July 31, 2014

The Weekend That Was in Wahooland

Scott KazmirThe 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)

  • mgbode

    I hope Dice-K has a HUGE spring training but we are smart enough to trade him to a pitching starved team. I also hope that Kazmir’s comeback is for real. Awfully early though.

    For Bauer and Carrasco, they will both be on innings limits this season. Makes sense to start them in the minors or to have Carrasco come up early, then Bauer take over later while limiting their innings in AAA starts.

  • Kildawg

    I agree with this, as Carrasco should build strength in Columbus and Bauer continues developing with the least amount of pressure as possible. Kazmir would be the best fit in this rotation as he offers a different look than any pitcher in the Opening Day rotation in at least three years (cough, Lefty, cough). If Raburn keeps impressing, he should stick around as well being a valuable bench option especially vs LHP. As for Zeke Carrera, there are teams starving for a CF (Texas, New York) and we can get some real value for him.

  • Steve

    If Matsuzaka pitches well enough to make a major league roster, it will almost certainly be ours. No one is as SP-starved as us (well, maybe Minnesota) and a lot that Matsuzaka will have to do to prove he is a ML starter will only be privy to the Indians’ coaching staff.

  • REEPJP

    For entirely greedy reasons, I’m hoping Dice-K or Kazmir locks up #5. Hoping to check out Bauer and CarCar down here in Columbus at the beginning of the season.

  • mgbode

    i think you missed the point here. even if he pitches well, then there is a good chance it is fool’s gold and I am hoping that we’d be able to parlay that item to a different team. and, you never know who is going to be pitching starved until the injuries start piling up.

  • mgbode

    i think you missed the point here. even if he pitches well, then there is a good chance it is fool’s gold and I am hoping that we’d be able to parlay that item to a different team. and, you never know who is going to be pitching starved until the injuries start piling up.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I think Brantley is going to have a big season. To think just a few years ago alot of people didn’t think much of him when he was included in the deal with Milwaukee. Turns out he’s the best player included in the trade.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I think Brantley is going to have a big season. To think just a few years ago alot of people didn’t think much of him when he was included in the deal with Milwaukee. Turns out he’s the best player included in the trade.

  • http://twitter.com/GreatestHurley Jason Hurley

    The encouraging thing for Kazmir is if his velocity is really back and he can keep it there. If so, he could be a huge pickup.

  • Harv 21

    agree, and I’ve liked him from the start. He’s been progressing steadily and with so many base stealers now in front of him he’s bound to see lots more fastballs. If he can keep his swing disciplined and hit balls in the gaps he could have 85 RBIs without too many homers.

  • Steve

    I get the point, but I’m saying that if Matsuzaka shows even anything positive, we need it, and badly. What do you think he can bring back in return that is more valuable to us than even simply eating up innings?

  • mgbode

    I think that Dice-K will be worse than any option we have as a SP. So, if he gets us a batting cage and a bucket of balls, then I’d ship him off :)

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I wonder if we’re going to see a jump from him this year in his power numbers. Not a big one, but maybe he jumps up to 12-15 home runs as he sees better pitches with Santana behind him, not to mention a natural progression in power.

  • mgbode

    i’d be happy with a batting cage and a bucket of balls. i am not a Dice-K proponent and think even we have better options.

  • Harv 21

    wouldn’t be surprised, but I don’t think Santana scares any pitching staff so far, not when he’s imitating Russell Branyan for weeks/months at a time. Maybe in retrospect Acta putting him in the middle of the lineup was not so great for his hitting development. When he came up reminded me a little of Baerga with his hand-eye and good contact ability. Not so much recently, maybe because he thinks he’s supposed to be the power guy.

  • mgbode

    that’s the big question with him. is he the guy pre-allstar break or post allstar break?

    if he can do for a full season what he did in the 2nd half of last year then we will all be extremely happy with him. 2012 post allstar break numbers:

    BA/OBP/SLG/OPS
    .281/.389/.498/.887

    AB/HR = 20ABs per HR
    AB/XB = 9ABs per Xtra Base Hit

    45BB:41SO

  • nj0

    I think people knocked Brantley because he’s kind of a tweener – not defensively good enough to be an every day CF, but not enough power to be the traditional corner guy.

    I think his age also hurt him. People just don’t seem to realize how young he is. He’s actually a month younger than Kipnis, yet you rarely here Brantley getting a pass because of his age.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    That’s a good thought. Has he always swung as hard as he has in the last couple years? Was he a big swinger in the minors? If so, then I think you could probably say that even though he had great contact ability, he was always a power prospect. His swing has never looked like the swing of a contact hitter to me.