GLENDALE, Ariz.: Lonnie Chisenhall will have to wait his turn.
Although it came as no surprise, Chisenhall, Matt LaPorta and Chad Huffman were sent back to the minor-league camp Tuesday, a move that formally elevated Jack Hannahan as the Indians’ everyday third baseman.
“Lonnie has had only 250 at bats in Triple-A,” manager Manny Acta said. “He knows he needs to work on controlling the strike zone better. He’s always been one of the youngest players at every level. We know he’s going to be the main guy here for years to come. Right now, he needs to go play.”
Chisenhall batted only .205 with one double and three RBI in 39 spring at-bats.
“We still saw a lot of positives with Lonnie,” General Manager Chris Antonetti said. “Defensively, he made strides. Offensively, he needs to get more consistency. Fundamentally, he has a very good swing, but he needs to manage the strike zone better.
“He’s still only 23 with fewer than 300 Triple-A plate appearances.”
Chisenhall made his major-league debut June 27 and batted .255 with 13 doubles, seven home runs and 22 RBI in 212 at-bats. By September, he began to get a feel for hitting in the big leagues, compiling a .279 average with four home runs and 14 RBI in 86 at-bats.
Hannahan had the inside track on the third-base job from the start of camp. He proved to be a marquee defender last year, and he contributed timely hits to the offense early in the season and late.
Moreover, for the first time in his career, the left-handed batter hit well against left-handed pitchers (.296). Overall, he batted .250 with eight home runs and 40 RBI in 320 at-bats.
“Hannahan fits well with all of our ground-ball pitchers,” Acta said. “It’s nice to have a guy like that who can stabilize the defense.”
Added Antonetti, “Jack’s challenge will be consistency on offense.”
LaPorta came to camp without a job after the Tribe acquired Casey Kotchman over the winter to play first base. Early in spring training, Acta said that LaPorta was competing for the backup job at first.
“Matt continues to demonstrate in spurts that he can be a quality bat in the middle of the order and play in the major leagues,” Antonetti said. “Hopefully, he’ll go down [to Triple-A] and play regularly and get that consistency.”
After Grady Sizemore hurt his back early in camp and subsequently underwent surgery, Michael Brantley was moved from left to center, leaving a hole in left. Initially, Acta said the contenders for left would include Shelley Duncan, Ryan Spilborghs, Aaron Cunningham, Felix Pie and Fred Lewis.
Later, Acta included LaPorta and Russ Canzler in the group, but clearly LaPorta was never a serious candidate for the position, though Acta disagreed.
“The opportunity was there in the outfield,” Acta said. “If Matt had shown up in camp and hit the way we feel he can hit, he would have had a good opportunity to grab that job.”
LaPorta batted only .167 with two doubles and two RBI, striking out 11 times in 30 at-bats. In other words, he didn’t help his cause or do much to gain Acta’s attention.
On the other hand, it was obvious that LaPorta was not going to be upgraded to legitimate left-field contender. He started only twice in left (compared to six starts for Duncan, five for Canzler, four for Lewis, five for Cunningham, one each for Spilborghs and Pie).
LaPorta also started two games at first and one as the designated hitter. Five times, he entered as a defensive replacement at first and once as a sub in left.
Throughout the spring, LaPorta was short-tempered in dealing with the media and at times, even his teammates, which is totally out of character. However, Acta said that LaPorta maintained a positive outlook.
“Matt was good the whole time,” Acta said. “He never showed a bad attitude. He embraced the situation as best he could, but unfortunately for him, things did not work out.”
LaPorta’s demotion does not mean the Tribe’s deep thinkers have given up on him. Should he go to Columbus and light up opposing pitchers, he’ll be back with the Indians at some point. However, the odds are that LaPorta will never live up to being the primary piece in the CC Sabathia trade.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at https://ohio.com/blogs/tribe-matters. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.