November 20, 2014

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Indians Notes: Nick Swisher easing his way into start of camp

Cleveland Indians first baseman Nick Swisher throws during spring training baseball practice in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Cleveland Indians first baseman Nick Swisher throws during spring training baseball practice in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Manager Terry Francona does not believe the Indians are taking an unusual approach by easing first baseman Nick Swisher into spring training camp.

Swisher, who battled injuries in an unproductive debut season in Cleveland last year, did not play in the first two exhibition games and isn’t expected to be in the lineup again today.

“By easing in, we mean not playing for maybe four or five days. I don’t know that he’s easing in. He’s getting a lot of work done,” Francona said. “He’s hitting, lifting, doing agility, taking ground balls, just trying to delay the game situations. I think he felt like he got ready a little too quick last year.”

Though it was a successful season last year for the Indians, who qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2007, it was a rough one for Swisher, who signed a four-year, $56 million contract prior to last season. He produced one of the worst batting averages of his nine-year career, hitting just .246 with 22 home runs and a paltry 63 RBIs in 145 games.

A shoulder injury contributed mightily to the down year for Swisher, but living up to the contract as an Ohio-born, former Ohio State star weighed on him, according to Francona.

“I think he tried to live up to not just (the contract) but he knew he was our big signing and he wanted to be a big part of us winning,” Francona said, “sometimes to the point where you try too hard or you try to do too much. That’s human nature.”

First time at third
Carlos Santana’s first exhibition start at third base went without incident.

Santana, who is trying to win the job from Lonnie Chisenhall, played two innings and saw little action. He was involved in one play, taking a one-hop relay throw and tagging out the runner.

Santana will be under the microscope for much of the exhibition season, as the Indians determine whether he can handle the position change.

“He’ll be fine,” Francona said. “This is a kid that’s hit cleanup for us and caught. He’ll be fine. He’s trying to prove something, whether it’s to himself or us or both, but he’s trying and he’s been very consistent with his approach.”

The pitch
Indians ace Justin Masterson made his exhibition debut, pitching a scoreless first inning. Masterson retired three straight — two on strikeouts — after the leadoff batter reached third on a single and two-base error on shortstop Mike Aviles.

Though he avoided arbitration to sign a one-year, $9.7265 million contract, Masterson and the Indians are still talking long-term contract this spring. He told reporters after pitching Thursday that he believed he would remain in Cleveland beyond this year.

Fellow rotation mate Corey Kluber also made his exhibition debut, allowing two runs on two hits in the second inning.

Rebounding reliever?
Francona has been pleased with the early effort of former elite setup man Vinnie Pestano, who is trying to regain his spot in the bullpen.

“He’s doing well,” Francona said. “His last three bullpens have been very encouraging, and not just from Vinnie, but from guys that are watching him.”

Pestano is scheduled to make his exhibition debut Monday.

Let’s talk
Indians staff members and MLB officials met for the second straight day, focusing on the new home plate collision rule, after discussing expanded instant replay Wednesday.

Catchers can’t block the entire plate without the risk of getting run over. Baserunners must slide if the plate isn’t blocked or will have the run taken away.

“I think the best thing we can do is explain the rule to (the catchers) and then let them play the game,” said Francona. “We’ll concern ourselves with the rules part of it. We explained to them that they have to let the runner have a piece of the plate, if you don’t you might get some contact. You always need to be prepared for contact anyway, ’cause if somebody breaks the rule but you break a leg, that doesn’t help.

“It’s really pretty similar to what it’s always been, but you need to give a lane to the guy that scores so he slides.”

Francona said he would instruct his baserunners to slide under any circumstance.

“I think over the course of the year we’ll be better off doing that,” he said. “It takes out all the ambiguity. Nobody can say we ran someone over, we’re not going to lose a run late and I think we’ll be better off for it.”

Roundin’ third

  • The Indians have scheduled a “B” game Tuesday at Goodyear Ballpark against the Angels.
  • Former Indians infielder Jay Bell (1986-88) is the bench coach for the Reds.
  • Today, 3:05 p.m. at Goodyear Ballpark, WMMS 100.7-FM. Zach McAllister (first start) vs. Homer Bailey (first start).

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