CLEVELAND — Times have changed for the Indians.
Rebuilding and developing players were the focus over Manny Acta’s first two years as manager, but this season is about winning, and Acta conveyed as much to his players during a team meeting Wednesday.
The Indians started fast and finished slow last season, jumping out to baseball’s best record over the first month of the season, but falling off pace to wind up second behind Detroit in the Central Division standings.
“I told them what happened last year is in the past,” said Acta, whose team finished 80-82. “We need to play good baseball and be consistent throughout the whole season. Make sure you work hard and prepare yourselves and hold your teammates accountable.”
“This group has been together for awhile now. They know what we expect and what the city expects. Go get em.”
The Indians are expected to field a quality pitching staff, but a lineup void of heavy hitters is a concern for the upstart club.
“It’s hard to say (what concerns me), because my job is to be concerned about everything,” General manager Chris Antonetti said. “We need to make sure all aspects of our team our working. If we fail in any aspect, its going to be tough for us to contend.”
The Indians are expected to get an offensive lift this year from right fielder Shin-Soo Choo and designated hitter Travis Hafner. Both have been injury-plagued but enter this season will clean bills of health.
“He’s the key of our offense, basically, and it hurt (last year),” Acta said of the loss of Choo, who appeared poised for a breakout year until off-field issues and injuries sidetracked him.
Acta said, if Hafner is healthy, he will produce.
“I’m not going to sit here and predict anything for him,” Acta said. “If he feels healthy and is able to get his at-bats, he showed last year that he’s still a productive hitter against right-handed pitching.
“It’s as good as he’s been in three years, health-wise. He’s Hafner, if he’s healthy, he’s going to be productive. If he isn’t, we’re going to miss him.”
Though the Indians searched all spring for a replacement, Shelley Duncan opened the season as the starter in left field. The career bench player will remain there as long as he produces.
“He has a good opportunity,” Acta said. “We know that he can provide some power and some leadership for us. This is going to be a new venue for him to see if he can do it on an every-day basis.”
Omar Vizquel drew his usual loud ovation from his former Cleveland fans when he was announced as a member of the Blue Jays prior to Opening Day.
Vizquel, who turns 45 later this month is in his 24th big league season and isn’t ready to say it is his last.
“It’s a hard question,” said Vizquel, who was a perennial Gold Glove award winner with Cleveland from 1994-04. “I didn’t know that I was going to be on the team this year. I took my chances. I took an invitation, not even a contract from the Blue Jays and decided to fight for a spot and here I am. I guess if I get an opportunity to get 100 hits and it puts me closer to the 3,000-hit club I might give it another shot. Who knows?
“I’m not even thinking of October yet or whenever the season’s over. I’m thinking about what I have to do in this series and what’s going to happen this week. I’m going to go week by week.”
Vizquel, who has 2,841 career hits, entered the game as an extra infielder for the Jays in the 12th inning and played first base in the 13th, also grounding out to third to end the inning.
Outfielder Thomas Neal cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Columbus.
Neal, who was acquired last year from the Giants for veteran infielder Orlando Cabrera, was removed from the 40-man roster and designated for assignment to clear room for one of the final two members of Cleveland’s 25-man roster — reliever Dan Wheeler and utility infielder Jose Lopez.
The 43,190 fans in attendance accounted for the largest Opening-Day crowd in Jacobs/Progressive Field history, topping the previous high of 42,830 set in 1999 against the Royals. The largest attendance total ever at the park — 43,999 — was also recorded in 1999 against the Angels. … Thursday marked the just the second time in history that the Blue Jays and Indians have met on Opening Day. … Today, 1:05, STO/WTAM 1100-AM/WEOL 930-AM. Jimenez (0-0, 0.00) vs. Morrow (0-0, 0.00).