CLEVELAND — Indians manager Terry Francona is hoping Nick Swisher’s grand slam Friday in an 8-1 series opening win over the Mets is the spark that finally ignites his scuffling first baseman.
“I think that will go a long way to helping him relax a little bit,” Francona said of Swisher’s eighth career grand slam off reliever Tim Byrdak that put the game away for Cleveland in the eighth inning. “He’s been trying so hard. That should really help him.”
It’s been a season of struggles — offensively and defensively — for the Indians’ marquee fee-agent acquisition, who signed a four-year, $56 million contract this winter and entered Saturday batting just .239 with 16 home runs and 50 RBIs in 124 games.
A number of factors have potentially played a part in the slide for Swisher, a career .256 hitter who batted .272 with 24 homers and 93 RBIs in 148 games for the Yankees last year.
He’s played through a left shoulder injury that surfaced early in the season and will likely require surgery, and The Ohio State University product is under pressure to validate the most lucrative free-agent contract in Indians history during his debut season in Cleveland.
“I think it’s his personality,” Francona said. “He wants to do so well so bad. It’s a good quality, just sometimes guys grind too hard. I think (the grand slam) will go a long way to helping him.”
Michael Brantley missed his second straight game after leaving the team Friday for Florida to be with his wife, who is expectant with the couple’s first child. Francona said he spoke to Brantley on Saturday afternoon and the baby had yet to be born.
“No baby yet, but progressing,” Francona said before Saturday’s game.
Right-hander Justin Masterson (left oblique strain) has yet to begin any baseball activities and won’t until sometime next week.
“We need to settle that thing down and try to see what we can do after that,” Francona said.
Masterson is expected to miss at least one start and could be done for the season.
With Yan Gomes getting increased playing time at catcher, while Carlos Santana plays first base and serves as the designated hitter, Francona was asked if it was a sign of things to come.
“Gomer’s done so well that when we’re playing him, it makes sense to catch him,” Francona said of Gomes, who entered Saturday batting .300 with nine homers and 33 RBIs in 68 games and has proven to be an above-average defensive catcher. “Santana has the ability to DH and play first. Gomes probably does, too, but since he hasn’t caught as much, it just seems to make sense.
“Right now, fortunately, we seem to have two everyday catchers. That’s pretty fortunate. We’ll just try to use that to our advantage.”
The Indians will finally get a look at right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka on the big league level, but he won’t be pitching for them.
Matsuzaka, who signed a minor league contract with Cleveland this offseason but never appeared in a game for the Indians, will start for the Mets in the series finale today.
Matsuzaka, 32, went 5-8 with a 3.92 ERA in 19 starts this year for Triple-A Columbus before being released and signed by the Mets. He has allowed 15 runs on 19 hits and seven walks in three starts (12 1/3 innings) for New York.
The Indians’ 3.29 ERA over 45 games since the All-Star break was the second-lowest in the American League to KC’s 3.05 ERA through Friday. … The eight runs Cleveland scored Friday was its largest output since scoring nine in a 9-8 win over Minnesota on Aug. 14. … Chad Ogea, who pitched for the Indians from 1994-98, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Ogea won two games for Cleveland in the 1997 World Series and was the likely MVP had the Indians beat the Marlins. … Elyria’s Little League East softball team that finished sixth in the Little League World Series was recognized prior to the game. … Today, 1:05, STO/WTAM 1100-AM/WMMS 100.7-FM. Salazar (1-2, 3.00) vs. Matsuzaka (0-3, 10.95).
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.