Mike Aviles almost sounds a little defensive when you ask him if he has problem hitting when he comes off the bench.
“I haven’t really come off the bench that much,’’ he said. “I don’t know if I’ll be doing that here. But for the most part, I’ll be fine. Being ready to hit is the biggest thing. But to me, it’s not coming off the bench so much as giving guys days off, things like that.’’
Clarification: If a someone isn’t in the lineup as an everyday player, he comes off the bench. Then again, Aviles’ definition of coming off the bench is a player whose primary job is pinch hitting, being used as a defensive replacement or pinch runner. That’s probably not going to be him, as he begins his career with the Indians.
No doubt Aviles thinks that someone will need a break almost every day, and because he plays so many positions, he will get the chance to be in the lineup. Manager Terry Francona has talked about that kind of role for Aviles, but certainly there will be days when he doesn’t play.
On those days he will have more time to get close to his teammates, something he already had begun in earnest.
When you ask him if he missed anything by playing in the World Baseball Classic, Aviles says, “The only thing I missed was getting to know my teammates, but I think I did a pretty good job before I left.”
Aviles doesn’t have a problem making friends.
“I have that kind of personality,” he said. “I make friends pretty quick. I’ve always been that way, mostly because I don’t shut up. If you’re going to listen to me talk, after awhile you’ll probably just say, ‘I might as well be friends with this guy.’ ”
Aviles came to the Tribe from the Red Sox, where he was managed two years ago by new Indians skipper Francona.
“This clubhouse is no different than most,” Aviles said. “I’ve been fortunate to be around some really good clubhouses. The thing I like about this one is I feel like everybody is here to work hard and have fun.
“I think the biggest part of playing good baseball is enjoying what you do. People sometimes forget this is a game, and that we should have fun playing it. I think it’s pretty obvious that here everybody enjoys what they do for a living.”
One of the pluses for Aviles is that he will be around Francona again.
“I thought it was awesome playing for him in Boston,” he said. “So I’m definitely excited about getting a chance to play for him again.”
What single characteristic distinguishes Francona from most other managers?
“He’s a players manager,” Aviles said. “He lets you be yourself. He doesn’t worry much about rules. It’s pretty much show up on time and play hard. How can you not abide by those rules? Those are pretty simple.
“Tito lets you be an adult and lets everybody police themselves. He treats you like an adult, which gives you the freedom to do what you need to do.’’
Aviles is a career shortstop who has learned to play second, third, left and right. But unlike most multi-position players, he is less a defensive specialist than professional hitter.
Last year with the Red Sox, Aviles amassed his career high in at-bats (512) and started 123 games at short, playing second or third only three games and mixing in a few designated hitter appearances.
Aviles batted .250 with 28 doubles, 13 home runs and 60 RBI. He walked only 23 times, but he struck out only once every 6.6 at-bats. He also stole 14 bases and was thrown out six times.
Asked if he regards himself as more of a hitter than a defender, Aviles said, “I don’t think anybody expects me to catch the ball. Just kidding. But hitting comes easier to me. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed even as a kid. I have to work twice as hard to be a good fielder as I do to be a solid hitter.”
As a collegiate player, until he reached Double-A, Aviles was usually the No. 3 hitter in the lineup. But at the higher levels of the minors and in the big leagues, that changed.
“I’ve hit about everywhere in the lineup as a professional,” he said. “The big thing is getting in the lineup. That’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter if you’re first or ninth. Once you’re in the lineup, you have a chance to do some damage.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.