trevor Cahill (13-5, 2.54).
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