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Indians welcome back WBC players, aim to catch Roberto Perez up; Indians 8, Rockies 3

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 23, 2017

The United States defeated Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic finale Wednesday night. The U.S. team celebrated in Los Angeles, while managers all across Arizona and Florida breathed a sigh of relief that their respective players would seen return to camp healthy and ready to go.

That certainly included Indians manager Terry Francona, who has maintained that he understands the positives of the WBC, but also knows the frustrations that it creates on a club’s schedule.

Perhaps the greatest relief is the safe return of prized reliever Andrew Miller, now a WBC champion. Pitchers will always carry more risk in the WBC. Miller was deployed, of course, but U.S.A. manager Jim Leyland communicated with Francona to ensure he wasn’t misused or overused.

“I've been pretty vocal about how I've felt about our guys not being here. I probably should follow that up with the communication was outstanding,” Francona said. “Whether it's Leyland or [Jeff Jones], or whoever, there was never a problem with the communication. So, however he was used, we knew. And we appreciated that. Jonesy, he had been a pitching coach in Detroit and he had guys that were there. He knows. We never for one minute thought they didn't care. It's just, you still get nervous.”

Francisco Lindor, Roberto Perez and Joe Colon will also return from Team Puerto Rico. For Perez, who primarily acted as Yadier Molina’s backup, he’s now a bit behind offensively. The Indians are aiming to catch him up offensively as quickly as possible.

Perez is slated to act as the designated hitter in Friday’s game and then catch on Saturday. He’ll also likely go to the minor-league fields to rack up some additional at-bats.

“We've been sending guys to the minor-league side anyway. He's an obvious candidate to do that,” Francona said. “He can get four or five at-bats. He can get whatever he wants and doesn't have to catch. So, he'll be fine, but we can get a little creative. … That’s really helpful. A lot of times, these guys play in a game and they might see four or five pitches. They might walk or hit the first pitch. This can really help get a guy back where he needs to be.”

Indians 8, Rockies 3

Ace Corey Kluber allowed three runs, only one earned, on five hits and struck out eight in seven innings pitched in the Indians’ 8-3 win against the Colorado Rockies in Cactus League play on Thursday.

Kluber, who has been working with an adjusted spring training workload after his extensive work in last year’s postseason, was almost too efficient.

"I thought he was tremendous,” Francona said. “He wanted to get really stretched out, because he'll pull back a little bit the next outing. And, for a while there, he was being so efficient, we were, not glad, but we kind of kicked the ball around that one inning a little bit. It made him work, but he was still throwing the ball well. Actually, his last inning was probably his strongest inning. That was really good to see.”

Richie Shaffer, in camp as a non-roster invitee and vying for the third-base job to open the season, went 2-for-3 with a double, an RBI and a leaping catch at third.

Abraham Almonte went 3-for-3 with two RBI and is now hitting .385 this spring. Erik Gonzalez (No. 2 this spring) and Adam Moore (No. 3) each hit home runs.

Michael Brantley, in his first back-to-back action in Cactus League play, went 0-for-3 with a deep fly out to center field. Tyler Naquin also returned to the lineup after knee soreness and went 1-for-3.

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Indians OF Daniel Robertson, fighting for time, embodying what spring training has to offer

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 23, 2017

Outfielder Daniel Robertson is one of those guys who fans can see every spring training. The guy busting his tail every play at some sleepy, half-attended ballpark in Arizona or Florida in March, fighting for a roster spot even though the odds are against him. The guy wearing No. 99 instead of No. 9.

His spring training is not a laid-back, seven-week retreat at a sunny venue with a gradual incline to the start of the regular season, where a roster spot on the big-league club is comfortably waiting for him.

His job in the spring is to fly into camp and immediately try to run through a brick wall. There’s no “Get ready, set.” It’s just “Go, let’s see what you can do.” And if he runs through enough walls, and is the recipient of some luck, he might hear the National Anthem on Opening Day at a Major League ballpark.

“Every at-bat is amplified,” Robertson said. “You’re not going into the day thinking, ‘I’m going to get three at-bats and I can work my way into the third one.’ Every at-bat means something. For me, I try to put myself in a game-like situation, a World Series situation, early. Every pitch is a unique opportunity, so you can’t waste it. Because obviously the regular guys, they’re going to start playing games on April 3. I have to find a way to win here in spring training.”

Robertson, 31, knows the drill by now. He knows his situation. The Indians have four outfielders who, if all are healthy, have spots on the major-league roster locked up. Then there’s Austin Jackson and Abraham Almonte vying for the fifth spot. He’s played well, hitting .306 with one home run, two triples and five RBI in 49 at-bats entering Thursday. But spring training stats aren’t everything, and he’s currently blocked by six outfielders ahead of him.

Robertson’s primary goal is, of course, to open the season with the Indians in Cleveland. But as a non-roster invitee, the bigger goal is to hook on somewhere at Triple-A in a positive situation and keep plugging away, hoping for the right break to come along. At the very least, he can impress scouts from another club in attendance if it doesn’t work out with the Indians.

Robertson’s spring training experience will be greatly different than that of, say, Lonnie Chisenhall’s. His starting line is much earlier on the calendar.

“The regular season started for those guys three weeks ago,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “We have to remind ourselves that it’s still spring training and guys have to get ready. But the bell already went off for them. That’s why when you see Lonnie or [Jason] Kipnis go 0-for-2, spring training game, [they] get their helmet, go back to the clubhouse, do their work and go home. These other guys, it’s the regular season for them.”

Francona can empathize with Robertson’s position and the sense of urgency that can come with it. In 1988 with the Indians, Francona began his spring in the minor leagues. He was then invited to major-league camp and played so well that roughly a week before the beginning of the regular season, he was told he’d be making the Opening Day roster and would be hitting No. 2 in the lineup. Three days later, the Indians traded for Willie Upshaw, and that was that. Francona went back to Triple-A.

A year later, with Milwaukee, he can found himself in a battle for a spot. This time, things worked out.

“Tom Trebelhorn, it was ’89 with the Brewers, he called about four or five of us into his office with about a week to go,” Francona said. “He was like, ‘We just want to let you guys know that you’re all still in the running.’ You could see the [other] guys were like, ‘Oh, S***.’ And I was like, ‘Yes!’ I ended up making the team. But it was like, I was happy. Heck yeah. But it’s hard. … When I see guys, I know how they’re feeling for sure.”

Robertson has entered different spring camps in about every position possible for a player. He came into camp with the San Diego Padres as a prospect with the message that he’d likely only be there 2-3 weeks before being sent to minor-league camp. Two years ago, with the Los Angeles Angels, Robertson was on the 40-man roster. Last year was his first as a non-roster invitee with the Seattle Mariners. Through it, he’s played in 116 major-league games across three seasons and totaled a .273 average while battling for every bit of playing time.

Robertson has been The Guy Fans See At Every Spring Training all around different spring camps in Arizona in recent years. He’s well traveled. He’s doing what he’s always done: play as hard as he possibly can, because that’s how you play baseball.

“I’ve been through every rung this game has to offer,” Robertson said. “Injuries, unfortunate situations, great situations, crowded outfields, no one in the outfield, coaching staff that loves me, hates me. For me, at the end of the day, I just want to deliver a product. Grandfathers watched baseball in the 50s and 60s and they passed it onto their kids and my dad passed it onto me and I hold that responsibility. I’m just a baseball player. All the off-the-field stuff, where I’ll live, that’ll fall into place.”

Barring something unforeseen, Robertson is likely headed to Triple-A Columbus or another club to begin the season. For now, the guy wearing No. 99 will keep trying to run through walls, hoping the grass really is greener on the other side.

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Danny Salazar feels ‘terrific,’ is ready for the regular season; Rockies 10, Indians 2

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 22, 2017

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz: Indians starting pitcher Danny Salazar was roughed up but with the bigger picture of a regular season in mind, likes his standing heading into the final stretch of spring training.

Salazar allowed seven earned runs on eight hits and one walk in five innings pitched in the Indians’ 10-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday. The majority of the damage came in the second inning, which he couldn’t close out and was knocked around for five runs.

“Days like this will happen during spring training. They’ll happen during the season, too,” Salazar said. “I think it’s better if it happens here.”

With it being spring training, of course, the allowed runs were of little consequence. The important test on Wednesday was getting Salazar stretched out. After spending much of last year’s second half and postseason on the disabled list, just feeling healthy again is a major victory.

“I feel terrific on the mound,” Salazar said. “My arm is great. Can’t complain. … I feel ready right now. That’s all that matters.”

Last spring, pitching coach Mickey Callaway talked with Salazar about the responsibilities of becoming a top-tier starter. Sometimes, it’s not about delivering another shutout outing. It’s about limiting the damage in a poor showing and extending as long as he can into a game. This spring has been a better story for Salazar in that regard.

“He’s shown some maturity,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. "A couple years ago, you probably have to go get him the next inning. He’s smart enough and mature enough where he got his work done.”

Thursday’s test

Michael Brantley went 1-for-3 in his second Cactus League this spring, which included a line-drive single to right field. He also flew out to left field twice.

Brantley is slated to play in Thursday’s game, the first time he’ll go back-to-back in big-league camp. That will be the next major test along his road back to the lineup. For now, the Indians are looking to see if anything in his swing looks out of the ordinary.

“He looks healthy to me. He looks good,” Francona said. “It’s just now bouncing back and maintaining as opposed to last year, he got in these games and he felt it and then he started to get al title weaker. He’s not having that.”

Test prep

Brantley, along with Austin Jackson, are both in the mix for the Opening Day roster but both have been more-so dealing with health concerns than logging time in Cactus League play.

Jackson, recovering from left knee surgery, is in camp as a non-roster invitee. He’s logged just 21 at-bats but is hitting .333 with a home run and four doubles. In center field, oddly enough, he’s rarely had the ball hit his way in the games he has played.

“It’s funny, he he hasn’t been tested very much,” Francona said. “Small sample sizes in spring training. He looks fine. There are no red flags.”

Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer, Tyler Naquin and Brantley, if healthy, all have spots locked down in the outfield. That leaves Jackson and Abraham Almonte as the leading contenders vying for the fifth spot, though if Brantley is unable to suit up for Opening Day, the Indians could need both to be ready. Yandy Diaz, also a possibility at third base if Jose Ramirez is moved in Jason Kipnis’ absence, could also potentially play into that mix.

The Indians have liked what they’ve seen from Jackson, who was signed to an incentive-laced deal that carried little risk to the club. They just haven’t been able to see enough, yet. Quickly, the Indians are entering a time crunch to make several decisions around the Opening Day roster.

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Indians prospect Bradley Zimmer hoping strong spring a sign of new swing rounding into form

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 22, 2017

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz: Indians outfield prospect Bradley Zimmer has been tearing through Cactus League play this spring training, a positive sign after a stagnated 6-to-8 month stretch. The Indians and Zimmer hope this spring is a byproduct of his revamped swing and stance rounding into form, and not entirely a mirage of small sample sizes.

This spring, Zimmer is hitting .354 with three home runs, five doubles, 12 RBI and four stolen bases in 48 at-bats entering Wednesday’s game.

Last July, Zimmer worked with Tim Laker, now an assistant hitting coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks, at Double-A Akron to alter his swing and stance after a rough start to the 2016 season. The idea was to narrow his stance, loosen his hands and alter some of his swing mechanics in order to improve his swing path through the zone and be able to consistently get to more pitches, among other things. He needed to hit a wider array of pitches consistency and he pulled the ball, he needed to find more power.

Zimmer rebounded a bit after the changes but then struggled upon being promoted to Triple-A. His play descended further in the Arizona Fall League, where he racked up strikeouts against left-handed pitchers at an alarming rate.

Zimmer credits some of those struggles, especially those against left-handers, in part due to the on-going swing changes. He’s rarely hit lefties well, but his splits had spiraled. He also fell off some top-100 prospect lists.

“I think it was more of a mindset, working on some stuff last year, that kind of led to that,” Zimmer said. “I’m feeling comfortable now. Everything’s where I want it to be. The swing is starting to come around.”

Zimmer has been getting to more pitches than before and hitting many of them hard. It’s still only spring training, which can be ground zero for Fool’s Gold. But it’s also what the Indians had been looking for when Zimmer’s swing was altered midway through last season.

“It’s more of a natural thing for me now,” Zimmer said. “Everything feels really good and short [through the zone]. It’s where we’re trying to get to. It’s feeling good right now.”

It’s served as a reminder of why Zimmer has been so highly regarded for several years within the Indians’ system, not only for his bat but his ability to run the bases and play center field. The Indians traded away Clint Frazier to acquire Andrew Miller last July, thus leaving Zimmer with a bigger piece of the Indians’ future outfield puzzle.

“Boy, he’s had a heck of a spring,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s got some long limbs, long levers. But he impacts the ball probably better than anybody in camp. He can hit the ball out of the ballpark from foul line to foul line. Watching him run the bases has been a treat. He’s getting better in the outfield. His ability in the outfield is really good. He was kind of raw out there when he first got here. But he’s worked hard and you’re seeing some flashes that he can be an everyday center fielder defensively and probably be a guy that helps you defensively.”

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Indians' Cody Anderson gearing up for Tommy John surgery, recovery after year of unfortunate events

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 21, 2017

GOODYEAR, Ariz: The 11 months that have followed the beginning of the 2016 season have been anything but auspicious for Cody Anderson.

Anderson finished 2015 7-3 with a 3.05 ERA. He then came to camp last year showing an uptick in velocity and was named to the Opening Day rotation ahead of Trevor Bauer.

Since that time, Anderson’s career has lost its preverbal footing. He struggled mightily out of the gate, struggled to recover as a starter and was sent to Triple-A Columbus. He was later moved to the bullpen. He went 2-5 with a 6.68 ERA at the major-league level last season. The magic he found in 2015, albeit most likely unsustainable, was gone, and he was struggling to recapture much of it.

The Indians then announced on Sunday that Anderson, who had an arthroscopic debridement procedure on his elbow in Dec., now needs Tommy John surgery. That procedure will erase his 2017 season and likely make for a limited 2018 as he recovers.

Anderson opted to undergo the major surgery now instead of waiting and trying other methods, which if unsuccessful might have meant he’d miss the 2017 and 2018 season entirely. He’s already lost enough time since his positive stretch in the majors.

“My first thought was, ‘What’s the quickest way I can get back and be healthy enough to help the team win?’” Anderson said. “If you can’t come back and be healthy enough, you have start rethinking stuff and be thinking about different options and not letting it leak into two, even more years of battling.”

Anderson was throwing 40-45 pitches in bullpen sessions but began to feel a sharp pain, was shut down and then spent two weeks going back-and-forth making his decision. Ultimately, a second opinion by Dr. Keith Meister confirmed that Tommy John was needed. Anderson does have the benefit of having several pitchers within the Indians’ clubhouse, like Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, who have undergone Tommy John surgery in their past.

“I talked to them throughout the two-week process and what it took for them to get back,” Anderson said. “All of them looked me dead in the eye and said we know you work hard enough to come back from this. It’s reassurance knowing you have the ability and I’m going to give my heart and soul into this rehab to come back stronger than ever.”

Anderson’s past year has been a series of unfortunate events. His rehab for Tommy John is next in line.

“It’s a sick feeling knowing there’s a chance you don’t come back or you don’t come back the same,” Anderson said. “At the same time, as an athlete, when you’re facing a challenge you, you have to take it head on.”

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Dancing Carlos Santana back in Indians camp; Teams dealing with ‘disjointed’ schedule due to WBC

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 21, 2017

GOODYEAR, Ariz: Carlos Santana needed to do something, anything, standing on base after a hit for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic earlier this month. The dugout was counting on him.  

A little celebration had become a point of camaraderie for the Dominican team. That passion and energy is perhaps the best thing about the WBC, after all. So, with Santana on base, he wanted to join the fun.

And out came a dance.

“It's something new for me. It's something for the Dominican team, especially Jose Reyes,” Santana said. “He has energy. He kept dancing in the clubhouse and he told me, 'Los, every time you get a hit, do something.' I said OK, so I was dancing. It was fun. It was very special, a very good moment and I'm happy to come back to here and try to put in the same energy as the WBC.”

Santana is back in camp after the Dominican’s elimination from the WBC. But no word on whether the he will bring the dancing back with him to Cleveland.

“I’ll try. You never know,” Santana said. “I can do it with Edwin [Encarnacion] or Frankie [Lindor]. I don’t have a problem with that. Baseball is hard. So, I try to enjoy moments and make my teammates happy.”

Santana has already stated he’d like to play in the next WBC. That’s in large part due to the camaraderie, energy and fans that make the tournament what it is. On one play that was started by Baltimore’s Manny Machado and finished by a diving Santana, he was pounding his first on first base in celebration.

“I think the capital of the Dominican is Miami,” Santana joked, noting the heavy fan base that showed up in Miami for some of the WBC games. “The people, they prepared for that moment. It was very special. I enjoyed it a lot, that moment. Next time, I want to play again.”

This World Baseball Classic has been one for the ages. As much criticism as the WBC has received for its timing and which countries might care more about it, it’s undeniable that this 2017 edition has been a fun tournament, led by waves of raw emotion and high-energy games.

But the No. 1 drawback, also undeniable, is that it leaves teams adjusting their schedules and players’ routines as they attempt to prepare for a grueling 162-game season. The Indians in particular, following their run to the World Series that fell just short of their first title since 1948, likely weren’t thrilled to have an abnormal spring schedule.

The Indians are still notably without Andrew Miller, Lindor, Roberto Perez and Joe Colon. Chris Colabello, for example, was brought in as a non-roster invitee but hasn’t had much time in camp as he left to play for Italy. During different stretches this spring, the Indians were stretching to try to find enough catchers and first basemen to cover every inning.

Indians manager Terry Francona understands the positives. It’s been a wild tournament with exciting baseball being played on a world stage. But it’s the teams and managers who are left to deal with the negatives back in Arizona and Florida.

“I know they’re trying to grow the game with the WBC, I get it, but there’s a reason we’re here,” Francona said. “We’re trying to prepare for a season and a lot of our guys aren’t here. You’re trying to get your pitchers ready. A lot of things we talk about, personality, dynamic, things you want to grow, it’s kind of hard to do when you’re not here. And yeah, it bothers me. But every other team has it too. But we’re not a club sport. We're playing for keeps. And you want to get ready. It’s a little disjointed.”

This WBC has featured several must-watch games and high tension. It’s become baseball’s version of the Ryder Cup, when every big play is followed with players motioning to a frenzied crowd and dugout.

But, the nature of baseball and particularly pitching leaves the calendar without an ideal time to hold it. One idea kicked around has been to hold it every fourth All-Star break, with a quick tournament replacing the All-Star Game. Still, that would leave teams allowing their pitchers to put extra innings on their arms just before the stretch run to the postseason.

Miller is a pretty good example of why the WBC can be hard on pitchers. Facing the Dominican Republic earlier in the month, Nelson Cruz blasted a three-run home run off Miller in one of the bigger moments of the tournament.

Francona’s reaction to that play and one of his main concerns with the WBC rests in situations like that: pitchers throwing too hard before they normally would, especially considering their breaking pitches. Pitchers often ramp up to using all their pitches. In the WBC, they’re using their entire repertoire and also throwing to get somebody out, not just tossing to build up arm strength. Vinnie Pestano, who was hurt as a result of the WBC and never really recovered, is a close-to-home example for the Indians.

“Guys started pitching what, March 7th, March 8th? In a normal spring training, Andrew wouldn’t even throw breaking balls until probably after that, let alone thinking about going back-to-back and all of a sudden there’s 35,000 people in the stands and he’s trying to rip off breaking balls,” Francona said. “That makes you hold your breath.”

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Indians LF Michael Brantley goes 2-for-3 in Cactus League debut; Indians 14, Dodgers 5

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 20, 2017

The major test for Michael Brantley won’t arrive until the Indians see how he feels following extended sequences of consecutive games played. On Monday, he took a small step as a prelude to that bigger exam.

Brantley played in his first Cactus League game this spring, going 2-for-3 with two singles and an RBI in the Indians’ 14-5 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Brantley has logged some time in minor-league and simulated games this spring but hadn’t made it into a big-league spring-training game.

“That’s what you do all the rehab for and why you stick with the process is to be back out there with your teammates,” Brantley said. “I was able to do that today. Hopefully I continue to do that down the road.”

In the first inning, Brantley grounded a ball to first and reached on an error. In the second, he fouled off a couple pitches in an 0-2 count and then roped the 1-2 offering from Dodgers starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy to right field, scoring Erik Gonzalez from second base. In the fifth, again with two strikes, Brantley lofted another single to right, this one against left-hander Adam Liberatore.

“Every time he passes a hurdle, it’s hard not to get excited just because of what he means to us,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “But this was one. Hopefully he bounces back good. That’s probably the biggest thing. Because he feels good now. Just wants to see how he bounces back and see how he maintains his strength and all those things. But it’s hard not to get excited.”

Opening Day, or any other target date, is still not in the picture as a set timeline. Brantley and the Indians are continuing to be as cautious as possible without putting labels on his timetable. Brantley is expected to play on Wednesday and Thursday after the club’s day off on Tuesday.

“I’m one day at a time,” Brantley said. “I’m going to wake up tomorrow, feel great, come in here and do my rehab and work out and just get back on my feet and go from there. It’s one day at a time.”

The real test could come soon for Brantley as he and the club see how his shoulder responds to prolonged exposure to game speed. The back-to-back games later this week represent the next hurdle.

“You know, playing in a game isn’t the end of the [journey], but I’m excited for him, excited potentially for us,” Francona said. “We just have to temper that, knowing that today’s not the destination. It’s still part of where he’s going. But man, he’s come an awful long way. Everybody’s that been around him have been kind of raving about how he looks and he feels good. Heck yeah, we’re excited.”

Rehabbing Cookie

Starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco threw two “innings” in a minor league game Monday at the club’s facility in Goodyear. The first inning was cut short due to Carrasco’s pitch count after two outs.

Carrasco has been dealing with some right elbow soreness. He’s expected to start Friday’s Cactus League game against the Chicago Cubs.

Indians 14, Dodgers 5

Aside from Brantley’s positive debut, the Indians belted five home runs on Monday. Yandy Diaz, Adam Moore, Abraham Almonte, Bradley Zimmer and Daniel Robertson all went yard, all from the fifth inning on.

Diaz’s game was a bit of a microcosm of his current situation. He went 2-for-3 with four RBI but also booted a routine ground ball at third base for an error.

Trevor Bauer threw five innings, allowing three runs on seven hits, which included two home runs. He also struck out three.

“I think everything is going well,” Bauer said. “My curveball actually has a lot of good bite to it, which I’ve actually been really pleased with. Whatever, it doesn’t matter what the results of the at-bat are at this point, it’s about executing pitches. I’m happy with that.”

The bigger success for Bauer might have been his avoiding two come-backers up the mound, the second forcing him onto his back.

“I was going to do a ninja get-up but I figured I wouldn’t show anybody up,” Bauer joked.

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Indians’ Opening Day infield in flux with Jason Kipnis out to start regular season

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 20, 2017

The Indians have some clarity on Jason Kipnis’ injury situation following the news that he’s expected to miss 4-to-5 weeks with shoulder inflammation. Now, the club can begin to pinpoint how they’d like to handle the infield to start the 2017 regular season.

They certainly have their options already within the organization to place the chess pieces as they’d like at third and second base. Though, with less than two weeks until Opening Day on April 3, there’s much to sort out.

The Indians could place Erik Gonzalez or possibly Michael Martinez—who is not on the 40-man roster and in camp as a non-roster invitee—at second base, leaving Jose Ramirez to man third. In that scenario, whoever doesn’t get the second base job could make the roster as a utility guy off the bench.

Ramirez, who has extensive experience at second, could also be temporarily moved across the infield to replace Kipnis, which opens up several additional options at third. Gonzalez, Giovanny Urshela, Yandy Diaz and Richie Shaffer are all in the mix there.

There are pros and cons to each scenario if Ramirez is shifted. Gonzalez brings above-average defense wherever he plays but isn’t as polished offensively, though he did take some steps forward last season. Urshela is in a similar position, and the club has expressed interest in making sure he doesn’t plateau in his development at Triple-A. Both are already on the 40-man roster with options remaining.

Diaz and Shaffer, conversely, would both provide upgrades offensively but aren’t nearly the defenders of the former group and aren’t on the 40-man roster, though each can play the corner outfield and would give the Indians additional security if Michael Brantley is unable to start the season. Diaz and Shaffer have both had productive springs at the plate while looking to force the Indians’ hand.

The Indians are trying to balance keeping the infield in-tact defensively while also looking for some offensive production with Kipnis out. As of now, there are a lot of moving parts without a clear path to the Indians’ Opening Day infield.

“Those are things we’re thinking about,” Indians manager Terry Francona said Monday. “Some of it’s going to depend on the roster we take. Right now, we don’t know what that will be. … I think we’re trying to balance everything. I think what we don’t want to do is—because you can’t replace [Kipnis’] bat. I mean that’s, he’s one of the best second baseman in the league. We don’t want to try to sacrifice defense and get sloppy for a little bit of offense. There’s a balance there for sure.”

Diaz, standing 6-2 and 185 pounds at age 25, is perhaps the most intriguing option of the bunch. He hit .325 with an .860 OPS in 95 games last season after being called up to Triple-A. This spring, Diaz has eight hits in 21 at-bats. The Indians’ No. 10 prospect according to is displaying plenty of potential at the plate. The question for now is if his glove can handle that much exposure at third base.

“He wasn’t the finished product as a third baseman,” Francona said. “Then last year, we moved him to right field because there was a need and he was still rough around the edges, is the best way to put it. Now, because there’s a potential opening at third, now he would kind of go back to that. It’s not perfect. It’s trying to weigh his bat but also the development of his defense. I’m not even sure if it’s a possibility, but we’d like to give him a chance because he’s such a good hitter.”

The club is trying to ensure that whatever secondary plan they put into play is a temporary one, only affecting the first couple weeks of the regular season instead of a month or more. They’d also like the player affectionally nicknamed “Dirtbag” to come back and be able to play like Dirtbag.

“The 4-to-5 week [time table] was return-to-play,” Francona said. “He could have played, he was in the lineup the day we took him out. I think after getting a second opinion and listening to all the medical people, I think they felt like this is the best way to completely knock that thing out so he doesn’t have to worry about it.”

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Cody Anderson has mild UCL sprain; Indians seeking second opinion, hope surgery can be avoided

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 10, 2017

Indians starting pitcher Cody Anderson has a mild strain of the UCL in his right elbow after experiencing some discomfort last week.

The Indians are currently seeking a second opinion before deciding on Anderson’s rehab program and expected time table relative to his return to throwing.

“He was going to be down from throwing for a little bit anyway, so there’s no immediate rush, but for his sake you’d like to get it looked at again,” Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters in Goodyear, Ariz.

Anderson was working his way back from an arthroscopic debridement procedure that he underwent in Nov. after being diagnosed with an impingement in the back of the joint in his elbow. The club’s hope and current belief is that he can avoid a second procedure.

“As of right now, the idea is he doesn’t need surgery,” Francona said. “But, I also think it’s a really good thing to always get a second opinion. It’s not going to hurt anything. The more information the better. The more sets of good eyes, the better. Then whatever the doctors conclude, we’ll follow that and get him going.”

Anderson was in line to begin the season in the Triple-A starting rotation and provide some organizational depth should the Indians run into a similar problem as they did in 2016, when injuries tore through the pitching staff late in the year. He’s appeared as a starter and as a reliever in the big leagues, though the Indians have maintained that his long-term development is still focused around his remaining a starting pitcher.

Teams know they likely won’t get through the season only needing five starters, which puts additional value on the sixth, seventh and eighth options in the line of succession. Once healthy, Anderson had figured to join Mike Clevinger, assuming he also remains a starter and isn’t used out of the major-league bullpen, and Ryan Merritt to form the top of the Triple-A rotation.

Anderson has a career 9-8 record and 4.50 ERA with 98 strikeouts in 152 innings pitched at the major-league level.

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