Stephanie Storm’s 5 Final Thoughts from Tuesday’s spring training game, as the Indians topped the visiting Chicago White Sox, 5-4:
1) It’s always a good sign when a pitcher isn’t commanding his pitches ball like he’d like to and yet still can get through his two innings of work without allowing any runs. That’s what Indians right-hander Zach McAllister did in his start Tuesday, limiting the White Sox to a hit and a walk and striking out one. McAllister also helped his own cause by fielding a hard come-backer to the mound on the fly with two on and two outs in the first inning.
“The first inning, he had to fight to get it down a little bit, he was kind of getting under it a little bit,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But he looks like he worked really hard this winter. I hate to talk about velocity, but when you can pitch at a nice, comfortable velocity and you have a little extra, it shows how hard he worked. His arm strength is tremendous.”
After his second outing of Cactus League play, McAllister shared that he’s working on pitching inside to right-handed batters this season.
“He did a really good job against left-handers (last year), but he’s got to keep those righties from extending their arms,” Francona said. “When he does that, it’ll open up the plate for everything else.”
2) Carlos Santana, in camp battling Lonnie Chisenhall for the third base job, shook off his first error of the spring Sunday by making two sound defensive plays at the hot corner. The first came right away in the first inning, when Santana charged a slow chopper to the left side of the mound and threw on the run to nab the base runner at first base.
“He wanted to stay in after he hit,” Francona said of Santana, who went 1-for-3 with an RBI double. “He goes, ‘let me go back out for defense.’ As a staff, that makes us proud of these guys - they’re trying to do the right thing.”
Asked if he thought Santana might have been a little shaky after muffing the first ball of spring hit to him at his new position on Sunday, Francona scoffed.
“Naw, I don’t think so,” he said, “this isn’t Little League. He’s fine, just wanted to get more reps to get better.”
3) Right-handed pitcher Josh Tomlin tossed a team spring high of three innings and looked so strong, Francona thought “he could have gone three more,” noting it’s apparent how hard Tomlin has worked in his rehab following Tommy John elbow-ligament replacement surgery.
“The ball to (first baseman Jose) Abreu – I think that kid’s going to be really good, he took some real good swings and kind of fought one off for that (two-run) double,” Francona said. “But overall, I thought Josh was down, crisp and better than last outing.”
It was the first hit in three spring games for Abreu, who signed a six-year, $68-million deal with the Chicago in the fall after defecting from Cuba.
4) Minor-leaguers have come up with big plays this spring, especially with the game on the line late. Tuesday, minor-league second baseman Joey Wendle provided the walk-off single that gave the Indians the win over Chicago.
“It’s fun for everybody,” Francona said of the Tribe’s 2012 sixth-round draft pick who was named the farm system’s top position player last season after batting .295 at high class-A Carolina. “I mean, Joey Wendle, he was excited and we were excited….we want our guys to do well and feel it, whether (or not) it’s spring training.”
5) It could be a blip on the radar screen or it could be the beginnig of a big problem. Right now it’s hard to tell at this point. Entering the game in the seventh inning, new Tribe closer John Axford dished up a long home run on his first pitch to White Sox third baseman Connor Gillaspie.
Axford’s Tribe predecessor – Chris Perez – had a tendancy to give up the long ball in non-save situations, but was more often than not (until his final month with the Indians) money in the ninth inning in his usual role. But Axford likely won’t be given s whole lot of rope to work with early in the season.
After soaring to the top of his career as a rookie in 2011 with 46 saves, the Tribe’s hockey-loving, Oscar-picking, ninth-inning stopper struggled so bad in Milwaukee last season that he lost his job and was traded from Milwaukee to St. Louis by late August. Although Axford immediately righthed the ship with the Cardinals and parlayed it into a one-year contract with the Tribe worth $4.5 million, including another $1.75 million available through incentives, his up-and-down career does leave doubts as to whether he can get back to being a successful closer.