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Carlos Santana handles right field in Indians’ 6-3 Cactus League loss to Arizona Diamondbacks

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 31, 2017

In a virtual tuneup for the second series of the season, the Indians on Thursday night fell in a Cactus League game 6-3 to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Indians will play the Diamondbacks in the regular season following their season-opening series against the Texas Rangers.

In anticipation of playing under National League rules so early, Carlos Santana started in right field in an effort to give the Indians the option of keeping his bat in the lineup during that series. On Thursday night, and in windy conditions with the roof open at Chase Field, Santana fielded all four fly balls that were sent his way. On one, he was turned around but made the catch.

"I thought he did great,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “The wind was howling. That was probably the toughest place to be. The one ball was over his head, he turned and he [corrected it]. Millsy must be one heck of a coach. He did a really good job. I was really pleased and I think he was, too. You know what? It's nice to know that, if we do that, which we might, we'll see. All the things we said before. I'm proud of him for wanting him to and putting the effort into it. He looked good."

Michael Brantley played in his third consecutive game for the first time this spring, going 1-for-3 with an RBI.

"He won't play tomorrow. He’s feeling good,” Francona said. “He was allowed to have another at-bat. I just thought he's played three in a row, he's swinging the bat good. I don't want him to do more than the other guys. That's not fair, either. But, I think he's doing fine. And, more importantly, he feels good about himself.”

The Indians conclude Cactus League play Friday night against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

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Yandy Diaz, Michael Martinez to make Indians’ OD roster; Michael Brantley ‘in a pretty good spot’

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 30, 2017

Yandy Diaz stood just outside of Indians manager Terry Francona’s office, tossing his Chapstick off the wall, waiting to have one of the bigger meetings of his life.

He’d either head to Texas to begin the season on the major-league roster or head back to Columbus to open the year in Triple-A. He said later he was “super nervous.” Over and over, he tossed his Chapstick against the wall, waiting to have his meeting with Francona.

The news was good. Diaz had made the team. He walked out of the office, calm and smiling. No need for the nervous habit anymore.

“I can’t even tell you. I’m so happy,” Diaz said. “This is my first time playing in the big leagues. I think about all the sacrifices I’ve made over the past four years to make it here. I don’t even know what to say, just thank God I’m here.”

Diaz, 25,  essentially forced the Indians’ hand with a torrid spring offensively. Entering Thursday’s game, he was hitting .429 with two home runs, four doubles and 13 RBI. He’s been arguably the best hitter this spring in Indians camp. After knocking on the door to be called up near the end of last season, Diaz continued to apply pressure this spring. The question was his defense at third base.

Diaz spent most of last season trying to transition to the outfield. This spring, with an opening available due to Jason Kipnis heading to the disabled list for the first 2-3 weeks of the season, Diaz was moved back to third base. Indians manager Terry Francona earlier this spring tabbed Diaz’s work at third base as a “work in progress.” It wasn’t an indictment, only an acknowledgement that he had work to do to get ready for Opening Day.

Now, Diaz is the likely starter at third base with Jose Ramirez sliding to second base during Kipnis’ stint on the disabled list.

“His spring training was terrific,” Francona said. “I think we all agree. We've all seen guys that have hit in spring training, but you look at Yandy's last year, too. At the end of last year, we were trying to figure out a place for his bat. That's why he was going to the outfield. So, this isn't a kid that's just got 45 at-bats and has never hit. He's been a good hitter and he's becoming a better hitter.”

Michael Martinez was also told he’d be making the roster on Thursday. Martinez is a known commodity for Francona who will act as the utility infielder. Francona has previously applauded Martinez’s versatility, defensive ability and speed off the bench. In part, Martinez is making the club due to the Indians wanting Erik Gonzalez to continue to get regular at-bats in Triple-A.

“[Martinez and Gonzalez] are at different places in their careers,” Francona said. “Erik has come so far, and sitting early in the year is not going to help him develop. Michael really has done a good job in this role, knowing what his responsibilities are, and things like that. So, I think it's two-fold.”

With Diaz and Martinez making the roster, Giovanny Urshela, along with Gonzalez, was optioned to Triple-A.

The remaining question for the Indians’ Opening Day roster revolves around Michael Brantley. Though, signs are pointing toward Brantley beginning the season in Cleveland.

“He's in a pretty good spot,” Francona said. “I think out of respect to him, and his situation, there's no reason we need to say something today, other than that he is in a really good place and he continues to trend in the right place.”

The Indians will be adding non-roster invitees Austin Jackson, Diaz and Martinez to the 40-man roster. Two of those spots will be vacated by Rule 5 pick Hoby Milner’s offer-back to the Philadelphia Phillies and Cody Anderson’s impending addition to the 60-day disabled list after he underwent Tommy John surgery on Monday. The third spot could be vacated by Tim Cooney, who could be headed to the 60-day disabled list with a left forearm injury.

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Indians still working out lineup; Carlos Santana could hit leadoff to begin 2017; Indians 9, Reds 6

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 29, 2017

The Indians still have a number of moving parts that could affect the everyday lineup. As things stand now, it appears as though Carlos Santana could act as the club’s leadoff hitter to begin the 2017 regular season.

Santana primarily hit leadoff against right-handed pitchers last season, while Rajai Davis took over that spot against left-handed starters. With Davis gone, and commented with Jason Kipnis being out of the lineup as he rehabs from shoulder inflammation, Santana could earn the title of everyday leadoff man. That could also become the case for the remainder of the season.  

Though, these decisions could also be based on Michael Brantley’s health.

“For the first week of the season, probably,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Santana hitting leadoff. “But I haven’t spent as much time [on it] as maybe people would think just because a big enough hitter as Brantley changes a lot of things in your order. … Michael’s been our three hitter pretty much the whole time, so that can change things.”

The Indians adding Edwin Encarnacion and a healthy Brantley into the middle of the order would create some issues with everyone healthy. Last year, Kipnis and Francisco Lindor slotted second and third, respectively, in the lineup. Due to Santana’s versatility as a hitter who can get on base at a high rate while also driving in runs, the Indians could potentially bat Kipnis in the leadoff spot, Lindor second and then follow them with Brantley and Encarnacion. Santana and Jose Ramirez would then hit fifth and sixth.

Kipnis’ absence essentially resolves that issue in the early going. With him out, Santana’s ability to get on base could take precedence over his power.

“I do like the idea of Santana’s on-base skills,” Francona said. “And the other thing to think about is you certainly want to protect Edwin. I think people look at Santana and think he’s perfect, and he is good. Sometimes I think [Jose] Ramirez is even better just because he doesn’t strike out, and he’s a switch hitter. It could go either way. Those guys are kind of interchangeable.”

Second go-around

Santana might hit in a couple different spots in the lineup. He could also find himself in a couple different positions within the first few series of the season.

Following the Indians’ season-opening series against the Texas Rangers, they’ll return to Arizona to play the Diamondbacks. With that comes National League rules and the loss of the designated hitter spot.

Like in the World Series, the Indians could place Santana in left field or right field to keep his bat in the lineup.

“Just to try to keep every option open that there is,” Francona said. “Carlos is really open to it. I don't know. We'll see. I love the fact that he's willing to. … He has really done a good job. He's worked hard at first this spring. He's been tremendous. I guess I just want to make sure people know that.”

Free dinner

Santana and Encarnacion took more than 60 of the Indians’ Latin American players within the organization out to dinner at P.F. Chang’s earlier this season.

Following a seminar for many of the Latin American players within the system, Santana talked with Encarnacion wanting to do something for the younger guys.

Santana was following the lead of former shortstop Rafael Furcal, who once did it for Santana and other minor leagues while with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.

“I never forgot that,” Santana said.

Indians 9, Reds 6

Carlos Carrasco was stretched out to four innings and both Michael Brantley and Yandy Diaz continued their torrid ends to the spring in the Indians’ 9-6 win against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday.

Carrasco was hit hard for three runs in the first inning and four runs for the day on nine hits. He also struck out five. After the long first inning, Carrasco recovered to show the Indians what they had hoped to see as he continues to be stretched out.

“Then, give him some credit, because he got his four in and was still able to go out to the bullpen, and he threw the ball pretty well,” Francona said. “So, that was good. Again, in a Spring Training game, where you're looking to build, he did OK.”

Brantley went 2-for-4 and drilled his second home run of the spring. He’s now hitting .391 in Cactus League play.

Yandy Diaz, still in the running for the third base job for at least the first couple weeks of the season, went also hit his second home run of the spring, a three-run shot to right field.

Diaz hasn’t made the decision easy.

"Yeah, I'll admit, it's been a little stressful for us, because when you're not sure of something, there's an unknown there,” Francona said. “He’s kind of a work in progress defensively and, it figures, nobody's hit a ball to him in three days. But, he is some kind of hitter and, whether he makes our club or not, that's not going to deter our view of him.”

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Indians OF Lonnie Chisenhall to open season on DL; Abraham Almonte to make Opening Day roster

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 29, 2017

Indians outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall will start the season on the 10-day disabled list, opening the door for Abraham Almonte to make the Opening Day roster.

Chisenhall crashed into a wall last week and sustained a mild sprain of the AC joint in his right shoulder. The club wanted to let him rest for three days before evaluating him. Chisenhall is nearing a return but won’t have enough at-bats to be ready for the Indians’ April 3 Opening Day game against the Texas Rangers.

The Indians hope to have Chisenhall activated for their April 11 home opener against the Chicago White Sox. It’s the second straight season in which Chisenhall will open on the disabled list.

“He feels a heck of a lot better than he did last year at this time,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But, he was probably going to get two at-bats on Friday. That's just not ready. And I think he understands that.”

Almonte has had a strong spring, hitting .383 with three home runs, three doubles and 12 RBI heading into Wednesday’s game.

“I think everybody who's seen Abe this spring is happy the way it works, because he really is deserving,” Francona said. “He's done a terrific job.”

Almonte joins Tyler Naquin, Brandon Guyer and Austin Jackson as players securely in the Opening Day outfield. The remaining question mark is Michael Brantley.

Brantley has played well in his recent, limited Cactus League action, going 7-for-19 with three extra-base hits. He played in back-to-back games for the third time on Wednesday and is slated to play in a third straight game on Thursday. His swing has him looking like the Brantley of old, but the question remains as to what kind of workload his shoulder can handle.

Brantley’s status is in part what has kept the Indians from finalizing their Opening Day roster, along with their pending decision of who to play at third base, assuming Jose Ramirez slides to second base during Jason Kipnis’ absence.

“What I did tell Brant this morning was, ‘Don't read anything into this,’” Francona said. “‘There's no pressure on you. Every decision is for the person, and we'll figure out the team part of it.’ I wanted to make sure that he understood that [there’s no] pressure on him. He has to be ready. He's done such a good job. What we really care about is him continuing to be healthy, whether that's the first day, the third day, the fifth day.”

The Indians’ plan is for Jose Ramirez to not become a part of the outfield picture. After Ramirez spent last year at left field and third base, the club would like to keep him in the infield. He’s slated to start at second base for the first few weeks of the season with Jason Kipnis dealing with shoulder inflammation.

“He could do it, but I just think for who we have, he's such a good infielder,” Francona said. “Wherever you put him in the infield, he's a pretty good defender. … You just don't want to weaken yourself too much if you can help it.”

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Corey Kluber throws final Cactus League start in Indians' 13-12 loss to Brewers

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 28, 2017

PHOENIX, Ariz: Corey Kluber made his final tuneup before his Opening Day start in the Indians’ 13-12 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday.

Kluber allowed five runs on six hits and struck out six in five innings pitched.

“He’s strong. He’s in good shape. His arm feels good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s ready to go make a lot of starts. Obviously you hope a guy comes out of the shoot. Sometimes it takes guys some time regardless of who you are to kind of get on a roll. It’d be fun to see it on Opening Day but regardless he’s going to be good.”

Bryan Shaw allowed a three-run home run to former Indians first baseman Jesus Aguilar, who has been having a dynamite spring. Shaw has been hit hard the previous two springs as well.

“They’re all working on stuff,” Francona said. “I just think B, he’s been pretty consistent. Spring training not very good and during the season he’s real good. As long as he looks healthy, which he does, he’ll be all right.”

Daniel Robertson drove in three runs but came up grabbing his hamstring. The Indians will evaluate Robertson in the coming days. Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley each went 2-for-3 with a double.

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Indians name Shawn Armstrong to Opening Day bullpen

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 28, 2017

The dominoes to the Indians’ Opening Day roster decisions continue to fall. The pitching staff is now set.

On Tuesday, the club informed relief pitcher Shawn Armstrong that he had secured the seventh and final spot in the bullpen to begin the 2017 season. In corresponding moves, Nick Goody, Carlos Frias and Kyle Crockett were all optioned to Triple-A Columbus. Armstrong joins Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, Boone Logan, Dan Otero and Zach McAllister to form arguably the best bullpen in baseball.

“To get the news today that I'm going to be on the Opening Day roster of a World Series team, it's kind of unexplainable,” Armstrong said. “It still hasn't fully hit me quite yet, but I'm more than excited and ready to get going, and hopefully help as much as I can throughout the season to help us get back there. … It was very exciting to hear my fiancee cry on the other end of the phone.”

Armstrong this spring has a 0.92 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings. It’s the result of a long winter of work that included Armstrong sending weekly videos and back and forth with pitching coach Mickey Callaway in an effort to attack some of the flaws that kept him from regular time in the major-leagues in past years. Namely, Armstrong has focused on attacking the strike zone earlier in the count.

He also came to spring prepared to take on a different kind of role in the Indians’ bullpen than the one he occupied at various levels through the minor leagues, when he was a setup man or closer. Armstrong went to work ensuring he could throw multiple innings as the last guy in the bullpen.

“This winter, versus throwing my normal 15-20 pitch bullpens, I was working on all my stuff and I was throwing 40-45 pitch bullpens this offseason, just to kind of get my arm in shape just to be able to go multi-innings,” Armstrong said.

Indians manager Terry Francona said the club “agonized” over the decision between Armstrong, Goody, Frias and Crockett as the seventh reliever. Francona added that if the Indians were carrying eight relievers, Goody would likely be on the team as well. Instead, Carlos Carrasco will be in his spot in the rotation, only not yet fully stretched out.

Armstrong did just enough this winter and spring to have a much more positive conversation in Francona’s office than the one he had two years ago.

“His maturity, we were kind of laughing with him today, because two years ago he sat in that same seat and we were kind of semi yelling at him about, he had exploded after a spring training game,” Francona said. “He was down in the tunnel yelling and venting. Now, he's sitting in the same chair, making a major-league team. He's come a long way. He has earned the praise that he's getting today and the responsibility that comes with making a team.”

Armstrong joked on Tuesday that they haven’t determined which “snack bag” they’ll use for the bullpen this year. But, the important thing is that he’s the one carrying it.

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Indians top Chicago Cubs 4-3 behind strong outings from Danny Salazar, Andrew Miller

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 27, 2017

Indians starting pitcher Danny Salazar struck out nine and Andrew Miller returned to Cactus League play in the Indians’ 4-3 win against the Chicago Cubs in front of a record 11,624 fans at Goodyear Ballpark.

Salazar allowed two runs on five hits in 5 2/3 innings to go with his nine strikeouts. The lone home runs came on two Willson Contreras home runs.

"He was good,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “When he throws his fastball effectively, then his change-split—whatever you want to call it —his offspeed, is off of that. That's when you're going to see him get his strikeouts. And I think the night game was good for everybody. It looked like they had a little more juice. We've been here a long time. It's been hot. So, it's nice to play a game under the lights and there was some people here. I think it was good for us.”

Miller threw one scoreless inning and struck out one. It was his first Cactus League action since returning from the World Baseball Classic, when he said he still had some work to do to prepare for the season.

"I thought that was his best outing yet,” Francona said. “He's been working hard since he's been back. Direction to the plate. Kind of keeping his head, his eyes, where he's throwing the ball. You could tell there was some intent tonight and he made some real good pitches. I think he felt good about himself after that.”

Abraham Almonte hit his third home run of the spring, this one off of Jon Lester. He’s now hitting .383 this spring with six extra-base hits and 12 RBI in 18 games.

"He's had a good spring—a real good spring,” Francona said. “He came in maybe one of the odd-guys looking out, at least it seems. But, he's done a really good job at all three outfield positions. He's worked so hard on his right-hand hitting. He hit a bullet tonight. We've got to see how things shake out, but he's put himself in a really good spot."

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Indians OF Michael Brantley slated to play in three straight games

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 27, 2017

Indians outfielder Michael Brantley is slated to play in three Cactus League games in a row starting on Tuesday, which will follow an off-day on Monday. Brantley has played in five spring training games this spring. On Sunday, he clubbed his first home run in more than a calendar year.

Brantley playing in three straight games without any setbacks would be yet another cleared hurdle in his path back to the lineup.

“I think he’s done terrific,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “The plan is for him to play three in a row. Now if it needs to change, we can always do that. But he looks very good. He feels very good. It’s pretty exciting.”

The Indians haven’t ruled out Opening Day for Brantley’s return. Though they also don’t want to push him too soon and increase the risk of yet another setback after last year’s frustrating season.

“I think there’s a chance,” Francona said. “I just don’t think we know. Only because we’re trying to be fair to him. Rather than, like last year, he pushed so hard for Opening Day. And it’s important. Having your players is important. But we need to make sure we do right by him because that will end up being right by us. We’re just trying to be fair.”

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Indians leaning toward Carlos Carrasco opening season in rotation; Josh Tomlin slated as No. 4 SP

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 27, 2017

If all goes well in his final spring training start, the Indians are planning to have Carlos Carrasco in the rotation to open the 2017 season.

Carrasco is behind the other starting pitchers after dealing with discomfort in his right elbow. He threw three innings in his last Cactus League start and still has to be stretched out in order to handle a full workload.

Though, the Indians feel that they would be able to get 4-5 innings of Carrasco in his first start of the regular season. Carrasco will have to be eased into the season, but the club will take what he can give them.

“Yeah I think we feel after his four-inning outing, that he’d going to be ready to go,” said pitching coach Mickey Callaway. “Obviously not stretched out to the point that everybody else is, but we feel that him being Carrasco and a good five innings out of him at 85 pitches is going to be enough for him to move forward and be ready to go.”

If Carrasco can’t go four innings in his final Cactus League start, it could alter the Indians’ plans.

Indians manager Terry Francona also offered some clarity on the starting rotation one week ahead of the April 3 Opening Day game against the Texas Rangers. Per Francona, the Indians will line up the rotation as follows: Corey Kluber, Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer. The club plans to throw each starter in that order without skipping anyone, which was an option with two off days in the first two weeks.

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Notebook: Indians want Bradley Zimmer to ‘knock the door down’

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 26, 2017

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz: Indians top prospect Bradley Zimmer will not open the 2017 season at the major-league level, but he will leave spring camp having made a strong impression.

Zimmer was informed on Sunday that he was being reassigned to minor-league camp, though he’s had an outstanding spring while continuing to make some swing adjustments, hitting .358 with a 1.084 OPS in 53 at-bats entering Sunday. The Indians have also noted some gains in his defensive play in center field and in how he’s ran the bases.

Zimmer will begin 2017 in Triple-A. The Indians’ message to Zimmer upon delivering the news was that of a hope that he forces their hand in terms of when he makes his major-league debut.

“In the first meeting of the spring we tell the young guys, ‘The biggest thing you can do is make a good impression,’” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “I would say he flew past that about a month ago. This kid did everything in camp. He ran the bases, he improved in the outfield, he swung the bat, he made adjustments at the plate. … We told him, ‘Knock the door down. Make us call you up.’”

Zimmer struggled through much of 2016 and in the Arizona Fall League while undergoing some swing changes in an effort to get to more pitches and adjust his path through the zone. His standing among the top-100 prospects in baseball, during that stretch, took a hit. Zimmer is also no longer the consensus No. 1 prospect in the system, now sharing that distinction with catcher Francisco Mejia, depending on different scouting services. Zimmer is ranked first and second in the system by MLB.com and Baseball America, respectively.  

This spring was a reminder that, while a bit raw, Zimmer has the tools that warranted a top-30 prospect ranking a year ago.

“When the season starts and you see him getting four at-bats a game, it’s going to be real fun to watch his progress,” Francona said. “There will be some ups and downs like there are with everybody, but he’s exciting. We don’t want to deny it. We’re excited about him.”

Roster moves

The Indians on Sunday also optioned pitchers Mike Clevinger and Joe Colon to Triple-A Columbus and along with Zimmer informed third baseman Richie Shaffer, catcher Adam Moore, first baseman Chris Colabello, reliever Tyler Olson, catcher Erik Kratz and outfielder Daniel Robertson they wouldn’t be making the Opening Day roster. The latter four will remain in big-league camp.

Colon and Olson were each in the mix for the 1-2 spots available in the Opening Day bullpen. That race is now down to Shawn Armstrong, Carlos Frias, Nick Goody and lefty Kyle Crockett, all of whom have options remaining. Shaffer was vying for the potential third base job should Jose Ramirez slide over to second base in Jason Kipnis’ absence. That leaves Yandy Diaz, Giovanny Urshela, Erik Gonzalez and Michael Martinez as potential options.

Cute scoop

Some funny things can happen during spring training.

During the broadcast on Saturday, Tom Hamilton had Brody Chernoff, the six-year-old son of Indians general manager Mike Chernoff, on the air.

Hamilton jokingly asked Brody about his dad’s negotiations, and the youngster answered with a little more than he bargained for, possibly leaking contract extension negations for star shortstop Francisco Lindor. It’s also possible young Brody was just a bit confused or meant to say Jose Ramirez, who has reportedly agreed to an extension that could run through 2023, which represents the same seven years he mentioned with Lindor.

It’s potentially the most adorable scoop ever. Here’s the audio, via Deadspin.

No confirmation on whether Brody is grounded.

Indians 6, Diamondbacks 5

The Indians received a positive sign early in their 6-5 win against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Cactus League play on Sunday.

After Austin Jackson walked to open the game, Michael Brantley drilled a two-run home run, his first of the spring, to right field.

It was his first home run in over a calendar year, dating back to last spring.

“It’s just the product of a good swing,” Brantley said. “You go up there and try to take the most consistent swings as possible—anything to help the team at that time. Hopefully, the swings get better as this season gets closer.”

Brantley twice played in back-to-back games this week and has now appeared in five Cactus League games.

Trevor Bauer allowed three runs on seven hits and struck out eight in five innings pitched.

Colabello, only hours after being officially told he won’t be making the Opening Day roster, slugged a home run and two doubles.

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Indians GM Mike Chernoff’s son might have leaked Francisco Lindor extension talks

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 26, 2017

Some funny things can happen during spring training.

During the broadcast on Saturday, Tom Hamilton had Brody Chernoff, the six-year-old son of Indians general manager Mike Chernoff, on the air.

Hamilton jokingly asked Brody about his dad’s negotiations, and the youngster answered with a little more than he bargained for, possibly leaking contract negations for star shortstop Francisco Lindor. It’s also possible young Brody was just a bit confused or meant to say Jose Ramirez, who has reportedly agreed to an extension that could run through 2023, which represents the same seven years he mentioned with Lindor.

It’s potentially the most adorable scoop ever. Here’s the audio, via Deadspin.

No confirmation on whether Brody is grounded.

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Indians OF Austin Jackson to make Opening Day roster

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 26, 2017

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz: Veteran outfielder Austin Jackson will be breaking camp with the Indians.

The club on Sunday informed Jackson, in camp on a minor-league contract, that he would be making the Opening Day roster. Jackson was signed over the offseason to a low-risk deal worth $1.5 million that also includes up to $4 million in incentives. His inclusion on the 40-man roster won’t be an issue with Rule 5 pick Hoby Milner being offered back to the Philadelphia Phillies and Cody Anderson slated for Tommy John surgery on Monday.

Jackson, 30, had an opt-out clause in his contract that could have gone into effect on Sunday had he not been in the Indians’ Opening Day plans. Coming off of left knee surgery, Jackson has hit .375 with one home run and five doubles this spring entering Sunday’s game.

Jackson was delayed a bit this spring due to his rehab from surgery and hasn’t been tested too much in center field in Cactus League play. But the Indians have liked how he’s been moving around and can rely on his track record as a league veteran.

“I thought he did a really good job of getting himself ready and then being prepared, but we don't have to overwhelm him,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “And I think he is going to be a very good complementary player. He knows how to play and he's a good veteran. … You watch him move around and he's moving fine. He may not be as fast as he used to be. That doesn't mean he's not going to be a good outfielder.”

He’ll be added to the outfield mix along with, when healthy, Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer and Tyler Naquin. Jackson’s selection to the major-league roster begins to clear up the Opening Day outfield picture, but there’s still much for the Indians to figure out before April 3.

Namely, those questions revolve around the health of Brantley and Chisenhall. Brantley is still working his way back from biceps tenodesis surgery last Aug. He’s started playing back-to-back games, an important step in his rehab, but the Indians still don’t have a clear picture as to how his shoulder will respond to extended periods of game speed.

Chisenhall crashed into a wall on Friday and has a mild sprain of the AC joint in his right shoulder. Per Francona, Chisenhall was “much improved” on Sunday. He’ll be reevaluated within the next day or two. Both players’ statuses for the beginning of the season are still unknown.

Their health will likely determine where Abraham Almonte opens the season. Almonte has had a positive spring, hitting .390 with two home runs, three doubles, 10 RBI and seven stolen bases entering Sunday. He has an option remaining, so the Indians aren’t in danger of exposing him to waivers.

If both Brantley and Chisenhall are unable to be ready by the beginning of the season, that would lead to a number of possible roster configurations on top of Almonte’s inclusion as the fourth outfielder. Jose Ramirez could start at third base, second base or even left field, though his remaining in the infield is more likely. Yandy Diaz, Giovanny Urshela, Erik Gonzalez and Michael Martinez would then be the group left to fill out either the infield—perhaps third base, with Ramirez moving to second base to cover for Jason Kipnis’ absence due to shoulder inflammation—and the bench.

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Indians inform OF Austin Jackson he has made the club; Bradley Zimmer, others reassigned

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 26, 2017

The Indians on Sunday morning informed outfielder Austin Jackson that he has made the Opening Day roster. The club also optioned Mike Clevinger and Joe Colon to Triple-A Columbus and informed seven players, including Bradley Zimmer, that they would either not be making the major league club or be reassigned to the minor leagues.

Jackson had an opt-out clause in his contract for Sunday in the event he wasn’t in the Indians’ Opening Day plans. He was signed to a minor-league deal this offseason with a base salary of $1.5 million that includes up to $4 million in incentives. Coming off of left knee surgery, Jackson is hitting .375 this spring with one home run and five doubles.

Jackson’s addition to the 40-man roster shouldn’t be an issue due to Rule 5 selection Hoby Milner being optioned back to the Philadelphia Phillies and Cody Anderson slated for Tommy John surgery on Monday.

Jackson joins the outfield mix along with, when healthy, Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer and Tyler Naquin. Abraham Almonte’s Opening Day fate now likely rests with the health of Brantley and Chisenhall. Almonte has one option remaining.

Zimmer, Richie Shaffer and Adam Moore were reassigned to minor league camp. Chris Colabello, Tyler Olson, Erik Kratz and Daniel Robertson were informed they wouldn't be making the Opening Day roster but would remain in major league camp.

Colon and Olson were each in the mix for the 1-2 spots available in the Opening Day bullpen. That race is now down to Shawn Armstrong, Carlos Frias, Nick Goody and Kyle Crockett, all of whom have options remaining. Shaffer was vying for the potential third base job should Jose Ramirez slide over to second base in Jason Kipnis’ absence. That leaves Yandy Diaz, Giovanny Urshela, Erik Gonzalez and Michael Martinez as potential options.

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Lonnie Chisenhall has mild shoulder sprain, to be down three days; White Sox 10, Indians 7

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 25, 2017

GOODYEAR, Ariz: Indians outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall will be inactive for a few days after crashing into the right-field wall in Friday’s Cactus League game against the Chicago Cubs.

Chisenhall’s shoulder began to stiffen after the play, and he was taken out of the game. On Saturday morning, per Chisenhall, the shoulder felt about the same. He’ll be sat down for three days without activity and then reevaluated by the club. As of now, the club is calling it a mild sprain of the AC joint, but is waiting until more information can be gathered before making a plan for Chisenhall past Monday.

“I’m guessing after that third day, we’ll have a much better idea which direction that thing goes, or how quickly, and things like that,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

Chisenhall’s first thought was that of Ryan Raburn, who also crashed into a wall and struggled with the injury. He said the wall just snuck up on him.

“I saw the ball. It just kept carrying and carrying,” Chisenhall said. “I was trying to get under it and the wall got me before I got it.”

Starting the return

Second baseman Jason Kipnis has resumed baseball activities after being shut down with right shoulder inflammation. Per his original timetable, Kipnis is still 3-to-4 weeks from being able to return to game action.

“[He took] some swings in the cage,” Francona said. “Even some mild throwing, just trying to work back into it. But, that’s good. He’s now starting a progression. The quickness of it will be determined by, certainly, by how he's feeling, and you can't really skip steps. But, it's nice to see that he's starting that and he's feeling good.”

Decision Day

Outfielder Austin Jackson, in camp as a non-roster invitee and holding an incentive-laced contract, has an opt-out clause in his contract for March 26. It affords Jackson the opportunity to look for a job elsewhere if he isn’t in the Indians’ plans this season. Likewise, it forces the Indians to make a decision on Sunday.

White Sox 10, Indians 7

Indians starting pitcher Josh Tomlin allowed five earned runs on nine hits—four of them home runs—to go with five strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings pitched and Joe Colon allowed a ninth-inning grand slam in the Indians’ 10-7 loss to the Chicago White Sox and Goodyear Ballpark on Saturday.

“[Tomlin] got into the seventh, which was real good,” Francona said. “For a while there, he was so efficient, his pitch count was at like 50-something after five. He’s made some mistakes, probably most of the spring. Even when he gets ahead, some balls have caught too much of the plate, and the way the ball is flying now, he’s paid for it. But I’ll tell you what, I think he’s situated where I think he feels good, he looks crisp.”

Third baseman Yandy Diaz made one of his better defensive plays this spring, ranging to his right and throwing off-balance to first, and was aided by fist baseman Carlos Santana, who came off the bag to receive the throw but applied the tag in time. Santana also made a diving play earlier in the game.

“[Santana] was real active,” Francona said. “Yandy ranged over and made a nice play and Carlos with a tag. We did some good things. And these fields, we’re getting into the last week, these fields are lightning.”

Santana also clubbed a two-run home run. Bradley Zimmer drilled a two-run triple off the wall in right field, continuing his strong offensive spring.

“He’s been good all spring,” Francona said. “It’s been fun to watch. When the season starts and you see him getting four at-bats a game, it’s going to be real fun to watch his progress. There will be some ups and downs like there are with everybody, but he’s exciting. We don’t want to deny it. We’re excited about him.”

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Indians mulling options for one, possibly two available spots in Opening Day bullpen

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 25, 2017

GOODYEAR, Ariz: The Indians have a number of options as to how they can fill out their bullpen to start the regular season. The time to make those decisions is drawing near.

As it stands, six relievers currently have spots locked up in the Opening Day bullpen, including Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, Boone Logan, Dan Otero and Zach McAllister.
The seventh spot is up for grabs. And as it relates to the early part of the season, it’s possible the Indians carry an eighth reliever who can break camp with the big-league club if Carlos Carrasco opens the season on the 10-day disabled list. The Indians might not need a fifth starter until April 15.

Shawn Armstrong, Carlos Frias, Nick Goody, Joe Colon and lefties Kyle Crockett and Tyler Olson are all in the mix for the seventh and potentially eighth spots.

The Indians do have flexibility with this group of pitchers. All six have at least one option remaining, and Colon has two, affording the Indians the chance to potentially retain depth at the Triple-A level without exposing the four or five pitchers who don’t make the big-league club to waivers.

“There are going to be some guys who don’t make this team, that if you just go on what they’ve done this spring training, they’d make the team,” Francona said. “We’re not going to carry 18 pitchers, even though I’d love it. We’re going to have some tough conversations and we know that.”

Armstrong appears to have the best standing of any pitcher in that group. He has little to prove above Triple-A, having thrown 103 2/3 innings at that level across three seasons. Last season at Triple-A, he posted a 1.84 ERA and struck out 72 batters in 49 innings pitched. This spring, he's allowed just four hits and struck out nine in 9 1/3 innings pitched.

Armstrong threw two scoreless innings in his last Cactus League appearance, a positive sign considering the Indians could find some added value in another pitcher capable of throwing multiple innings.

“[Armstrong] has done everything you can ask,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Regardless of how this goes on Opening Day, we were very pleased with how he's gone about it, how he's pitched. Everything. We see him maturing right in front of our eyes and we're very excited about that.”

Frias and Goody were acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees, respectively, over the offseason. Both have had positive springs as well. Frias, who had his 2016 season ended with a right oblique impingement, has allowed two earned runs on six hits to go with two strikeouts in five innings pitched entering Saturday. Goody, in nine innings pitched, has allowed just one run on four hits and struck out nine.

Francona called both “intriguing” options on Saturday. Frias in part because he can be stretched out to throw multiple innings. Goody thanks to his above-average slider.

“[Frias] can be stretched out and he can be dominating against right-handers at times. There’s so much to like,” Francona said. “It’s just another guy we have to try to determine, is he ready enough? Are you doing him a disservice by taking him on Opening day? … When [Goody] can get to that breaking ball, he’s got a lot of [Jeff] Manship in him where they might think it’s coming and they’re still not hitting it.”

Colon was roughed up in Cactus League play before leaving to play for Puerto Rico in the WBC. But his evaluation will likely come down more to how he looks this final week and his overall resume rather than his inflated spring ERA.

“Before he left he was having a tough time, but that doesn’t mean—we’ve had guys who have had tough times early and toward the end you see what they are,” Francona said. “Like Anthony Swarzak, I remember his first 3-4 outings were just horrendous. But later in camp you saw what he was capable of. … That’s part of why we tell the guys the first day, don’t waste your energy trying to figure out [the situation]. We’ll do that.”

Of the two lefties, Crockett likely has the upper hand over Olson, as he’s already on the 40-man roster and has had a strong spring, owning a 3.00 ERA and 12 strikeouts in nine innings pitched.

“When he has rest, when he has two days of rest, he's just lights out,” Francona said of Crockett. “When it's less, those have been [the instances] when he's not had quite as clean innings. So, [pitching coach Mickey Callaway] has been kind of going back and forth with [bullpen coach Jason Bere] and the guys, because you can't ensure that during the year. But, we're trying to figure out, ‘OK, what's the meaning behind it? What can we do differently?’ Because, there's been some outings where it's like, bam, bam, bam. It’s been pretty good.”

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Indians, Jose Ramirez agree to four-year contract extension, per reports

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 24, 2017

The Indians and Jose Ramirez are in agreement on a contract extension that could keep him in Cleveland through the 2023 season, per multiple reports. The club has not yet confirmed the agreement.

The deal, first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, will kick in next season and is reportedly a four-year extension worth $26 million guaranteed. The deal also includes club options for the 2022 and 2023 seasons valued at $11 and $13 million, respectively, per Passan. If both options are picked up, the extension could be worth $50 million over six years.

Ramirez, 24, bust onto the scene last season, hitting .312 with a .363 on-base percentage, 11 home runs, 46 doubles, 76 RBI and 22 stolen bases while filling in first for Michael Brantley in left field and then for the departed Juan Uribe at third base. Per FanGraphs, he posted a WAR of 4.8, which tied Jason Kipnis for second on the team among position players and only behind Francisco Lindor (6.3). Considering the Indians’ need for production in those spots, Ramirez was arguably one of the most valuable players on the club last season and during the run to the World Series.

Ramirez was headed for arbitration after this upcoming season. The contact extension would eat up all three arbitration years and 1-3 years of free agency, depending on the Indians’ decisions with the club options.

This deal follows suit with the front office’s blueprint as to how they have built this current club. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes and Carlos Santana all signed contract extensions at similar times along their careers. The Indians recently have chosen to be aggressive with their young talent, taking a gamble on their development but finding value in potentially locking up core players to cheaper contracts than they’d find on the free-agent market. Many of these deals have also included club options, providing further value and control to the club.

Ramirez has the everyday job at third base locked up but could open the season at second base with Kipnis headed to the disabled list.

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Francisco Lindor, Andrew Miller relish WBC experience upon return to Indians camp

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 24, 2017

Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, catcher Roberto Perez and relief pitchers Andrew Miller and Joe Colon all returned to camp in Goodyear, Ariz. following the conclusion of the World Baseball Classic, which the United States won with a victory against Puerto Rico in the title game.

Lindor, representing Puerto Rico, and Miller, representing the U.S., each relished their experiences in the WBC and have already said they’d like to play in it again. That’s especially not surprising from Lindor, who normally looks like he’s having the most fun on the diamond in a regular setting anyway. Playing for Puerto Rico and in a Ryder Cup-like atmosphere was right up his alley.

“The whole run, it was unreal,” Lindor said. “It was like Game 6, Game 7 every single day. It was fun. … You’re playing for a country. You’re not playing for a city. You’re playing for a whole country. That’s different. It means a lot. I love my country. We gave it our best.

“I grew up wanting to play for Team Puerto Rico. I grew up idolizing my coaching staff. They were playing back in the day. This was fun. I grew up watching [Yadier Molina] and [Carlos] Beltran playing, so I wanted to be in it. I wanted to be part of something special like that. I'm glad I was.”

The atmosphere and the crowds quickly became some of the bigger stories of the WBC. Lindor would like to bring some of that excitement back to Cleveland and the regular season games.

“I would love to see it,” Lindor said. “And it could be like that almost every day, when you have fans at the games. It could be like that. When the fans don't show up, it's going to be nowhere near that. Once the fans are there, you get pumped up. … Once the fans are at the games, I'm sure it gets us going. That's why we play.”

Much of the atmosphere from the crowds was generated by the fan support for the Puerto Rican and Dominican teams. Miller saw it from the other side.

“It was unique,” Miller said. “We played in pretty big games last year. Even the biggest, wildest crowds we saw last year were different from what we saw in this tournament. I think a lot of that’s cultural stuff. It’s a unique experience for me. The crowd against the Dominican and Puerto Rican teams were incredible in the fact that they never let off.

“It didn’t matter if the pitch was getting ready to deliver a pitch of whether their teams were down, they never seemed out of it. There was point where we were up a handful of runs against the Dominican [Republic] the first time and you would have thought they were up by 15 runs the way their crowd was cheering and making noise. I think that was unique to the experience.”

Miller returns a World Baseball Classic champion for the U.S., but one who still has work to do to get ready for the Indians’ Opening Day game on April 3 against the Texas Rangers, by his own admission. The WBC leaves managers worrying about their pitchers and how they’re used in the tournament. The Indians were comfortable with the communication from the U.S. coaching staff, even with Miller throwing high-tensity innings much earlier than he normally would have. Now, the final week is about rounding into form, though Miller is comfortable with his current position.

“I have to fine tune a lot of stuff. That’s not necessarily unique to this year,” Miller said. “There have been years where I haven’t felt good until the last outing. The whole point is you’re getting ready for the season, which we still have time. I’d love to tell you I’me executing everything like I was in August of last year but I’m not there and I don’t think you can always expect to be this time of year.”

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Indians welcome back WBC players, aim to catch Roberto Perez up; Indians 8, Rockies 3

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 23, 2017

The United States defeated Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic finale Wednesday night. The U.S. team celebrated in Los Angeles, while managers all across Arizona and Florida breathed a sigh of relief that their respective players would seen return to camp healthy and ready to go.

That certainly included Indians manager Terry Francona, who has maintained that he understands the positives of the WBC, but also knows the frustrations that it creates on a club’s schedule.

Perhaps the greatest relief is the safe return of prized reliever Andrew Miller, now a WBC champion. Pitchers will always carry more risk in the WBC. Miller was deployed, of course, but U.S.A. manager Jim Leyland communicated with Francona to ensure he wasn’t misused or overused.

“I've been pretty vocal about how I've felt about our guys not being here. I probably should follow that up with the communication was outstanding,” Francona said. “Whether it's Leyland or [Jeff Jones], or whoever, there was never a problem with the communication. So, however he was used, we knew. And we appreciated that. Jonesy, he had been a pitching coach in Detroit and he had guys that were there. He knows. We never for one minute thought they didn't care. It's just, you still get nervous.”

Francisco Lindor, Roberto Perez and Joe Colon will also return from Team Puerto Rico. For Perez, who primarily acted as Yadier Molina’s backup, he’s now a bit behind offensively. The Indians are aiming to catch him up offensively as quickly as possible.

Perez is slated to act as the designated hitter in Friday’s game and then catch on Saturday. He’ll also likely go to the minor-league fields to rack up some additional at-bats.

“We've been sending guys to the minor-league side anyway. He's an obvious candidate to do that,” Francona said. “He can get four or five at-bats. He can get whatever he wants and doesn't have to catch. So, he'll be fine, but we can get a little creative. … That’s really helpful. A lot of times, these guys play in a game and they might see four or five pitches. They might walk or hit the first pitch. This can really help get a guy back where he needs to be.”

Indians 8, Rockies 3

Ace Corey Kluber allowed three runs, only one earned, on five hits and struck out eight in seven innings pitched in the Indians’ 8-3 win against the Colorado Rockies in Cactus League play on Thursday.

Kluber, who has been working with an adjusted spring training workload after his extensive work in last year’s postseason, was almost too efficient.

"I thought he was tremendous,” Francona said. “He wanted to get really stretched out, because he'll pull back a little bit the next outing. And, for a while there, he was being so efficient, we were, not glad, but we kind of kicked the ball around that one inning a little bit. It made him work, but he was still throwing the ball well. Actually, his last inning was probably his strongest inning. That was really good to see.”

Richie Shaffer, in camp as a non-roster invitee and vying for the third-base job to open the season, went 2-for-3 with a double, an RBI and a leaping catch at third.

Abraham Almonte went 3-for-3 with two RBI and is now hitting .385 this spring. Erik Gonzalez (No. 2 this spring) and Adam Moore (No. 3) each hit home runs.

Michael Brantley, in his first back-to-back action in Cactus League play, went 0-for-3 with a deep fly out to center field. Tyler Naquin also returned to the lineup after knee soreness and went 1-for-3.

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Indians OF Daniel Robertson, fighting for time, embodying what spring training has to offer

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 23, 2017
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Outfielder Daniel Robertson is one of those guys who fans can see every spring training. The guy busting his tail every play at some sleepy, half-attended ballpark in Arizona or Florida in March, fighting for a roster spot even though the odds are against him. The guy wearing No. 99 instead of No. 9.

His spring training is not a laid-back, seven-week retreat at a sunny venue with a gradual incline to the start of the regular season, where a roster spot on the big-league club is comfortably waiting for him.

His job in the spring is to fly into camp and immediately try to run through a brick wall. There’s no “Get ready, set.” It’s just “Go, let’s see what you can do.” And if he runs through enough walls, and is the recipient of some luck, he might hear the National Anthem on Opening Day at a Major League ballpark.

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Danny Salazar feels ‘terrific,’ is ready for the regular season; Rockies 10, Indians 2

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 22, 2017

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz: Indians starting pitcher Danny Salazar was roughed up but with the bigger picture of a regular season in mind, likes his standing heading into the final stretch of spring training.

Salazar allowed seven earned runs on eight hits and one walk in five innings pitched in the Indians’ 10-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday. The majority of the damage came in the second inning, which he couldn’t close out and was knocked around for five runs.

“Days like this will happen during spring training. They’ll happen during the season, too,” Salazar said. “I think it’s better if it happens here.”

With it being spring training, of course, the allowed runs were of little consequence. The important test on Wednesday was getting Salazar stretched out. After spending much of last year’s second half and postseason on the disabled list, just feeling healthy again is a major victory.

“I feel terrific on the mound,” Salazar said. “My arm is great. Can’t complain. … I feel ready right now. That’s all that matters.”

Last spring, pitching coach Mickey Callaway talked with Salazar about the responsibilities of becoming a top-tier starter. Sometimes, it’s not about delivering another shutout outing. It’s about limiting the damage in a poor showing and extending as long as he can into a game. This spring has been a better story for Salazar in that regard.

“He’s shown some maturity,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. "A couple years ago, you probably have to go get him the next inning. He’s smart enough and mature enough where he got his work done.”

Thursday’s test

Michael Brantley went 1-for-3 in his second Cactus League this spring, which included a line-drive single to right field. He also flew out to left field twice.

Brantley is slated to play in Thursday’s game, the first time he’ll go back-to-back in big-league camp. That will be the next major test along his road back to the lineup. For now, the Indians are looking to see if anything in his swing looks out of the ordinary.

“He looks healthy to me. He looks good,” Francona said. “It’s just now bouncing back and maintaining as opposed to last year, he got in these games and he felt it and then he started to get al title weaker. He’s not having that.”

Test prep

Brantley, along with Austin Jackson, are both in the mix for the Opening Day roster but both have been more-so dealing with health concerns than logging time in Cactus League play.

Jackson, recovering from left knee surgery, is in camp as a non-roster invitee. He’s logged just 21 at-bats but is hitting .333 with a home run and four doubles. In center field, oddly enough, he’s rarely had the ball hit his way in the games he has played.

“It’s funny, he he hasn’t been tested very much,” Francona said. “Small sample sizes in spring training. He looks fine. There are no red flags.”

Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer, Tyler Naquin and Brantley, if healthy, all have spots locked down in the outfield. That leaves Jackson and Abraham Almonte as the leading contenders vying for the fifth spot, though if Brantley is unable to suit up for Opening Day, the Indians could need both to be ready. Yandy Diaz, also a possibility at third base if Jose Ramirez is moved in Jason Kipnis’ absence, could also potentially play into that mix.

The Indians have liked what they’ve seen from Jackson, who was signed to an incentive-laced deal that carried little risk to the club. They just haven’t been able to see enough, yet. Quickly, the Indians are entering a time crunch to make several decisions around the Opening Day roster.

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Indians prospect Bradley Zimmer hoping strong spring a sign of new swing rounding into form

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 22, 2017

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz: Indians outfield prospect Bradley Zimmer has been tearing through Cactus League play this spring training, a positive sign after a stagnated 6-to-8 month stretch. The Indians and Zimmer hope this spring is a byproduct of his revamped swing and stance rounding into form, and not entirely a mirage of small sample sizes.

This spring, Zimmer is hitting .354 with three home runs, five doubles, 12 RBI and four stolen bases in 48 at-bats entering Wednesday’s game.

Last July, Zimmer worked with Tim Laker, now an assistant hitting coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks, at Double-A Akron to alter his swing and stance after a rough start to the 2016 season. The idea was to narrow his stance, loosen his hands and alter some of his swing mechanics in order to improve his swing path through the zone and be able to consistently get to more pitches, among other things. He needed to hit a wider array of pitches consistency and he pulled the ball, he needed to find more power.

Zimmer rebounded a bit after the changes but then struggled upon being promoted to Triple-A. His play descended further in the Arizona Fall League, where he racked up strikeouts against left-handed pitchers at an alarming rate.

Zimmer credits some of those struggles, especially those against left-handers, in part due to the on-going swing changes. He’s rarely hit lefties well, but his splits had spiraled. He also fell off some top-100 prospect lists.

“I think it was more of a mindset, working on some stuff last year, that kind of led to that,” Zimmer said. “I’m feeling comfortable now. Everything’s where I want it to be. The swing is starting to come around.”

Zimmer has been getting to more pitches than before and hitting many of them hard. It’s still only spring training, which can be ground zero for Fool’s Gold. But it’s also what the Indians had been looking for when Zimmer’s swing was altered midway through last season.

“It’s more of a natural thing for me now,” Zimmer said. “Everything feels really good and short [through the zone]. It’s where we’re trying to get to. It’s feeling good right now.”

It’s served as a reminder of why Zimmer has been so highly regarded for several years within the Indians’ system, not only for his bat but his ability to run the bases and play center field. The Indians traded away Clint Frazier to acquire Andrew Miller last July, thus leaving Zimmer with a bigger piece of the Indians’ future outfield puzzle.

“Boy, he’s had a heck of a spring,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s got some long limbs, long levers. But he impacts the ball probably better than anybody in camp. He can hit the ball out of the ballpark from foul line to foul line. Watching him run the bases has been a treat. He’s getting better in the outfield. His ability in the outfield is really good. He was kind of raw out there when he first got here. But he’s worked hard and you’re seeing some flashes that he can be an everyday center fielder defensively and probably be a guy that helps you defensively.”

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Indians' Cody Anderson gearing up for Tommy John surgery, recovery after year of unfortunate events

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 21, 2017

GOODYEAR, Ariz: The 11 months that have followed the beginning of the 2016 season have been anything but auspicious for Cody Anderson.

Anderson finished 2015 7-3 with a 3.05 ERA. He then came to camp last year showing an uptick in velocity and was named to the Opening Day rotation ahead of Trevor Bauer.

Since that time, Anderson’s career has lost its preverbal footing. He struggled mightily out of the gate, struggled to recover as a starter and was sent to Triple-A Columbus. He was later moved to the bullpen. He went 2-5 with a 6.68 ERA at the major-league level last season. The magic he found in 2015, albeit most likely unsustainable, was gone, and he was struggling to recapture much of it.

The Indians then announced on Sunday that Anderson, who had an arthroscopic debridement procedure on his elbow in Dec., now needs Tommy John surgery. That procedure will erase his 2017 season and likely make for a limited 2018 as he recovers.

Anderson opted to undergo the major surgery now instead of waiting and trying other methods, which if unsuccessful might have meant he’d miss the 2017 and 2018 season entirely. He’s already lost enough time since his positive stretch in the majors.

“My first thought was, ‘What’s the quickest way I can get back and be healthy enough to help the team win?’” Anderson said. “If you can’t come back and be healthy enough, you have start rethinking stuff and be thinking about different options and not letting it leak into two, even more years of battling.”

Anderson was throwing 40-45 pitches in bullpen sessions but began to feel a sharp pain, was shut down and then spent two weeks going back-and-forth making his decision. Ultimately, a second opinion by Dr. Keith Meister confirmed that Tommy John was needed. Anderson does have the benefit of having several pitchers within the Indians’ clubhouse, like Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, who have undergone Tommy John surgery in their past.

“I talked to them throughout the two-week process and what it took for them to get back,” Anderson said. “All of them looked me dead in the eye and said we know you work hard enough to come back from this. It’s reassurance knowing you have the ability and I’m going to give my heart and soul into this rehab to come back stronger than ever.”

Anderson’s past year has been a series of unfortunate events. His rehab for Tommy John is next in line.

“It’s a sick feeling knowing there’s a chance you don’t come back or you don’t come back the same,” Anderson said. “At the same time, as an athlete, when you’re facing a challenge you, you have to take it head on.”

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Dancing Carlos Santana back in Indians camp; Teams dealing with ‘disjointed’ schedule due to WBC

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 21, 2017

GOODYEAR, Ariz: Carlos Santana needed to do something, anything, standing on base after a hit for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic earlier this month. The dugout was counting on him.  

A little celebration had become a point of camaraderie for the Dominican team. That passion and energy is perhaps the best thing about the WBC, after all. So, with Santana on base, he wanted to join the fun.

And out came a dance.

“It's something new for me. It's something for the Dominican team, especially Jose Reyes,” Santana said. “He has energy. He kept dancing in the clubhouse and he told me, 'Los, every time you get a hit, do something.' I said OK, so I was dancing. It was fun. It was very special, a very good moment and I'm happy to come back to here and try to put in the same energy as the WBC.”

Santana is back in camp after the Dominican’s elimination from the WBC. But no word on whether the he will bring the dancing back with him to Cleveland.

“I’ll try. You never know,” Santana said. “I can do it with Edwin [Encarnacion] or Frankie [Lindor]. I don’t have a problem with that. Baseball is hard. So, I try to enjoy moments and make my teammates happy.”

Santana has already stated he’d like to play in the next WBC. That’s in large part due to the camaraderie, energy and fans that make the tournament what it is. On one play that was started by Baltimore’s Manny Machado and finished by a diving Santana, he was pounding his first on first base in celebration.

“I think the capital of the Dominican is Miami,” Santana joked, noting the heavy fan base that showed up in Miami for some of the WBC games. “The people, they prepared for that moment. It was very special. I enjoyed it a lot, that moment. Next time, I want to play again.”

This World Baseball Classic has been one for the ages. As much criticism as the WBC has received for its timing and which countries might care more about it, it’s undeniable that this 2017 edition has been a fun tournament, led by waves of raw emotion and high-energy games.

But the No. 1 drawback, also undeniable, is that it leaves teams adjusting their schedules and players’ routines as they attempt to prepare for a grueling 162-game season. The Indians in particular, following their run to the World Series that fell just short of their first title since 1948, likely weren’t thrilled to have an abnormal spring schedule.

The Indians are still notably without Andrew Miller, Lindor, Roberto Perez and Joe Colon. Chris Colabello, for example, was brought in as a non-roster invitee but hasn’t had much time in camp as he left to play for Italy. During different stretches this spring, the Indians were stretching to try to find enough catchers and first basemen to cover every inning.

Indians manager Terry Francona understands the positives. It’s been a wild tournament with exciting baseball being played on a world stage. But it’s the teams and managers who are left to deal with the negatives back in Arizona and Florida.

“I know they’re trying to grow the game with the WBC, I get it, but there’s a reason we’re here,” Francona said. “We’re trying to prepare for a season and a lot of our guys aren’t here. You’re trying to get your pitchers ready. A lot of things we talk about, personality, dynamic, things you want to grow, it’s kind of hard to do when you’re not here. And yeah, it bothers me. But every other team has it too. But we’re not a club sport. We're playing for keeps. And you want to get ready. It’s a little disjointed.”

This WBC has featured several must-watch games and high tension. It’s become baseball’s version of the Ryder Cup, when every big play is followed with players motioning to a frenzied crowd and dugout.

But, the nature of baseball and particularly pitching leaves the calendar without an ideal time to hold it. One idea kicked around has been to hold it every fourth All-Star break, with a quick tournament replacing the All-Star Game. Still, that would leave teams allowing their pitchers to put extra innings on their arms just before the stretch run to the postseason.

Miller is a pretty good example of why the WBC can be hard on pitchers. Facing the Dominican Republic earlier in the month, Nelson Cruz blasted a three-run home run off Miller in one of the bigger moments of the tournament.

Francona’s reaction to that play and one of his main concerns with the WBC rests in situations like that: pitchers throwing too hard before they normally would, especially considering their breaking pitches. Pitchers often ramp up to using all their pitches. In the WBC, they’re using their entire repertoire and also throwing to get somebody out, not just tossing to build up arm strength. Vinnie Pestano, who was hurt as a result of the WBC and never really recovered, is a close-to-home example for the Indians.

“Guys started pitching what, March 7th, March 8th? In a normal spring training, Andrew wouldn’t even throw breaking balls until probably after that, let alone thinking about going back-to-back and all of a sudden there’s 35,000 people in the stands and he’s trying to rip off breaking balls,” Francona said. “That makes you hold your breath.”

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Indians LF Michael Brantley goes 2-for-3 in Cactus League debut; Indians 14, Dodgers 5

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 20, 2017

The major test for Michael Brantley won’t arrive until the Indians see how he feels following extended sequences of consecutive games played. On Monday, he took a small step as a prelude to that bigger exam.

Brantley played in his first Cactus League game this spring, going 2-for-3 with two singles and an RBI in the Indians’ 14-5 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Brantley has logged some time in minor-league and simulated games this spring but hadn’t made it into a big-league spring-training game.

“That’s what you do all the rehab for and why you stick with the process is to be back out there with your teammates,” Brantley said. “I was able to do that today. Hopefully I continue to do that down the road.”

In the first inning, Brantley grounded a ball to first and reached on an error. In the second, he fouled off a couple pitches in an 0-2 count and then roped the 1-2 offering from Dodgers starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy to right field, scoring Erik Gonzalez from second base. In the fifth, again with two strikes, Brantley lofted another single to right, this one against left-hander Adam Liberatore.

“Every time he passes a hurdle, it’s hard not to get excited just because of what he means to us,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “But this was one. Hopefully he bounces back good. That’s probably the biggest thing. Because he feels good now. Just wants to see how he bounces back and see how he maintains his strength and all those things. But it’s hard not to get excited.”

Opening Day, or any other target date, is still not in the picture as a set timeline. Brantley and the Indians are continuing to be as cautious as possible without putting labels on his timetable. Brantley is expected to play on Wednesday and Thursday after the club’s day off on Tuesday.

“I’m one day at a time,” Brantley said. “I’m going to wake up tomorrow, feel great, come in here and do my rehab and work out and just get back on my feet and go from there. It’s one day at a time.”

The real test could come soon for Brantley as he and the club see how his shoulder responds to prolonged exposure to game speed. The back-to-back games later this week represent the next hurdle.

“You know, playing in a game isn’t the end of the [journey], but I’m excited for him, excited potentially for us,” Francona said. “We just have to temper that, knowing that today’s not the destination. It’s still part of where he’s going. But man, he’s come an awful long way. Everybody’s that been around him have been kind of raving about how he looks and he feels good. Heck yeah, we’re excited.”

Rehabbing Cookie

Starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco threw two “innings” in a minor league game Monday at the club’s facility in Goodyear. The first inning was cut short due to Carrasco’s pitch count after two outs.

Carrasco has been dealing with some right elbow soreness. He’s expected to start Friday’s Cactus League game against the Chicago Cubs.

Indians 14, Dodgers 5

Aside from Brantley’s positive debut, the Indians belted five home runs on Monday. Yandy Diaz, Adam Moore, Abraham Almonte, Bradley Zimmer and Daniel Robertson all went yard, all from the fifth inning on.

Diaz’s game was a bit of a microcosm of his current situation. He went 2-for-3 with four RBI but also booted a routine ground ball at third base for an error.

Trevor Bauer threw five innings, allowing three runs on seven hits, which included two home runs. He also struck out three.

“I think everything is going well,” Bauer said. “My curveball actually has a lot of good bite to it, which I’ve actually been really pleased with. Whatever, it doesn’t matter what the results of the at-bat are at this point, it’s about executing pitches. I’m happy with that.”

The bigger success for Bauer might have been his avoiding two come-backers up the mound, the second forcing him onto his back.

“I was going to do a ninja get-up but I figured I wouldn’t show anybody up,” Bauer joked.

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Indians’ Opening Day infield in flux with Jason Kipnis out to start regular season

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 20, 2017

The Indians have some clarity on Jason Kipnis’ injury situation following the news that he’s expected to miss 4-to-5 weeks with shoulder inflammation. Now, the club can begin to pinpoint how they’d like to handle the infield to start the 2017 regular season.

They certainly have their options already within the organization to place the chess pieces as they’d like at third and second base. Though, with less than two weeks until Opening Day on April 3, there’s much to sort out.

The Indians could place Erik Gonzalez or possibly Michael Martinez—who is not on the 40-man roster and in camp as a non-roster invitee—at second base, leaving Jose Ramirez to man third. In that scenario, whoever doesn’t get the second base job could make the roster as a utility guy off the bench.

Ramirez, who has extensive experience at second, could also be temporarily moved across the infield to replace Kipnis, which opens up several additional options at third. Gonzalez, Giovanny Urshela, Yandy Diaz and Richie Shaffer are all in the mix there.

There are pros and cons to each scenario if Ramirez is shifted. Gonzalez brings above-average defense wherever he plays but isn’t as polished offensively, though he did take some steps forward last season. Urshela is in a similar position, and the club has expressed interest in making sure he doesn’t plateau in his development at Triple-A. Both are already on the 40-man roster with options remaining.

Diaz and Shaffer, conversely, would both provide upgrades offensively but aren’t nearly the defenders of the former group and aren’t on the 40-man roster, though each can play the corner outfield and would give the Indians additional security if Michael Brantley is unable to start the season. Diaz and Shaffer have both had productive springs at the plate while looking to force the Indians’ hand.

The Indians are trying to balance keeping the infield in-tact defensively while also looking for some offensive production with Kipnis out. As of now, there are a lot of moving parts without a clear path to the Indians’ Opening Day infield.

“Those are things we’re thinking about,” Indians manager Terry Francona said Monday. “Some of it’s going to depend on the roster we take. Right now, we don’t know what that will be. … I think we’re trying to balance everything. I think what we don’t want to do is—because you can’t replace [Kipnis’] bat. I mean that’s, he’s one of the best second baseman in the league. We don’t want to try to sacrifice defense and get sloppy for a little bit of offense. There’s a balance there for sure.”

Diaz, standing 6-2 and 185 pounds at age 25, is perhaps the most intriguing option of the bunch. He hit .325 with an .860 OPS in 95 games last season after being called up to Triple-A. This spring, Diaz has eight hits in 21 at-bats. The Indians’ No. 10 prospect according to MLB.com is displaying plenty of potential at the plate. The question for now is if his glove can handle that much exposure at third base.

“He wasn’t the finished product as a third baseman,” Francona said. “Then last year, we moved him to right field because there was a need and he was still rough around the edges, is the best way to put it. Now, because there’s a potential opening at third, now he would kind of go back to that. It’s not perfect. It’s trying to weigh his bat but also the development of his defense. I’m not even sure if it’s a possibility, but we’d like to give him a chance because he’s such a good hitter.”

The club is trying to ensure that whatever secondary plan they put into play is a temporary one, only affecting the first couple weeks of the regular season instead of a month or more. They’d also like the player affectionally nicknamed “Dirtbag” to come back and be able to play like Dirtbag.

“The 4-to-5 week [time table] was return-to-play,” Francona said. “He could have played, he was in the lineup the day we took him out. I think after getting a second opinion and listening to all the medical people, I think they felt like this is the best way to completely knock that thing out so he doesn’t have to worry about it.”

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Cody Anderson has mild UCL sprain; Indians seeking second opinion, hope surgery can be avoided

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 10, 2017
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Indians starting pitcher Cody Anderson has a mild strain of the UCL in his right elbow after experiencing some discomfort last week.

The Indians are currently seeking a second opinion before deciding on Anderson’s rehab program and expected time table relative to his return to throwing.

“He was going to be down from throwing for a little bit anyway, so there’s no immediate rush, but for his sake you’d like to get it looked at again,” Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters in Goodyear, Ariz.

Anderson was working his way back from an arthroscopic debridement procedure that he underwent in Nov. after being diagnosed with an impingement in the back of the joint in his elbow. The club’s hope and current belief is that he can avoid a second procedure.

“As of right now, the idea is he doesn’t need surgery,” Francona said. “But, I also think it’s a really good thing to always get a second opinion. It’s not going to hurt anything. The more information the better. The more sets of good eyes, the better. Then whatever the doctors conclude, we’ll follow that and get him going.”

Anderson was in line to begin the season in the Triple-A starting rotation and provide some organizational depth should the Indians run into a similar problem as they did in 2016, when injuries tore through the pitching staff late in the year. He’s appeared as a starter and as a reliever in the big leagues, though the Indians have maintained that his long-term development is still focused around his remaining a starting pitcher.

Teams know they likely won’t get through the season only needing five starters, which puts additional value on the sixth, seventh and eighth options in the line of succession. Once healthy, Anderson had figured to join Mike Clevinger, assuming he also remains a starter and isn’t used out of the major-league bullpen, and Ryan Merritt to form the top of the Triple-A rotation.

Anderson has a career 9-8 record and 4.50 ERA with 98 strikeouts in 152 innings pitched at the major-league level.

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Indians look to make up for lack of pure speed with aggressive base running in 2017

By Ryan Lewis Published: March 3, 2017

The Indians as currently constructed know they won’t be able to replace Rajai Davis’ speed on the base paths. They know it’s highly likely that they won’t steal as many bases as they did last season, when Davis led the American League with 43.

Their goal is to more-so mimic the style of another free-agent loss this past offseason, that being Mike Napoli, an aggressive, albeit much slower base runner.

If the Indians can’t rely on pure speed, they’re going to try to make up for it with smarts and aggressiveness.

“I thought between Raj coming with his speed and Napoli coming with his attitude, that we were significantly a better base running team,” Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters in Goodyear, Ariz. “So the challenge is, OK, Raj is gone, we know those stolen bases go with him. OK. We also don’t have base cloggers. We have guys that might steal 20. It’s not the burner [type], but they can run.”

The Indians were an improved base running team in 2016 and one of the best in the league. Per FanGraphs.com's Ultimate Base Running metric, which aims to value not just stolen bases but all base running acts, the Indians (10.6 UBR) were tops in the American League and second in baseball behind only the Pittsburgh Pirates (16.7). That was aided by Jose Ramirez, who led all of baseball in 2016 with a UBR of 6.9. In 2015, the Indians had a team UBR of 4.6.

Davis and his 43 steals finished with a 4.2 UBR, second on the Indians and seventh in baseball. Napoli, meanwhile, actually had a -5.2, by far the worst mark on the team. Though, he wasn’t exactly blessed with speed and also had a “slide” in a game against the Chicago White Sox that was referred to by both he and Francona as more of a “car accident.” That was probably worth docking him a couple of points on that play alone, though the Indians’ bench got a kick out of it.

Rather, it was his attitude on the base paths, particularly despite his speed, that Indians are focusing on. In a Cactus League game last spring, for instance, Napoli took second base on a fly-ball out. He didn’t have the speed of others, but the Indians liked how he was aware of instances in which he could take a base.

“Nap was so good at it and he was relentless in it,” Francona said. “It got the guys’ attention and they took pride in it. Once you start doing something [regularly], you could tell they were taking pride in it. They were really fun to watch.”

That’s how the Indians intend to make up for the lost speed, through the other actions valued in UBR—like advancing first-to-third on a single or moving up a base on a ball in the dirt.

This spring, the Indians have even been intentionally overaggressive, in essence to try to drive home the point.

“We’ve really emphasized trying to move up on balls in the dirt,” Francona said. “To the point where, maybe [we are being] even a little overaggressive in spring training. [Yan Gomes] did it yesterday. [Bradley Zimmer] the day before. They were both good reads. They got thrown out. But we just want to get them in the habit of being ready to move up because it is going to be probably more important to be a good base-running team because we have lost a little bit of speed.”

Losing Davis stands as one of the few areas in which the Indians have to make up ground heading into 2017. The starting rotation is healthier. The lineup, at least on paper, is stronger. The bullpen has been bolstered. Making up for Davis’ 43 steals is one of the few lacking areas this spring compared to the 2016 roster. The Indians have their plan in place as to how to minimize that loss as much as possible.

Returning soon

Jason Kipnis (rotator cuff strain) and Brandon Guyer (sore hamstring) are both nearing their returns.

Kipnis, per Francona, is likely to begin acting as the designated hitter for the Indians in roughly a week. Kipnis is then expected to begin playing second base 4-5 days after that. The Indians want to be cautious and hold him out of live, in-game throwing until that time.

Guyer is slated to DH in Saturday’s Cactus League game against Davis’ Oakland A’s. Per Francona, Guyer has been cleared to play the outfield, but the club wants to get additional looks at a few other outfielders in camp.

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