September 21, 2014

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Indians: Tribe opens Tuesday with optimism abound

CLEVELAND — A new era opens Tuesday in Toronto.

It includes a marquee manager and a host of big-name offseason additions that has bred optimism where the Indians are concerned for the first time in years.

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“There’s a lot of high hopes, which is what we’ve had in the past, but I think there’s a little more clout behind the high hopes we have (this year),” said Justin Masterson, who will make his second straight Opening Day start for Cleveland against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, last year’s National League Cy Young award winner. “I’m excited. It was really fun last year to be able to get that Opening-Day nod, and it’s even more special this year, just with all the changes that have taken place, bringing in (manager Terry Francona) and all the countless guys that have been brought in.

“There’s just really an opportunity this year to do something really special, and I’m more than happy to be able to lead that charge.”

A year removed from baseball (at least, officially) and in his first season as Indians manager, Francona, a two-time world champion, has inherited a much-improved team that looks little like the product Cleveland has manufactured in recent years.

Thanks to a spendy offseason rarely seen during the budget-conscious Dolan regime, the Indians were able to acquire free agents Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds and Brett Myers, while adding a host of others via trades and minor-league signings.

Offensively, it appears Cleveland, which is also optimistic about the potential production of two-time all-star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, second baseman Jason Kipnis, left fielder Michael Brantley and catcher Carlos Santana, will be able to hold its own in the high-scoring American League.

“It’s a little different than any club I’ve ever been around,” said Francona, whose team’s fate appears to rest on the shoulders of a questionable rotation that includes Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Myers, Zach McAllister and Scott Kazmir. “We have a lot of speed, which we intend to use, and we also have the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark.”

“We’re not going to be great all the time,” said Swisher, a former Ohio resident and Ohio State star, and the biggest of the names joining the Indians this winter. “But if we go out there and lose, man, we’re going to go out there and give it everything we got. We feel we have a great team, and it’s time to go out there and prove it.”

Swisher’s declaration will be tested early, with Cleveland facing a Toronto team that also made its share of offseason moves to bolster a club many are picking to contend in the talent-laden AL East.

After their three-game series against the Jays, the Indians travel to Tampa Bay for three games with the Rays before returning to Progressive Field for a four-game home-opening series, April 8-11, against the Yankees. A three-game home series with Central Division rival Chicago follows that.

It’s a tough stretch to start the season, but the Indians will enter it healthy and optimistic after what Francona called “a great” training camp.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen when the season starts, but I feel like we’re prepared,” Francona said. “We don’t know how good we’re going to be, but I’m excited to see how much better we can get.”

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