July 23, 2014

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Indians: New manager Terry Francona already inspiring confidence in team

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The exhibition opener always brings a measure of excitement, but Friday there was increased volume for the Indians and their fans during an 11-10 Cactus League victory over the Reds at Goodyear Ballpark.

It had everything to do with the new manager wearing the Chief Wahoo logo on his cap.
With a pair of World Series titles on his resume, Terry Francona has brought a different vibe to his first training camp with the Indians, and the players are welcoming the approach.

“He’s been there,” reliever Joe Smith said. “He’s won the rings. He’s been there with the high-paid players and guys with egos and he’s managed all of that.

“I think he’s going to fit in here perfectly. The feel we get from him is just excitement.”

That seems to be the consensus of Cleveland players that are getting their first taste of Francona after three seasons under Manny Acta, who was fired at the end of last year.

The feeling around those who have been in camp since the start is that there’s more excitement. Players are getting after it, rather than going through the motions, in preparation for the regular season.

Francona, 53, has noticed.

“I told them I was proud of them and I meant that,” he said prior to the victory over Cincinnati. “I would not tell them that if I didn’t feel that way. They have done everything we’ve asked them to do every single day and they’ve done it with a smile.

“It’s been a pleasure. I’m really proud of them.”

Outside of a sparkling resume, there appears to be one big difference between Francona and Acta: communication. After he was dismissed, Acta was criticized by Indians players for his failure to communicate. Most notably, closer Chris Perez said he rarely saw his former manager in the clubhouse.

That won’t be a problem with the hands-on Francona.

“He’s one of those guys where the communication level is off the charts,” first baseman Nick Swisher said. “He’s got such a positive attitude. We know we have the right leader in him.”
Swisher is familiar with Francona thanks to his playing days with the Yankees since Francona managed New York’s chief rival, the Red Sox, from 2004-11. But players such as Indians left fielder Michael Brantley are just getting to know him.

“He brings a ton of positive energy,” Brantley said. “He’s an unbelievable person. It’s just phenomenal to have such a vocal leader.”

Communication is the key, according to Francona.

“I just think it works better,” he said. “When they trust you, it just works better. I just like it. I enjoy walking in the clubhouse and seeing the guys in the morning. It’s fun. It’s where I’m more comfortable.”

Though the Indians have a long time before they play a regular-season game, there is already a comfort zone with their new manager. Rather than running out the same tired cliches prior to the start of a season, Cleveland players are talking about contending — and they are serious.

“We’re excited,” said starting pitcher Justin Masterson, who played for Francona in Boston before arriving in Cleveland via a trade for Victor Martinez during the 2009 season. “What happened to Manny Acta was unfortunate, but having a new guy come in, I don’t think you could have anything better than Terry Francona.

“He’s a professional, he knows what he’s doing. He loves his players. I’m one of the few guys that knows him well, but the majority of guys that I’ve talked to are just really excited and can’t wait to get things going.”

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

GAME RECAP

Indians 11, Reds 10

• RALLY CAPPED: Trailing by two runs and down to their last at-bat, the Indians scored three times, all on a one-out double from Mike McDade, a prospect acquired on waivers from the Blue Jays this offseason.

• HITS: First baseman Nick Swisher drove in Cleveland’s first exhibition run of the season with a single to right in the opening inning.

• Left fielder Michael Brantley had two doubles in two at-bats, one of them to drive in a run in the first inning.

• Reliever Vinnie Pestano worked a 1-2-3 third inning.

• Ryan Raburn and Lonnie Chisenhall hit home runs, Rayburn’s in his first at-bat of the spring in the seventh inning.

• MISSES: Cleveland starter Giovanni Soto was roughed up for five runs, failing to make it out of the first inning.

• Second baseman Jason Kipnis struck out twice in two at-bats.

• Right-hander Joe Martinez allowed five runs — two homers — over two innings.

• ATTENDANCE: 3,188 at Goodyear Ballpark

• COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN: With all three Cleveland outfielders playing together for the first time, growing pains were expected. They arrived early, with center fielder Michael Bourn and right fielder Drew Stubbs letting a fly ball drop between them for a two-run double in the opening inning.

• FAST START: The Indians and Reds combined to score eight times in the opening inning.

• FRIENDLY FIRE: There were three former Indians — Shin-Soo Choo, Brandon Phillips and Ryan Ludwick — in Cincinnati’s lineup.