The weekend in Wahooland saw the games beginning in Arizona. We have been hearing about how great the vibe is in camp and how loose yet focused the Indians have been under new skipper Terry Francona. Now it was time to see how that translated into Spring Training games. The results in these tilts are meaningless, but the Tribe won all four, including two split-squad games Sunday afternoon. There was lots to like. Here were some of the takeaways:
The first lineup we saw will be something close to what will be on opening day, barring injury. Francona’s Friday nine was Michael Bourn, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Mark Reynolds, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Drew Stubbs. If seeing that batting order, with nine real legit major league ball players, didn’t make you feel better about the team, then nothing will. A full year of bottom fours that included the likes of Shelley Duncan, Jack Hannahan, Casey Kotchman, and Brett Lillibridge will make you wonder how your team can compete. This year’s one through nine looks to have no holes in it.
In that first game, the Indians trailed 5-0 after the top of the first, but struck back to take a 7-5 lead by the end of the third. All of the damage was done by those starters. The highlights a the two-run blast from Chisenhall, two doubles from Brantley, and an RBI single from Swisher in his first at-bat as in Indian. The Tribe won 11-10 on a walk-off bases-loaded double off the bat of Mike McDade.
The man who made the most noise over the weekend was OF/IF Ryan Raburn. There are a couple of bench spots available on this team. The Indians have brought in several candidates to fight for them. The one who has taken the quickest step out of the box was Raburn. The former Detroit Tiger who plays outfield and second base was released in November and brought to Cleveland on a Minor League deal. In his first two games, the 31-year old hit three home runs and drove in five.
Swisher was so impressed, he showed up in the clubhouse Sunday morning wearing Raburn’s jersey, saying he was looking for some of his power. Raburn followed by saying “that’s alright, as long as we can trade contracts.”
Raburn is coming off of the worst year of his career, but the pressure is off as he joins a new franchise. “Last year is not who I am. It was just a bad year and quite frankly, I stunk it up pretty good. I’m ready to put it behind me and I’ve been doing as much work as I can to get ready for this year and win a spot on this team,” he said.
Francona has long been a fan of the versatile Raburn, which could give him an advantage if all things are equal. “The day I got the job, Chris and I were talking,” said Francona. “I said if this guy [Raburn] ever comes off the Tigers’ roster, he’s a guy I like. Chris said he liked him, too. So we targeted him early.”
If he plays well this spring, the veteran Raburn will break camp as one of the bench bunch.
Lefty Scott Kazmir continues to impress in his comeback attempt. Every year the Indians seem to throw as many veteran minor league deal free agents as they can against the wall and hope at least one of them sticks, especially with arms. This year’s batch includes Raburn, Ben Francisco, Matt Capps, and a former top prospect who is trying to ressurect his career.
Scott Kazmir has come to Cleveland with something to prove. Word out of Goodyear is that the lefty looks like he is close to being back to the guy he was thought to be before his velocity was took a significant dip. According to Francona, Kazmir has “looked so good its scary. I wish we could just bottle it up for the season.” In his first trip to the mound in game action, Kazmir pitched two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, striking out one. If the 29-year old can find his old form, it will be a coup for the Tribe to have him at the back end of their rotation.
The other candidates for the fifth spot had mixed results. Kazmir followed Carlos Carrasco, who lasted just one inning giving up four runs (three earned) on four hits and a walk in yesterday’s 7-4 split squad win over the Brewers in Maryvale. Carrasco is coming off of Tommy John surgery and struggled in his first spring outing.
“It looked like Carlos just didn’t let the ball go,” said Francona. “Mickey (Callaway) took a trip to the mound and he started letting it go a little better. The ball didn’t come out of his hand like we’ve seen in his bullpens. Hopefully as he gets back into competition, we’ll see that.”
Kid sensation Trevor Bauer was the third Tribe pitcher to face the Brewers and he went two strong scoreless innings, giving up two hits, striking out two without walking a better. Daisuke Matsuzaka stayed with the club in Goodyear to face the Reds and like Bauer and Kazmir, pitched two innings without allowing a a run in the Tribe’s 3-0. He did it in 22 pitches, giving up just one walk. According to reports, Dice-K’s fastball was topping out at 89.
“After he hit the first batter, he regained his command right away,” said Sandy Alomar Jr., who managed the club in Goodyear while Francona was with the group in Maryvale. “He pitched very well from the stretch and he was able to throw some good breaking balls when he needed to.”
Tribe pitchers allowed just one hit in the game, a sixth inning single off of lefty reliever Rich Hill. Zach McAllister, who will be the team’s fourth starter, looked sharp in his two innings.
I know it is early, but with Bauer being as young as he is and the Indians not wanting to rush him, I think its going to be a three-horse race between Kazmir, Dice-K, and Carrasco. Carrasco still has minor league options, which doesn’t work in his favor if things between the three get close. Dice-K and Kazmir, should they impress, would undoubtedly get looks from other pitching starved teams. It should be interesting to see how things play out.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)