Sixteen final thoughts for my beloved Louisville Cardinals making the NCAA Sweet 16.
1. It was an uncomfortable morning in the Indians clubhouse, with manager Terry Francona popping in every few minutes looking for players who were being cut or sent to the minors. Francona didn’t cruise the room, instead taking a few steps inside to survey the scene. This was just the first wave of the 25-man roster decisions, but there was a nervous feeling in the room.
2. Outfielder Jeff Francoeur shook hands with reporters after being told he’d been released from his minor league contract, staying classy until the end. Francona said the team would be more than willing to help Francoeur find another job.
3. “I think he's very aware that if he needed somebody to speak on his behalf Chris and I would probably jump at the opportunity,” Francona said of Francoeur. “He made quite an impact on our team in a spring training setting, which is not easy to do.”
4. “Talking with Jeff is one of the hardest conversations we had,” general manager Chris Antonetti said. “It’s challenging to come in to a new organization and fit in as well as he did from day one. He’s got a lot of fans here, including Tito, me, and a lot of guys in the clubhouse. It made it really hard. We’re all confident he can help a major league team. A lot of the decisions are how we can put the pieces together and who individually may be the best player. Elliot (Johnson) had a great camp. His versatility helps us expand our bench, gives us a lot of different options. He and Mike Aviles are a great compliment to the guys we have.”
5. Reliever Vinnie Pestano looked serious and sad, even after being told
he’d made the team. He said later he wanted to be respectful with what was going on with others.
6. No one was surprised that infielder/outfielder Elliot Johnson was also told he’d made it. Francona has repeated praised Johnson, 30, signed to a minor league free agent contract on Jan. 27. In his two years in the majors, Johnson has played for the Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves.
7. Johnson hit .333 in 16 spring games. A long running catch Johnson made in center field Friday at Talking Stick against the Rockies may have been the last thing the Tribe front office needed to see from him. “I think it certainly helped,” Johnson said of his outfield defense. “It’s not like I’m Mike Bourn out there.”
8. Asked what he likes about Johnson, Francona said, "I come back to one of the things he said to you guys, he wanted to earn trust at every position. He really did that. He compliments our roster very well. We have he and (Mike) Aviles that we're really comfortable moving all over the field, in Elliot's case a guy who can pinch-run, he's a switch hitter and he can play all the positions and play them well. That makes your 25-man roster a little bit bigger."
9. Francona and Antonetti and the coaches will meet again Sunday morning and part of the debate could be whether the Indians need to keep center fielder Nyjer Morgan in case Bourn (left hamstring strain) has to start the season on the disabled list. While Francona wants to get most of the major decisions over with, that one could go to the end.
10. Morgan pinch-hit with two out in the bottom of the ninth in Saturday’s loss, which I found unusual because most of the regulars were lifted in the top of the seventh inning. Francona sloughed it off, saying there is a list on the bulletin board of who is going to play each day and when they will enter is undetermined. I still don’t think it bodes well for Morgan, especially if the Indians think they can get by with Aviles or Johnson in the outfield for a few days if Bourn isn’t ready. If they learn it will be longer than a few days, Morgan probably makes the team (for now).
11. Francona said Morgan has had a great camp. "It's funny because I think his concern was the perception that he can be disrepectful. I would say he's been anything but that," Francona said of Morgan. "Model citizen, enthusiastic, polite, there's nothing he has done that we haven't enjoyed. But we also told him that we don't know the makeup of our team yet."
12. Aaron Harang, 35, may not be as much of a longshot to fill the last remaining spot in the starting rotation as some people think. Although he’s signed to a minor league contract, he willingly pitched in minor league and ‘B’ games. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway called him an “innings eater.” Because Josh Tomlin has three minor-league options remaining, he could start the season at Triple-A Columbus, giving him more time in a situation with less pressure as he returns from reconstructive elbow surgery in August, 2012.
13. In that scenario, Carlos Carrasco could make it as a member of the bullpen and Harang could provide veteran leadership for the starting rotation. The next-oldest member of the rotation is Justin Masterson, who turned 30 Saturday.
14. I’ve seen a lot of fans throw out the first pitch, but Saturday’s was one of the most impressive. A woman in a purple T-shirt used an overhead windup and threw a bullet just short of the plate, drawing applause.
15. Francona’s father, Tito, and his wife Jean sat in the front row near the Indians’ dugout.
16. Mike Aviles is not only one of the nicest players in the clubhouse, but he’s no slob. When he tossed a dirty warmup shirt towards the bin and missed, an Indians staffer picked it up. Aviles came over and took it out, threw it on the floor and picked it up again, saying that’s how his parents taught him.