Eleven thoughts for 11 strikeouts totalled by nine Tribe pitchers on a gloriously beautiful day at Peoria Stadium.
1. My favorite moment came in the bottom of the third inning after Carlos Santana, trying to convert from catcher to third baseman, retired the Padres’ Will Venable on a groundout. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera put his arm around Santana as they returned to the Tribe dugout. It was the second of four balls hit to Santana at third and all but one went for outs, with the other a high throw to first for an error. It was good to see such support and encouragement from a teammate, especially one who is gifted defensively.
2. I don’t need convincing how valuable Michael Brantley is to the Indians, but he continues to show me, anyway. While going 4 for 4 in a spring game is meaningless, it does illustrate how little time he needs to get his relatively simple swing in the groove. He’s batting .615 (8 for 13) in five games.
3. Manager Terry Francona, in his second year with the Tribe, pointed out a misconception he had about reliever Vinnie Pestano. On Friday, a comment from Francona made it sound like he was anxious for Pestano’s velocity to improve. On Saturday, he said he’d talked about that with those who had been around Pestano before he arrived and found out even in his standout years, Pestano needed time to ramp up his clockings on the radar gun.
4. “From taking to everybody from before I was here, it’s actually right where it’s been prior to the (World Baseball Classic),” Francona said of the event last spring that was the beginning of Pestano’s downward spiral that landed him at Triple-A Columbus. “That’s the challenge of a guy coming back like Vinnie. Until he’s throwing 93, everybody’s going to say, ‘Where is it?’ In reality, this is how he’s always built up. By the end of March you’ll be looking for more, but this is how he’s done it in the past. We don’t want him to try to generate more, that doesn’t work.”
5. Pestano had a good explanation of what he’s lacking at the moment. He said last year he tried eight different arm angles and 20 pitches trying to snap out of his funk. “My mechanics, I’ve ironed out a lot of the issues,” he said. “It’s about timing now. Just transferring the power, the energy and getting it all kind of going at the same time.”
6. While national analysts’ biggest question mark about the Indians is how they’re going to replace starting pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, I continue to worry about the bullpen, which lost Joe Smith, Chris Perez, Matt Albers and Rich Hill. Perhaps that’s steeped in my consciousness because of the huge part the ‘pen played in the Tribe’s run of success in the late 1990s. If Pestano regains his form, he could plug the gaping hole left by Smith's departure.
7. A good poll question for Tribe fans would be ‘Whose every move do you care about more? Carlos Santana or Danny Salazar?’ Both are under tremendous scrutiny every time they touch a ball, Santana at third base, Salazar when on the mound, even in a ‘B’ game. Santana is 27, Salazar 24, so they may be mature enough to handle it. They seem oblivious to pressure, at least in spring training. In my mind, both to be sensational for the Tribe to make the playoffs in 2014, and not just as a wild card.
8. There is an art to reading between the lines with a coach or manager and I must admit I’m not there yet with Francona. Asked what he wanted to see from Salazar when he goes two innings Monday against the Los Angeles Angels in Goodyear, Francona said, “The biggest thing we’re looking for is to see him at his best. Any time you’re trying to make an evaluation, you hope all the players play really well and then you can figure out what fits best for our team.” Were those just words to answer a question or does that mean he's trying to find a reason Salazar shouldn’t be the fifth starter? Can’t tell you right now.
9. I must thank the staff member of the San Francisco Giants who let me try on her 2012 World Series ring Saturday during lunch at Peoria Stadium. When I visited Cooperstown, my favorite part was the World Series rings. (After all, how many bats and balls can you look at?) The Giants’ prize was breathtaking, especially in the Arizona sun.
10. Nick Swisher knows how to get a crowd fired up, even when they’re watching a group of Indians pitchers bereft of major leaguers. Swisher tossed a ball into the stands behind the Tribe dugout after the Padres batted in the fourth. At the end of every inning after that, there was loud clamoring for more.
11. Indians fans know their farmhands. As I sat in the stands during the 10th inning, there was plenty of chatter about Carlos Moncrief and Jesus Aguilar, members of the Double-A Akron Aeros (now RubberDucks) last season.