We are now two weeks into the game portion of Spring Training, so it is time to take stock of what we have learned thus far. There are plenty of intriguing battles going on. Some players have made statements, while others are still trying to make up ground. I have kept my ear to the ground and as always, I’ve tried to stay on top of all the goings-on in Goodyear. With just 20 days until the opener in Oakland, I file this report….
While Raburn sizzles, Murphy isn’t ready. Of all of the pleasant surprises of the 2013 playoff season, perhaps none was bigger than the renaissance of Ryan Raburn. A big reason that the former Tiger was so good was the genius of manager Terry Francona. Tito played Raburn perfectly; he didn’t overuse him, picking and choosing his spots, yet he knew when to ride him when he was sizzling. Midway through the season, Raburn smartly signed a two-year extension with the Tribe for $4.75 million. Knowing Ryan is at his best in the role he played last season, GM Chris Antonetti signed David Murphy from Texas to a two-year deal. The rightfield platoon was all set.
Thus far in Goodyear, Raburn has carried over his success, going 6-10 with a pair of homers. Not only is he playing rightfield, but Raburn is taking ground balls at first in attempts to potentially get his bat in the lineup more if need be. As for Murphy, he has struggled a little of out the gate. A sore elbow has hindered him at the plate (2-15) and he has been the DH in his last two games. Murphy insists it is just precautionary and he’d be out there in right if this were the regular season. The former Ranger will be getting the majority of the at-bats against right-handed pitching and is being counted on to have a big bounce back year.
My big concern is that Murphy will be more David Dellucci 2.0 than the second coming of Raburn version 2013. Only time will tell. The key is how you view him. I choose to gaze at Murphy as the roster replacement for Drew Stubbs. It is all about tempering expectations there.
Bauer gets rocked….do not freak out! I know that I shouldn’t judge the entire Tribe fan base by what I see on Twitter, but sometimes I do and it amazes me. After looking great in his first three Spring outings, Trevor Bauer was lit up yesterday for six runs on seven hits and two walks in two innings in a loss to the Los Angeles Angels. You would have thought his season was over judging by fan reaction.
Look, he had ONE bad outing. There is no reason to be freaking out over it. First and foremost, the reports from Goodyear have been mostly superlatives about Bauer’s rebuilt delivery. In addition, his velocity has been the talk of camp. Bauer has been hitting 97 regularly with his fastball and his command has improved. Trevor is still living too high in the zone and will have to keep his stuff down, but we all have to keep in mind that he is still only 23 years old.
“He’s work really hard on his delivery. Now we’ve got to work on fastball command. That’s front and center,” Francona said this morning discussing Bauer.
“He’s used to doing it alone. He’s opened up to us somewhat. It’s appreciated. You don’t earn trust overnight.”
I know that he has been listed as in the running for the fifth starter job, but the truth is he is better off starting the season in Columbus, continuing to work on his command. You know that at some point the Indians will need him, but there is no reason to rush and put pressure on the kid, especially with the way Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin have been pitching.
A two-horse race until the end? While there are several candidates mentioned for that final rotation spot, the job will ultimately come down to two guys – Carrasco and Tomlin. Both guys have pushed each other thus far, bringing out the best in both.
In three appearances spanning seven and a third innings, Carrasco has allowed just one earned run while striking out nine compared to just one walk. Francona has been thrilled with his progress. As you know by now, Carlos is out of options and at age 27 (turns it March 21), his time is now. Like Bauer, Carrasco adjusted his delivery this offseason and thus far it looks like it has paid dividends.
Tomlin is just doing what he does. He is throwing strikes, pitching to contact, and staying away from mistakes. On Sunday he threw four scoreless innings, striking out five. He has essentially matched Carrasco’s spring, giving up two earned runs in his nine innings of work. This race will probably go all the way down to the last week of the Spring.
Veteran Aaron Harang is in the mix as well (one ER in five spring innings), but he is a long shot at this point. The Indians have to make a decision on him one way by March 25th as he is due a $100,000 retention bonus. In a perfect world, they would keep Harang around in Columbus as rotation filler in case of injury.
So about that Carlos Santana third base experiment…. Carlos has spen the majority of his time this Spring at third. This week, he will transition back into taking some reps behind that plate. One thing has nothing to do with the other. Santana’s play at third has been mixed. In game action, Carlos has made two high throws on routine plays to first, but as Francona told the media “he has plenty of arm, that is for sure.” But for the most part, he has been decent enough, but still a work in progress.
The truth is though, the coaching staff still has not seen enough to make a determination on whether or not Santana can be a regular at third. Meanwhile, Lonnie Chisenhall isn’t exactly setting the world on fire at the plate (4-18), but he has plenty of time to turn it around. In the field, Lonnie has gotten by with little problem, but this Spring is still all about whether or not Santana can transition to third.
Vinnie looking great, Atchinson’s leg up? I for one an rooting for Vinnie Pestano this Spring maybe more than any other player. The injury plagued, poor 2013 season was a real humbling experience Pestano and he arrived in camp as a man on a mission. He has made three scoreless appearances and looks great. I can’t see how Vinnie isn’t on the Opening Day roster. That still leaves one, possibly two spots left.
Reading the tea leaves over the weekend, it seems as though veteran Scott Atchinson may have taken a step forward. Matt Albers did a terrific job as the Tribe’s middle reliever in 2013, but he moved on to greener pastures in Houston. His valuable role needs to be filled and like Albers, Atchinson has history with Francona from his days in Boston. The 37-year old is being lauded by his teammates.
Said fellow reliever Cody Allen: “Throughout a season, guys are going to go through different things. When you have a resource like him (Atchinson) just to go through and talk about something, he’s been there, he’s done it, and he can bounce things off you. He’s going to have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in your head.”
“He’s a guy you can always rely on,” current and former teammate David Aardsma said. “When guys are overtired or guys are trying too hard, Atch is a guy that it’s just, ‘Do what you do.’ He’s been there and done that. You always need that in a bullpen.”
As for Francona, he is a big fan of Scott’s.
“He has a rare ability to eat innings,” Francona said, “keep you in games while he’s eating those innings, take innings he’s not supposed to and his role is usually not the set-up guy, but when you get in those extra inning games or you get in a pinch, he can pitch in those games, too.”
Atchinson has made three scoreless appearances this Spring. Like so many others, he came to Cleveland in large part because of his respect for Tito.
“For me, signing here was a comfort thing with Francona, knowing what I can do and having pitched for him before,” Atchison said. “Maybe that’s not an advantage, but it helps me in that I feel like if, say I have a rough outing, they know what I am. Maybe that rough outing isn’t who I am. Obviously I don’t want to string together a bunch of bad ones, but I feel like maybe there’s some leeway. You’re going to have an outing where you’re just not sharp. It’s spring training. Having that comfort with Tito helps me more than anything. As far as against anybody else, I’ve been through it a lot and I feel like I know how to handle it.”
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)