July 30, 2014

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Indians: Lineup still in limbo as exhibition season opens

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Though the lineup the Indians employed against the Reds in the exhibition opener at Goodyear Ballpark on Friday resembled one that could  be used during the regular season, manager Terry Francona cautioned reporters and players that few decisions have been made regarding his batting order.

Center fielder Michael Bourn hit leadoff, followed by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, second baseman Jason Kipnis, first baseman Nick Swisher, left fielder Michael Brantley, catcher Carlos Santana, designated hitter Mark Reynolds, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and right fielder Drew Stubbs.

“That lineup is insignificant. It means nothing,” Francona told reporters prior to the exhibition opener, with third base coach Brad Mills relaying as much to the players. “Obviously, (Michael) Bourn hitting leadoff, that’s kind of an easy one. Other than that, there was not a lot of thinking involved with that.

“Those things have a way of working themselves out. It just never really makes sense to me to do it to quick.”

Francona did say he wants to do his best to separate the right-handed and left-handed hitters, especially Brantley and Kipnis.

“They’re both good hitters,” he said. “I’m not doing them any favors by hitting them back-to-back.”

The Indians are expected to possess plenty of speed this season, with a wealth of leadoff-type hitters in the lineup, including the outfield trio of Bourn, Brantley and Stubbs. Where to put them all in the order could be difficult decision.

“It’s not a problem. It’s a good thing,” Francona said. “It’s not just base stealing, it’s base running. We want to push. We want to make teams stop us on the bases. That’s something we’ve talked about consistently this spring.”

 

Extras, extras

Francona was asked to list the candidates to win the fourth outfield spot on the roster.

“Basically if you have a uniform on, that’s the way they should look at it,” he said. “There’s some openings there. It will be interesting.”

The first-year manager mentioned Tim Fedroff, Ryan Raburn and Ben Francisco as candidates. But Francona said that with utility man Mike Aviles able to play the outfield, the performance of Jason Giambi this spring could impact the decision.

If Giambi earns a spot on the opening-day roster, Cleveland would most likely not to fill a roster spot with an extra outfielder.

 

Rally cry

The Indians’ “What if?” slogan from 2012 has been replaced by “This is a Tribe Town.” The slogan will appear in television, radio, newspapers and on-line.

Francona, who spent the early stages of his childhood watching his father Tito play for the Indians, is on board.

“I spent the first six years of my life here, going to the stadium with my dad, cheering for the Tribe, cheering for Cleveland,” Francona said in a video to promote the slogan. “This is a town that doesn’t give up. Being a Cleveland sports fan takes resilience. The passion is real. The fans are real. Cleveland is a Tribe town.”

 

Rule interpretation

Francona’s daily session with reporters was delayed by a meeting with Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre, umpire supervisor Steve Palermo and MLB’s senior vice president of standards and on-field operations Joe Garagiola Jr.

According to Francona, the major topic of discussion was the tweaking of Major League Baseball’s balk rule. Pitchers will no longer be able to fake a pickoff throw to third base and then throw to first. If the pitcher steps off the rubber toward third base, he must throw there.

“I’m OK with it,” Francona said of the change. “It was very difficult for umpires. It was open to interpretation, so I understand why they want to take it out.”

Testing, testing

Right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka will make his exhibition debut Sunday. The candidate for one of two spots in the rotation, has been throwing bullpen sessions in preparation.

“He’s just like everybody, getting his feet under him,” said Francona, who managed the 32-year-old Matsuzaka in Boston from 2007-11. “We told him we wouldn’t be evaluating — just build arm strength, get comfortable on the mound, things like that.

“He looks the same. The delivery looks fine.”

Matsuzaka has made only 19 appearances the past two seasons, undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011.

 

Roundin’ third

Indians single-game tickets go on sale Monday. … The Indians will play split-squad games against the Reds in Goodyear and the Brewers in Maryvale on Sunday. Francona will manage against the Brewers, while bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. manages against the Reds. …  The top two starters in Cleveland’s rotation, Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, went a combined 20-32 with a 5.15 ERA last year. … Today, 3:05 p.m. vs. Reds at Goodyear Ballpark. Brett Myers (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Alfredo Simon (0-0, 0.00). WTAM 1100-AM (live)/no television.

 

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