It’s always a good feeling to get out of Cleveland in March, and to go watch some baseball in the sun. After this particularly harsh winter, it somehow seems even sweeter this year. I drove directly from the airport to Goodyear on Monday, in order to catch the 1:05 game against the Angels, and on Tuesday I headed to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick to see the Indians take on the Diamondbacks. Since these games have been televised, many of you probably saw some of the action as well over the past two days (if your work schedule allowed for that). I’ll share some of my thoughts (and amateur-ish photos) from these two games and hopefully folks can chip in with some of their opinions as well.
Monday’s Game vs. the Angels:
The starting pitchers were Jered Weaver and Danny Salazar; Salazar was making his first in-game appearance of the spring. The first game I attended last spring happened to also be the Angels vs. the Indians, and Weaver pitched that day as well. He and Scott Kazmir got into a pitcher’s duel (as did the bullpens) and the Indians managed to pull off a 1-0 win. They hit Weaver much better this year, but the pitching wasn’t as sharp for the Tribe either. Salazar was a little shaky, but fine for a first appearance. The “pitch speed” portion of the scoreboard remained blank (I can’t remember them ever putting numbers up there in the spring) but it seemed like Salazar was already throwing pretty hard. Some of the players were hitting him pretty hard too; several balls were just blistered, but were caught. Salazar got into a spot of trouble and loaded the bases in the second; that’s when Francona went to the bullpen.
The next pitcher to enter the game was Nick Hagadone. I know that the day’s pitchers are selected ahead of time, and everyone usually has a set pitch-count total. However, it seems like Francona has been purposely selecting Hagadone to come into some dicey situations. I’m sure it could be purely coincidental, but I doubt that; even though he has an option left after the offseason deal that settled his service time grievance, Hagadone is still battling for a roster spot. Since he had some trouble with high-pressure situations last year, it makes sense to see if he can handle them during the spring. In limited sample size, it appears that he still cannot handle them. Hagadone always seems to me to have the most obvious body language of any pitcher. Maybe I’m just attaching this to him at this point, but he just seems anxious and somehow bothered out on the mound. I think his problems are primarily mental at this point.
After Hagadone was pulled (with minimal damage in the runs department, believe it or not) Trevor Bauer entered the game. The only positive thing I can say about his appearance is that I hope they were having him work on something specific (and that his velocity seemed good). Because that happens from time to time in spring training – coaches are having guys try new pitches, tweaks to their mechanics, etc. If that’s the case, then only the coaching staff knows whether or not his appearance was successful. Because to the naked eye of a fan, it was Ugly, with a capital U. At least he didn’t walk a lot of people this time, because the Angels were pretty much slamming the ball all over the park. (Silver lining! Few walks!) I hadn’t slept well the night before my flight (I never do, a mixture of anxiety and nerves) and was exhausted and jet-lagged from a long flight. I was honestly tempted to take a nap, and have the people behind me wake me up when Bauer finally left the game. It was almost hard to watch after a while. You know it’s necessary to get him the experience, but…wow…still not that easy to see. The Tribe ended up losing 8-3.
The game against the Diamondbacks was much better to watch if you’re an Indians fan (although probably not as much fun for D-Backs fans). Their starter, Trevor Cahill, was getting hit pretty hard by the Indians. Then, as he was racing to cover first on a Jason Kipnis grounder, he ended up on the ground in pain. I initially thought that maybe he caught a spike, but when Cahill stayed writhing on the ground, it was obviously something much worse (jammed knee, it turns out). Indians pitching had a fantastic day – Justin Masterson pitched four no-hit innings and looked sharp. (He was formally named the opening day starter today, as if there was any doubt). After Masterson left the game, he went to get his running in on the warning track. In case you were unfamiliar with this, in spring training, some players choose to do their running back and forth along the warning track while the game is still in progress. You used to see a lot more people doing it during games, but you still see a few guys from time to time. The Angels fans behind me on Monday had no idea what was going on while a player did his running drills on the warning track, and I was so tempted to turn around and tell them that teams got a fourth roving outfielder during spring training. Anyway, one cool thing about Masterson is that he kept reaching up to slap the hands of fans leaning over the railing. Sometimes he even jumped in order to reach them.
Jeff Francoeur was also in right field today, and if you’ve ever read some of the stuff I’ve written in the past, you’re quite familiar about my Francoeur obsession. Let me tell you – his compulsive touching routine was in midseason form today out in right. I was sitting near home, and I could see it from my seat.
He was kind of “meh” at the plate today, but did get a hit. My obsession probably won’t earn him a roster spot; he’ll have to hit well for that.
Let’s talk about the folks that did look good at the plate today – Lonnie Chisenhall blasted a two-run homer off of Cahill. While I hate to write him off as the every-day third baseman, I’ve already mentioned before that he’s about out of chances. I think he could do well in a platoon situation, though – in his career he’s hit .256/.298/.416 with 17 home runs against right-handed pitchers. He’s hit just .194/.225/.387 with 6 home runs against left-handed pitchers during his career. I’m not sure if the Indians really have the roster room for more platoon guys at this point, but it’s something to consider. In the right role, Chisenhall may still hold value.
One player that’s been a pleasant surprise for me this spring is Justin Sellers. He made a nice diving stop today, and has impressed me at times at the plate. Granted, he’s often in late in the game when there are non-regulars pitching, but he’s still put together solid at-bats. I really don’t see him making the roster though. There simply isn’t room for him and he never really performed well at the major league level for the Dodgers. I agree with Joe that David Adams is most likely to get one of those last utility spots. Just because the Indians signed him to a major league deal, not a minor league deal with an invite to spring training, and he’s already on the 40-man roster. (Although to be fair, Sellers is also on the 40-man). I’m not saying I agree with Adams making the roster, just that it’s what I predict the Indians will do. Personally, I couldn’t believe they even offered Adams a major league contract. When he’s actually been in a game this spring, he hasn’t really impressed me. I guess we’ll see what happens though.
The other interesting tidbit from Tuesday’s game is that there were a couple of former Indians playing for the D-Backs – Shelley Duncan and Andy Marte. Duncan was hit by a pitch and thrown out by Yan Gomes on what appeared to be a hit-and-run gone awry, while Marte got a solid hit later in the game.
The Indians defeated the D-Backs 7-1. It’s back to Goodyear on Wednesday to see the Indians take on the San Diego Padres, and I believe this game is televised as well. I plan to be at that one, and then will take a break from the Tribe on Thursday to see the Mariners and D-Backs at Talking Stick. I plan to be back with the Tribe on Friday when they take on the White Sox in Glendale. I’ll try to share more thoughts as the week progresses.