December 21, 2014

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Indians notes: Terry Francona prefers two lefties in bullpen

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Manager Terry Francona would prefer that his bullpen looks like it did last year. That means the Indians’ relief corps will likely employ two left-handers.

“I’d rather have a good pitcher other than just a lefty (to have one), but having the second lefty helps you not beat up the first lefty,” Francona said. “When you have one left-hander, it’s easy to say, ‘Hey, just pitch him when it’s important.’ You don’t know when it’s going to be important.”

What wound up being important for Cleveland last year was the arrival of left-hander Marc Rzepczynski, who was acquired at the trading deadline for minor league infielder Juan Herrera.

The Indians experimented with a number of lefties, including Nick Hagadone and Scott Barnes, to complement veteran lefty Rich Hill, who began the season as Cleveland’s top situational lefty but struggled for much of the year.

Then Rzepczysnki joined the fold.

“He gave us a whole different look,” Francona said. “With Rich, he was in and out. There were times when he was effective and there were times when it was a struggle.

“When Zep got there, all of a sudden once you get to the sixth inning, if you had a big lefty coming up, you know you could go to him and I think the opponents’ batting average was in the .100s against him. He was really successful.”

Rzepczysnki, 28, was about as effective as can be once he joined the Indians. He allowed just two earned runs in 27 appearances, posting a 0.89 ERA, while hitters batted just .159 (11-for-69) — lefties hit .128 (5-for-39).

“He was actually pretty effective against anybody,” Francona said. “When he’s ahead (in the count), his ball moves all over the place. Sometimes it moves too much, ’cause there’s so much late sink to his ball. He’s got the breaking ball to go with it and he throws hard enough.

“I think the biggest thing was, for the most part, he commanded and worked ahead.”

With Hill gone, Rzepczynski has become the top lefty, while the Indians search for his partner among a pool of southpaws that includes Hagadone, Barnes and Josh Outman. A veteran of four-plus seasons in the majors, Outman appears to have an edge. He appeared in 61 games for Colorado last year, posting a 4.33 ERA.

 

The pitch

Right-hander Josh Tomlin, one of the five candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation, produced a scoreless exhibition debut Friday, working two innings in a 4-0 win over the Reds at Goodyear Ballpark. Tomlin allowed two hits and struck out two.

“I think he pretty much does what he does,” Francona said. “He stayed down in the zone, commanded his pitches and worked quick to the plate — kind of as advertised. I’m sure as the spring goes, he’ll get sharper, but I thought he was good.”

Of the No. 5 candidates four of them — Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Tomlin and Aaron Harang — all worked scoreless debuts, with Shaun Marcum yet to pitch.

“I hope it comes down to the end and we have a really hard decision, because that means guys did well, and that bodes well for us,” Francona said.

 

Save a spot

Longtime outfielder Jeff Francoeur is trying to win a bench job. Cleveland signed the lifetime .263 hitter to a minor league contract after he was released by the Giants in the offseason.

“He’s a respected veteran,” Francona said. “He keeps himself in great shape and he can throw with anybody. He’s a free swinger. He’s not going to be the high on-base guy. That’s not what we got him for.”

 

Bulking up

Francona has noticed a difference in mega prospect Francisco Lindor, who is at big league training camp for the second straight year.

“He’s a little bit bigger, stronger,” Francona said of the 20-year-old Puerto Rican. “I would say with the layoff from the back, I don’t think he has the explosiveness yet that he will.”

Lindor, Cleveland’s No. 1 draft choice (eighth overall) in 2011, is coming off a productive but injury-plagued season. He hit a combined .303 with two homers, 34 RBIs and 25 stolen bases in 104 games at Class A and Double-A Akron, but didn’t play past Aug. 14 due to a stress reaction in his lower back.

 

Roundin’ third

First baseman Nick Swisher was passing out T-shirts that read “Unfinished Business” on the front. He is scheduled to make his exhibition debut Sunday in Peoria, Ariz., against the Mariners.

Today, 3:05 p.m., at White Sox (Camelback Ranch, Glendale). Harang vs. John Danks.

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