Sixteen thoughts for the 16 strikeouts recorded by Indians pitchers on a sunny, 73-degree day at brand new Cubs Park as the Tribe improved to 8-1.
1. The Indians’ bench players who call themselves the “Goon Squad” may have lost a member as catcher Yan Gomes has moved into the starting lineup. But after hitting a two-run home run in the first inning, infielder Mike Aviles talked about the unit’s pride and how they view their important role. “Do what we did all last year. Let everybody understand we’re going to enjoy coming to the park, we’re going to have fun with each other and we’re going to play well and take care of business,” Aviles said. “At the end of the day, it’s a kid’s game, let’s enjoy it.”
2. Their attitude seems to be contagious, with the Indians’ chemistry seemingly unchanged from last year, when the Indians finished 92-70.
3. The most interesting moment of the day came in the morning before the bus trip to Mesa. The televisions in the clubhouse were tuned to the MLB Network and it was airing its season preview on the Indians. The network predicted 79 victories for the Tribe, speculating on the difficulty of replacing starting pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. The players stared blankly at the screen, looking stunned.
4. Even while playing cards in the morning, the players’ eyes are never far from the TV. A segment on the new rule regarding home plate collisions drew groans when a gruesome replay was shown.
5. After striking out six in three innings of work against the Cubs, Carlos Carrasco said he didn’t give the mechanics of his revamped delivery a thought. While pitching coach Mickey Callaway proved to be somewhat of a pitchers’ whisperer last year with Jimenez, perhaps he is doing the same with Carrasco, who was very confident after his stint.
6. Carrasco said he used his slider for most of his strikeouts. But what pleased him most was a curveball he threw on a 3-2 count for one of the six. “Now I can trust my breaking pitch on 3-2,” he said.
7. A few fans at the Tribe’s Goodyear complex stumbled onto the minor league ‘B’ game on Field 6 where Danny Salazar made his spring debut. But one apparently didn’t realize what he was in the midst of. Using his cell phone, he filmed closer John Axford’s appearance preceding Salazar and left before Salazar took the mound.
8. There seem to be no secrets between manager Terry Francona and catcher Carlos Santana as Santana tries to convert to third base. That openness may help relieve Santana’s anxiety as he tries to find a role other than designated hitter. “The first thing we’ll do is sit and talk. I told him that’s what we would do,” Francona said of a conversation he plans with Santana soon. “But I also told him I’d let him have some time to breathe and play third, which we’re trying to do also.”
9. Lonnie Chisenhall does little to inspire confidence that the first-round pick in the 2008 draft will turn into the player the Indians thought they selected. But a hard ground ball he smoothly fielded for an out in the first inning made me and others wonder if Santana could have made the play. I debated if he would have had more trouble fielding the ball than making the long throw. At the moment I’d say the former.
10. There are encouraging signs that reliever Vinnie Pestano can bounce back from a disastrous 2013 season. Pestano struck out one in one inning of work against the Cubs and has not allowed a hit to the six batters he’s faced this spring. But Francona said Pestano still has a ways to go. “What we’re seeing is late movement, which is really encouraging,” Francona said. “Now the hope is you get a little more velocity with it.”
11. Corey Kluber was just as dominating as Carrasco, striking out five of the 10 Cubs he faced in three innings, including the side in the fifth. “Not that he has to open eyes, but maybe around the league,” Francona said. “We know what we have. We’re thrilled. Just think when he gets a full year under his belt, you’re going to see Klubes be one of the better right-handers in the league.”
12. That needs to be the case, especially as the Indians try to replace Jimenez and Kazmir and improve on last season’s record.
13. It might seem unusual for 43-year-old designated hitter Jason Giambi to play in a spring training road game. But not only did he do that, but he also rode the bus from Goodyear to Mesa. “(That’s) part of what makes G special, that’s not part of his program,” Francona said. Giambi did exercise his veteran status later, leaving in the top of the fifth inning to catch a ride with an Indians staffer.
14. As Francona noted, bus rides in Arizona are 20 minutes, not like in Florida or in the old days here, when the Indians frequently traveled two hours between Tucson and Phoenix. “I’d be surprised if anybody ever said anything. That’s the type of guys we have. They understand we’re trying to get them at-bats,” Francona said.
15. Ranking right up with the most unusual thing I’ve seen being sold at a sports facility was a man in the clubhouse Friday peddling decals for catchers to put on their fingers so pitchers can better see their signals. Francona found a question about the subject strange, but answered it. “I would rather do that than get hit in the neck if the guy doesn’t know what you’re calling,” he said.
16. I thought I was going to be overwhelmed by a wave of nostalgia at my first Cubs’ spring training game in years. In the 1980s, I came to HoHoKam Park often with friends, including one who grew up in Lisle, Ill. But those feelings took a back seat to the beauty of new Cubs Park. It has essentially two club lounges on either side of the press box that can be rented out by groups. I could even see a small wedding reception there. Beyond the outfield fences is a huge expanse of grass for lawn seating, interrupted only by the bullpen in right field. On weekends, food trucks park beyond the grass. The concession stands sell virtually every Chicago delicacy except for Garrett’s popcorn. Walking through the stands to the visiting clubhouse to talk to Carrasco, I wished I didn’t have to work.