Francona picked right-hander Zach McAllister to be the club’s No. 4 starter, leaving just one opening for Cleveland to fill before the end of spring training.
McAllister came to camp as the favorite, and the 25-year-old has not disappointed during workouts and exhibition outings. McAllister, who went 6-8 in 22 starts for the Indians last season, will be in Cleveland’s rotation behind Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Brett Myers.
The Indians are still looking for a No. 5 starter, with Scott Kazmir, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco all in the mix.
David Huff, who had been competing for the fifth spot, will try for a bullpen role, Francona said.
“When we come to a decision, we felt we should tell them instead of making them wait,” Francona said Sunday. “We want them to settle in and get ready for the season.”
The Indians acquired McAllister from the New York Yankees in July 2010 as the player to be named in a July 2010 trade for outfielder Austin Kearns. This will be the first time McAllister will open the season in the majors.
“We like everything,” Francona said when asked about McAllister’s performance this spring. “His presence, leadership qualities and big arm are the things we like. You can give him a set of challenges and he starts off to tackle them. He will be a leader here in the not-to-distant future.”
McAllister wasn’t sure what to think when Francona asked to meet with him.
“I didn’t know what to expect but this was a good trip to the principal’s office,” McAllister said. “They told me they want me to go out and feel like we’re going to win every game I pitch. I’m excited but I am going to approach the rest of the spring like I have been. It has been successful for me. I’m going to keep the same mindset.”
Huff understood he got caught up in a numbers game.
“It was bound to happen,” Huff said. “There were nine guys including me. Unless I was pitching lights out and haven’t given up a run all spring. I’m going out and doing what I do, throw strikes. It is one of those things. It’s what they need. They were honest about it and kept me in the loop.”
On Saturday, Huff, who is out of options, gave up two runs and four hits in three innings in a 9-2 win over the Chicago Cubs. He walked none and struck out three.
The left-hander spent time in Cleveland bullpen’s last season but made four starts and went 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA.
“I enjoyed it,” said the 28-year-old, who won a team-high 11 games in 23 starts for the Indians in 2009. “There are a good group of guys in the bullpen.”
Francona said it’s possible the Indians will open the season with 13 pitchers. They will play 13 straight games to start April without a day off.