GOODYEAR, Ariz.: Lonnie Chisenhall’s most satisfying moment in baseball came Monday morning.
That’s when the Indians’ first-round pick in the 2008 draft was told he made the Opening Day roster.
“I’m just happy to be on the team,” Chisenhall said after being lifted from the Indians’ 8-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Ballpark. “I feel like I did everything I could. I feel like I’ve gotten better and better every day. Probably the most proud I’ve been of myself. Everything kind of paid off and that’s never been the case.”
Chisenhall, 25, found himself in a high-profile battle at third base with converting catcher Carlos Santana. Indians manager Terry Francona wasn’t ready to say who will start at third on March 31 in Oakland, but General Manager Chris Antonetti said Santana had earned time there. Chisenhall and Santana could share two jobs — third base and designated hitter.
Francona and Antonetti were impressed with the newfound maturity Chisenhall showed, especially when he learned the news.
“We told Lonnie we were pretty proud of him and his responsibility was to show up and help us win the game,” Francona said. “His responses to us were by far the most mature, the most encouraging things we’ve heard him say since we’ve known him. That was probably the highlight of the day. He understands, he wants to be a really good player and it hasn’t come quite as quick as he would like. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to come.
“You see a kid growing up right in front of your eyes. It feels rewarding.”
Chisenhall hit just .213 in his first 26 games last season before being sent to Triple-A Columbus on March 13. He finished 2013 with a .225 average with the Tribe. But Chisenhall came to camp with a more positive attitude and a more professional approach.
“It’s a different part of my career. I’m no longer a prospect,” he said. “I’ve got to settle in. I’m understanding the game a little more and how everything works and how you’re supposed to carry yourself and go about your business.”
Chisenhall celebrated the news with a solo home run to right-center field in the second inning. He went 2-for-4 and is hitting .308 with two home runs and eight RBI in 17 spring games.
Outfielder Nyjer Morgan and Chisenhall made the team and center fielder Michael Bourn was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Right-handers C.C. Lee and Trevor Bauer were optioned to Triple-A Columbus. Infielder Bryan LaHair, first baseman David Cooper and catcher Luke Carlin had their contracts reassigned to Triple-A. Carlin will stay in major-league camp until the Indians break for San Diego on Thursday.
Still to be decided is the final spot in the starting rotation, which comes down to Carlos Carrasco or Josh Tomlin. Carrasco pitched six innings against the Cincinnati Reds on Monday. Tomlin is scheduled to start today against the Texas Rangers.
Right-handers Scott Atchison, Blake Wood and perhaps Carrasco are candidates for one spot in the bullpen.
Francona and Antonetti did not have time to meet with designated hitter Jason Giambi before Monday’s news conference. Giambi could start the season on the disabled list with a fractured rib.
Right-hander Aaron Harang asked for and was granted his release and signed with the Atlanta Braves after learning Sunday he had not made the Indians’ roster. After a rash of Braves injuries, he could be as high as their third starter.
The Indians twice changed their lineup because of miscommunication on whether they could use a designated hitter in the home game for the Reds. Nick Swisher had left for the day by the time the Reds said yes. So the Indians decided to fill the spot with a minor leaguer, Kent State product Nick Hamilton, son of Indians play-by-play man Tom Hamilton. Tom was at the game, but not working.
“I think there’s always maybe a little time in spring training to have a special moment,” Francona said.
Nick Hamilton, a 24-year-old switch-hitting outfielder, was already on the travel roster. But he said he didn’t learn he was in the lineup until about 15 minutes before the game started. Hamilton went 0-for-4 with two groundouts and two flyouts.
“I’m grateful to get that first taste of playing in the big leagues,” Hamilton said. “It was a lot of fun and something I can learn from and build on.”
Hamilton spent last season in Single-A with Lake County and Mahoning Valley.
Carrasco (3-1, 5.17) looked like a man determined to win the final spot in the rotation. In his final spring training start, he pitched six innings and gave up three runs on nine hits. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out five.
“I just let it go,” Carrasco said.
Asked if he was out to win a starting job, Carrasco said, “That’s what I put in my mind. From today through the rest of the season I need to do that every five days.”
As for the chance the Indians could put him in the bullpen, Carrasco said, “Right now my mind’s on the starting rotation. If they make that decision to send me to the bullpen, I’ll do my job.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.