MESA, Ariz.: Spring training numbers don’t necessarily foreshadow the future. In fact, it is not uncommon for statistics compiled in exhibition season to morph into the polar opposite once the real schedule begins.
Nevertheless, it’s no sin to play well in spring training, and offensively the Tribe has fallen woefully short. The club batting average and hit total rank next to last among American League teams, and only two franchises have scored fewer runs.
It’s the same story with the power numbers. With 16 home runs, the Indians stand 12th in the league but fare slightly better in doubles, tying for ninth place.
None of this comes as a surprise. The Tribe struggled to score runs last year, partly because of injuries to Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner and Michael Brantley. Except for Sizemore, who will be out at least two more months after undergoing back surgery, the others are healthy.
And there are 1 › significant new batsmen: Casey Kotchman, acquired over the winter to play first base instead of Matt LaPorta, and Jason Kipnis, who made his major-league debut July 22, will be in the lineup from the outset of the season.
Even if everything is clicking for the Tribe, the attack probably won’t be highlighted on SportsCenter every night. What manager Manny Acta is hoping (and expecting) is that the offense will be productive enough to take the pressure off the pitching staff, which has been designed to carry the club.
“I think the fact that we’ve added a piece or two will help,’’ Acta said Wednesday, referring to Kotchman, Kipnis and probably to Shelley Duncan, who is likely to open the season in left field. “For our offense to take it to the next level, we need every guy to stay healthy and to produce.’’
Acta emphasizes the importance of avoiding injury and the need for a total team effort.
“If the guys in the middle of our order stay healthy, I think we have enough offense,’’ the manager said. “But if too many guys go down, where do we go from there?’’
In other words, like last year, if the front line players can’t participate, the offense will be in trouble.
“As far as depth, we will continue to address it,’’ Acta said.
Acta stressed the significance of the “middle’’ of his order. But he is not referring merely to the three, four and five batters in the lineup. His “middle’’ starts with Asdrubal Cabrera, who will bat second, continues with Choo, cleanup batter Carlos Santana and Hafner.
Despite a second-half decline, Cabrera had a career year in 2011, batting .273 with 25 home runs and 92 RBI. Choo was limited to 85 games because of injury; Santana batted only .239 but hit 27 homers and drove in 79 runs.
Is Acta worried about any of these guys? Hardly. He expects them to contribute at their usual levels. He also thinks that Santana, who is still learning, will be better at controlling the excessive movement in his stance and swing.
The unknown quantity is Hafner, whose peak was 2006, when he batted .308 with 42 home runs and 117 RBI and 100 walks. Last year, he batted .280 with 13 homers and 57 RBI. Acta probably would be happy with something in-between his best season and last year.
“He’s Hafner,’’ the manager said. “If he’s healthy, he’s going to be productive. I will have no issues with him if he’s on the field.’’
Hafner was plagued with shoulder problems from 2008 through 2010. Even last year, he was rested periodically to ease the pressure on his shoulder. Moreover, he was on the disabled list twice, first because of a strained oblique then with a strained tendon in his foot. But he has been injury free this spring and seems to have regained his normal swing.
Kotchman is not the right-handed run producer the Tribe was seeking over the winter. Instead, he is another left-handed bat to add to the already left-leaning lineup, and he is more contact hitter than power guy. However, last year he posted a career-best batting average of .306 with 10 homers, 48 RBI and a .378 on-base percentage with the Rays.
“He’s a line drive hitter, a good situational hitter, and he knows how to play the game,’’ Acta said. “Not everybody is blessed with power. The offense he had last season got him that contract [with the Tribe], so I’m happy with his numbers.’’
Acta also hinted that changes might be forthcoming.
“We continue to explore things,’’ he said. “[General Manager] Chris Antonetti talks with other clubs all the time.’’
After another lackluster 2-0 loss to the Cubs Wednesday, Acta was asked when the offense needs to get in gear.
“On the fifth,’’ the manager said, referring to Opening Day. “That would be a good day. We’re not the 1927 Yankees, but I think we’ll be OK if these guys stay healthy.’’
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.