As each day goes by, we get closer and closer to Opening day. The Indians open their season in Toronto three weeks from tomorrow. There are still open spots in the bullpen, on the bench, and that pesky fifth starter job. Each week in Spring brings a new hot name and a new guy struggling. This past weekend saw the start of the World Baseball Classic and a couple of names moving closer to solidifying their role on the team.
The biggest news of the weekend was Zach McAllister being named the fourth starter. This shouldn’t be a shock to anyone. The Zach Attack was at times the Indians best starting pitcher in 2012. One thing you can say is that he was clearly the most consistent. Sad but true – his 4.24 ERA ranked the best of all of the Tribe starters. This Spring, the big right-hander has been phenomenal. In his last two outings, McAllister hasn’t allowed a run in seven innings, striking out seven without walking anyone.
Said Francona yesterday: “There’s nothing we don’t like. I’m being serious. He has a presence and he’s got leadership qualities.”
McAllister is the kind of big power arm the Indians have coveted for the last few years. Regardless of how things work out, getting Z Mac from the Yankees for Austin Kearns was a complete heist. Now the Yankees would LOVE him in their rotation and Kearns is a distant memory. McAllister has been very pleased with his Spring thus far.
“I’ve been able to use everything the way that I would like, maybe pitch backwards at times, which I know I have to do to be successful, not just rely on my fastball,” he said. “But I know that my fastball is my main pitch. I’m going to use that and I’m going to, for the most part, win and lose with that.”
But who will follow him in the rotation? Today actually will be a big day in that race. Scott Kazmir, who is the current leader in the clubhouse, starts against the Los Angeles Angels. Kazmir’s last outing was in a “B game” Wednesday morning – coming at his request – so he could work on his slider. He pitched three scoreless innings, striking out five, walking one, and gave up three hits. Francona has been raving about his work.
Following Kazmir will be Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K’s last appearance was against the World Champion San Francisco Giants where he didn’t allow a run in his three innings of work, despite giving up five hits. His velocity still isn’t where he would like it to be, but he still has time to show he belongs. Both Dice-K and Kazmir are essentially auditioning for every other team in the majors. They both have out clauses that can be exercised if they are not named to the 25-man roster by the end of March.
In the meantime, David Huff, another candidate for that fifth starter job, was officially moved to the bullpen. Huff is out of options and has been given plenty of time to establish himself as a Major League starter over the past three years. Now he has three weeks to prove himself as a reliever. That’s the thing about lefties – if you can make it as a decent enough reliever, you can stick in the big leagues for years. If the Indians do indeed choose to keep a long man, at least for the first couple of weeks, Huff could make the team. In normal years, teams are given an off day or two over the first two weeks of a season. But in 2013, the Tribe opens with 13 games in 13 days, and 22 games in the first 23 days. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see GM Chris Antonetti and manager Terry Francona decide to start the season with 13 pitchers.
One of those pitchers all of a sudden making a strong bid is lefty Rich Hill. The Indians added him to the 40-man roster today as he came to camp as a non-roster invitee on a minor league deal. Hill wouldn’t be put on the 40-man roster unless he was going to make the team.
If that does occur, that only leaves four bench spots for the position players – two of which are already locked in by backup catcher Lou Marson and utility man Mike Aviles. Ryan Raburn, who is hitting .478 (11-23) and can play second base and the outfield, looks like he is a favorite to take a roster spot as well. That would leave the last opening down to Francona favorite Jason Giambi, outfielder Ezequiel Carrera, catcher/IF Yan Gomes, and possibly Rule V draftee Chris McGuiness, who looks like a long shot.
Playing in Giambi’s favor – other than Francona’s deep affinity for him as a clubhouse leader – is the fact that the Indians are going to be starting three speedy center fielders in the outfield – Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn, and Drew Stubbs. With first baseman Nick Swisher’s ability to play right field and Raburn and Aviles’s versatility, Carrera’s value to the club is diminished. Giambi can be a DH and first left-handed pinch hitter. Ironically, last year, the Indians only backup CF option to start the season was the one and only Aaron Cunningham. Now they can go three deep. The Tribe would love to send Zeke to Columbus to start 2013, but he is out of options and I can’t see him sneaking through waivers.
McGuiness’s status is similar. Being a Rule V draft pick means he must make the 25-man roster or be offered back to the Texas Rangers. The 25-year old first baseman is struggling at the plate, coming up with just three hits in 25 at-bats.
McGuiness and Gomes received more at-bats over the past week because the World Baseball Classic has begun. Carlos Santana (Domincan Republic), Aviles (Puerto Rico), Asdrubal Cabrera (Venezuela), and Vinnie Pestano (USA) all left camp to join their respective countries. Gomes and Marson have been splitting the catching duties with the Tribe while Carlos is gone. Santana, Aviles, and Pestano all will continue on to the next round as their teams advanced. Asdrubal will be rejoining the Indians Tuesday as Venezuela shockingly didn’t make it out of their pool. Aviles homered in last night’s game against Santana’s Dominican team. Pestano pitched a scoreless inning of work in Saturday’s win over Italy.
But most importantly this week – According to tweets from the Tribe beat reporters in Goodyear this morning, the loose group in Francona’s clubhouse is filming a Harlem Shake video this morning. Francona will be apparently dressed up as a big baby. Here’s the scoop:
#Indians filming version of Harlem Shake. Tito dressed as baby, Swisher OSU FB player, Masterson: Grizzly Bear, Giambia: green body suit.