Fifteen final thoughts because Sunday marks 15 days until Opening Day against the Oakland A’s at O.co Coliseum.
1. I can’t write about Carlos Santana’s conversion from catcher to third base every day, but the subject gets talked about nearly every day in Tribe manager Terry Francona’s morning meeting with the media. So I’ll continue to use this space to share the best nuggets. These were prompted by a visit from a USA Today writer.
2. Santana has seen quite a bit of action at third base. Starting Monday, it will be time to see if he can juggle being a backup catcher, too. Francona said Santana will likely catch a bullpen session on Monday and perhaps in a game Tuesday, when the Indians host the San Francisco Giants at 7:05 p.m. in Goodyear. “We’ve got a lot of baseball in the next two days. We’ll see how he comes through it,” Francona said.
3. That was the subject of the talk Francona recently said he was going to have with Santana. It wasn’t about his progress at third, it was lining up his catching opportunities.
4. At this point, the Indians don’t know if Santana is capable of going back and forth. That’s why this might be the most crucial week of the experiment.
5. “He’s willing to try,” Francona said. “We’re trying to balance the amount of work he’s done just to play third. He’s out there every morning. On top of that, doing the catching, if he can handle it, it’s a unique skill set. There’s not one team in baseball that has their backup catcher that hits cleanup.”
6. Santana is hitting just .143 in nine spring games, but he’s got plenty on his mind. The Tribe isn’t worried about him offensively, except for the fact that he hits better when he’s not catching. If this experiment fails, he’s going to be the designated hitter.
7. Asked about how Santana was dealing with this difficult conversion, Francona said, “I don’t think he’s dealing, I think he’s enjoying a lot. I think he really wants to prove he can do this. Maybe it’s a labor of love. He’s enjoying it.”
8. While he has coaches to help him in the mornings, he seems to be relying on shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera as his coach on the field during games. When Santana speared a liner off the bat of Cliff Pennington in the second inning Saturday at Goodyear Ballpark, he and Cabrera talked from a distance, which they have been doing all spring. Cabrera pointed to his eyes, a gesture that looked like a ‘Good eyes’ message. That was not Santana’s only play. In the fifth, Eric Chavez hit a hard grounder to Santana, who charged it and threw to first.
9. In the second inning, Santana scored from second on a double by Mike Aviles and was motoring around third. He’s an athlete, but also may be energized as he attempts a new job.
10. Two utility infielders had good days at the plate. Mike Aviles (batting .391) went 3 for 3 with an RBI and Elliot Johnson (hitting .407) was 2 for 3. Francona thinks there’s an explanation for that. “Normally the guys who aren’t the regulars probably play a little more and probably find their swing a little earlier,” Francona said.
11. Francona was defensive when it was suggested that right-hander Trevor Bauer has struggled the past couple years. “I don’t know if he’s struggled the past couple years. He flew through the Diamondbacks’ system and got to the big leagues,” Francona said. “Last year was a difficult year. He was injured the year before and tried to rework some of his mechanics. It was a struggle. But this is the No. 3 pick in the country and he’s not very old (23). There’s a lot to like. You can pick anybody apart. Our job is to find the good and make it better.”
12. Francona also tried to clarify his “nobody’s giving up on anybody” line about Bauer from days ago. “We’re going to figure it out together,” Francona said. “I didn’t want him to feel like he’s on an island. (Pitching coach) Mickey (Callaway) is such a caring coach. We’ll figure it out.”
13. If you’re looking for relative newcomers who are quickly becoming Francona favorites, Johnson, backup catcher Matt Treanor, infielder Justin Sellers and left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski might be at the top of the list. “We’ve been encouraged. ‘Zep’ has quickly earned trust,” Francona said of Rzepczynksi, acquired in trade with the St. Louis Cardinals on July 30, 2013. He pitched 20.1 innings in 27 games for the Tribe last season and went 0-0 with a 0.89 ERA.
14. Told Johnson said his No. 1 goal was to earn Francona’s trust at every defensive position he puts him in, Francona said, “I would say that’s a very mature goal. There’s a reason we brought him into camp. He’s done a really good job at whatever position he plays, being very reliable. That’s a very big compliment when you can do that.”
15. A crowd of 8,808 (a high for the Indians this spring) was treated to a performance by the ZOOperstars. But Francona didn’t find it a treat. When Dennis Frogman walked down the steps of the Indians dugout, Francona gave him the evil eye. (My personal favorite remains Harry Canary, who sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”)