Stephanie Storm’s 10 final thoughts on the Indians 6-3 victory over the visiting Seattle Mariners Sunday at Goodyear Ballpark.
1) It took two games to get a ball hit to Carlos Santana. And when one finally was, it’s a shame that it resulted in a throwing error.
Mariners designated hitter Corey Hart reached safely on the first-inning play when Santana fielded the ball, but took a second too long getting it out of his glove. Rushing a little bit once that happened, Santana air mailed his throw to first. Nick Swisher was able to make a leaping grab of the high throw and tried to swipe tag Hart as he neared first base. But Hart was called safe.
“It looked like coming out of his glove he just didn’t have it and he took another shuffle,” Francona said of Santana.
The shame is that in converting to third base from catcher, Santana already has a lot of eyes trained on his every move. Now, that pressure will become two fold the next couple times a ball comes anywhere near him. At such a reactionary position like the hot corner, the last thing you want is a guy over thinking every little move instead of just reacting.
2) Ironically, the early reports on Santana’s progress have been overwhelmingly positive. Including this one by Indians manager Terry Francona – just a couple hours before Sunday’s game.
“You try to watch and see how (Santana) reacts to everything,” Francona said. “Even on balls that aren’t hit to him. Is he moving? Is he reacting to a play? Is he reacting to the bat? So, far, he seems to be just fine. In winter ball, all the reports were that he didn’t look out of position.
“There’s a difference between a guy down there just trying to catch it and a guy who knows how to play third. (Santana’s) arm is probably as good as anybody’s in the league. He shed all the (catching) gear and he still has that arm strength. It’s pretty impressive.”
3) Swisher’s spring debut came a week after a majority of the Indians regulars did. The way it was explained to the media by Francona was that Swisher came to his second-year manager and asked if he could have some extra time before getting into games, the idea being that he peaked too early last season. But when questioned after he left the field before the game was over Sunday (most regulars do), Swisher surprisingly downplayed the significance of the extra time off.
“It’s February,” he said a testy manner – well, at least testy by buoyant Swisher standards. “It’s not a big deal…(but) it was nice to get out there, great to get out there with the guys playing. It’s super early in spring training, but just to get out there and get a few hacks in felt good.”
Swisher’s odd reaction to being questioned about something he asked for made me wonder if perhaps some of his veteran teammates didn’t tease him about being a prima donna or something like that for finally getting out there and playing. I mean, it is spring training and regulars only play a couple innings at the beginning anyway. Then they hop on buses headed back to the complex while mass substitutions of minor leaguers finish the game.
4) In two innings of work upon replacing starter Aaron Harang, young prospect Trevor Bauer quickly retired the Mariners in order in first inning – including the last two batters on a tidy four pitches. But then in the next inning he quickly ran into a jam when Robinson Cano doubled and then scored on left fielder Dustin Ackley’s two-run home run that gave Seattle a 3-0 lead.
After falling behind in the count 3-1 to Ackley, Bauer grooved a fastball in and Ackley sent it half way up the green batter's eye beyond the 410-foot center field wall.
“He hit it, and I was like, ‘just give me a new ball,’” Bauer said. “I originally wasn’t gonna watch it. But I thought, that might go over (the wall) and be impressive, so I turned around.”
5) Now that he’s gotten used to his new delivery that he spent all last year tinkering with, Bauer agreed that the next step is to find a comfort zone commanding the ball consistently.
“I’m weird though,” Bauer said, “when I try to command the ball, I don’t command it vey well. So, I just kind of have to go out there and just let it rip and trust it will go over the plate.”
That interesting quote is a recent example of the quirky Bauer’s new style of self-depricating humor, perhaps a sign that he’s learning its better to poke a little fun at himself rather than be offended and get upset when others critique him.
6) Michael Brantley looked more like he was in mid-season form than just four games with limited action into spring training when he had the Indians first two hits – both line drives - and finished the game 3-for-3. He was the only Tribe player with more than one hit.
“Hitting’s hard, but his mechanics are so simple,” Francona said. “He probably gets ready quicker more so than other guys because he can repeat his swing so often without a lot of moving parts. He did the same thing last year.”
7) Its had been a quiet camp out of Indians shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor, who is with the Indians as a spring training invitee. But Lindor told me that was his intent the moment he settled in his locker in the big league clubhouse – to sit, be quiet, listen well and soak up everything he could.
Lindor might have changed all that with one sweet swing of the bat Sunday, his three-run home run to right field snapping a 3-3 tie to provide the Tribe’s winning margin of victory.
“It was a good swing,” Francona said. “It’s exciting for us to see that. We get a kick out of that everyday when one of our young kids does something like that. It just makes the games more fun. We love to watch our young guys play and it’s fun to watch them have some success – even if it’s jut spring training.”
8) Lindor’s second hit in limited action so far this spring was a good sign, especially considering his defense is already major-league ready. But in not having played above the Double-A level (and then only briefly last season at Akron before being shut down the rest of the year with a nagging back injury), what will determine how quickly Lindor can replace Asdrubal Cabrera (who is eligible for free agency after the end of the season) is his bat.
9) Just a general observation here: the first couple weeks of spring training are a good time to get to know the team’s manager, coaches and players. But short of writing feature stories and keeping on top of trade and injury news, there’s not a whole lot of action to write about as games are just getting under way and guys are only pitching an inning or two at most and position players are logging two innings before giving way to a bevy of lesser-known reserves.
Yet, fans back home (especially in cold places like Cleveland) are dying for baseball, so everyone wants to know who has a leg up at certain positions and who is gaining ground in the battle for the vacant fifth spot in the starting rotation. Thus, reporters have to ask questions that they already know the answer to sometimes. Sometimes even, they have to write about players who’ve played only one game because their boss insisted on the story.
10) Yet, it’s still kind of funny to hear the reaction of veterans like Francona, who understandably must get pretty tired of hearing the same questions over and over just halfway through spring training.
“I picked up the paper today and I saw somebody was having a great camp with another team,” Francona said. “I was like, ‘damn, he’s pitched only an inning and 2/3rds1 I mean, that’s what you have to guard against…what? The 178 innings he threw last year didn’t mean anything?”
Another example, on Sports Center Friday night, ESPN didn’t frame the Indians 4-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds in a positive light for outfielder’s Ryan Raburn’s two-run home run. Instead, the network showed the homer and then talked about it coming off Reds’ right-hander Homer Bailey, who had just signed a six-year, $105 million contract extension.
“Yeah, Homer’s struggling this spring,” Francona joked, “bad contract.”