GOODYEAR, Ariz.: The job isn’t finished, but the Indians got closer to picking their 25-man roster Friday.
Two players, Jason Donald and Dan Wheeler, got the good news that they made the team. First baseman/outfielder Russ Canzler and reliever Nick Hagadone were optioned to Triple-A Columbus; catcher Luke Carlin, infielder Andy LaRoche, right-handers Chris Ray and Robinson Tejeda plus left-hander Chris Seddon were re-assigned to the minor-league camp.
But there are decisions still to make. The competition for the fifth starter has come down to Kevin Slowey and Jeanmar Gomez. David Huff was ostensibly the third contender, but he strained his right hamstring Thursday and will not be ready to start the season.
The inclusion of Wheeler on the staff fills one vacant spot in the bullpen, but another remains, with Frank Herrmann, Jeremy Accardo and Jairo Asencio in the hunt.
Asencio, acquired from the Atlanta Braves for cash Thursday, arrived in camp Friday.
“He’ll pitch tomorrow and probably Monday,” manager Manny Acta said.
Can Asencio legitimately beat out his two rivals if he pitches only twice before the Tribe breaks camp?
“He’s impressed our scouts the last couple of years,” Acta said. “He pitched well in Triple-A last year. It would be unfair to grade him on two outings, but that’s what it is. He’s out of options, so it’s a complicated matter.”
Maybe Acta and Antonetti already have decided that Asencio is their man on the basis of scouting reports and his accomplishments at Triple-A Gwinnett last year, when he posted as 3-2 record and saved 26 games in 27 chances, posting a 1.81 ERA. He also walked 22 and struck out 70 in 54‚ innings.
Acta said a verdict on the bullpen and the rotation will be made soon.
“I think in the next couple of days, we’ll make a decision on the bullpen,” Acta said. “We’ll decide the fifth starter by tomorrow.”
Wheeler seems to have been the desired choice from the start of camp, based on his history of success.
From 2008 through 2010 with the Tampa Bay Rays, Wheeler compiled a 11-15 record with 18 saves and a 3.24 ERA. Last year with the Boston Red Sox his ERA climbed to 4.38, but even then he gave up fewer hits than innings and walked only eight in 49· innings.
This spring, he struggled early but righted himself in recent outings. Overall, he has given up eight earned runs in nine innings.
“I knew today was the day they were going to make a decision, and I was definitely hoping for the best,” Wheeler said. “Normally, I don’t have the best spring. I’m trying to build arm strength and get my mechanics right, but this was a little worse than what I’m used to. I knew if I kept battling, eventually I’d come out of it.”
Added Antonetti, “Dan continued to progress and as camp went on, he pitched better and better.”
Left field still is an issue, but unless Antonetti can trade for an outfielder, Shelley Duncan will open the season in left.
“As it stands right now, if nothing changes, we have internal options,” Acta said. “We have Shelley, and we have to pick an extra outfielder.”
The only two left are Ryan Spilborghs and Aaron Cunningham.
Another utility infield spot apparently will go to Jose Lopez, the only infielder remaining in camp without a job. However, Lopez was not told he had locked up the job.
Instead, he was paid a $100,000 retention bonus, a new element of the recently negotiated Basic Agreement. If a player has six full seasons in the majors and is signed to a minor-league contract, the $100,000 (paid five days before the season starts) holds that player in an organization until June 1.
Why not put Lopez on the club now and save the $100,000? Antonetti might be watching the waiver wire to see if a more desirable option comes up.
Donald’s inclusion on the roster as a super utility player was a foregone conclusion. In addition to playing second, third and short, he is learning to play the outfield, and he can make a positive impact with his bat.
“It’s always good to hear that confirmation from the guys making the decision,” Donald said. “Honestly, I was trying not to let that weigh me down. I was trying to stay focused on the task ahead.”
Donald said that worrying about his fate is counterproductive.
“When you start playing GM, you waste a lot of energy,” he said. “I don’t have a crystal ball; I can’t see into the future.”
Asked if he feels like an outfielder yet, Donald said, “I feel like a man capable of playing the outfield. I can’t call myself an outfielder, because I haven’t spent that much time out there. What I feel like is a baseball player. That’s what I play.”
Catcher Matt Pagnozzi, infielder Gregorio Petit and outfielder Felix Pie will not make the team but will remain in major-league camp as extra players and probably accompany the club to Zebulon, N.C., for Tuesday’s exhibition game against the Tribe’s Carolina League affiliate.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at https://ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.