CLEVELAND — Times are changing for the Indians.
“It’s not the same,” first baseman Nick Swisher said of the national perception of Cleveland’s baseball team. “I can even go off when I came here when I was with other teams. It was always fun for me to come over here, but you always knew if you didn’t sweep, it was a bad road trip.
“I think for us, now, people are realizing that when you come up here to the Pro and the 216, we’re going to fight for it. Last year’s record speaks for itself. It wasn’t our goal to go out and have one great amazing season and fall off.”
“You can ask a lot of guys in this league, the Indians are a different team now,” veteran designated hitter Jason Giambi said. ‘“They’re not the team that’s just going to roll over. They’re going to put it on us if we’re not careful.’ We didn’t even play good ball in Oakland and we won two out of three, so this is definitely a different Indians ballclub, no doubt about it.”
Things aren’t only changing on the field. Though they entered the season with one of the lowest payrolls in the majors at $82.5 million, the Indians have shown a willingness to spend on key players.
Cleveland signed Jason Kipnis to a six-year, $52.5 million contract extension Friday after already reaching agreements on extensions for Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes since spring training began. Those deals came on the heels of two of the largest free-agent acquisitions in club history — Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn — last offseason.
The team has committed a combined $204 million to those five players.
“I do think that people are starting to realize that this team will spend money,” Swisher said. “I think that’s a great thing, not only for guys in the organization, but for free agents as well. This could be one of those places where a stud (starting pitcher) could come.
“With the moves that we’re making, they’re all the right moves. With everything that Chris (Antonetti) and (team president) Mark (Shapiro) and (owner) Mr. Dolan are doing, we have the utmost trust in them, because we know they’re going to do what’s best for this organization, and I think they’re putting their money where their mouth is. This front office is smart, man. These guys know what they’re doing. Hopefully, it’s the resurrection of this organization.”
“Hopefully that sends a message to everybody else that Cleveland, guys want to be here,” Giambi said. “Hopefully they’re building that same momentum they had in the past. When I first broke in the league (1996), this was the place. This was the place where everybody wanted to go. This is where you wanted to play when you wanted to go win a World Series. This was like being like the Yankees.”
“They’re trying to get back to that. Now you have a great, young core of players that they’re signing. That’s easier to build a team, because those kids are only going to get better and better and better every year.”
Manager Terry Francona has the benefit of guiding players that will be in the fold for years to come.
“I think it’s terrific. I’m thrilled for the players,” Francona said. “I think we’re trying to have a place, a team here where players enjoy playing the game right and through that comes a lot of wins and with that comes fans being proud of their team. That would be the formula.”
Danny Salazar, Friday’s starting pitcher, had no problem with the careful approach the Indians took with him this spring. Cleveland delayed Salazar’s debut and limited his innings count this exhibition season, and has actually been handling him with care since he underwent reconstructive elbow surgery at the end of 2010.
“They told me in the beginning, the program for me, and I agree with that,” said Salazar, who tossed a career-high 144 innings last year. “They know more than me. They have more experience. They know what is good for me. I’m healthy, strong. That’s all that matters. I’m ready for the season.”
At 24, Salazar is the youngest Cleveland pitcher to start the home opener since a 21-year-old Dennis Eckersley in 1976. He fell short of becoming the youngest Indians pitcher to record a win in the home opener since Bob Feller did it in 1939 at the age of 20.
Michael Bourn (left hamstring strain) was scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Columbus on Friday after the Clippers’ home opener was rained out Thursday. He was expected to play Friday and Saturday if weather permits.
“We reserve the right to use some judgment there,” Francona said of Bourn, who will most likely be activated from the disabled list sometime next week.
Giambi (rib fracture) has been hitting in the cages but the Indians haven’t announced a timetable for his return from the disabled list. He traveled with the team to Oakland and was announced during pregame festivities Friday.
The Indians got their first experience of MLB’s expanded replay in a variety of ways during their season-opening trip to Oakland. Cleveland had a pair of plays at the plate reviewed and a Mike Aviles stolen base attempt that was reversed in the Indians’ favor.
Francona called the new replay rules a work in progress.
“I do think the more comfortable we get with it the better we will handle it,” he said. “It’s in place to make the game better, so hopefully that’s what happens and things don’t get in the way along the way.”
“I love it,” Giambi said. “We have the technology, why not take advantage of it? I think it really helps out the umpires. They’ve always been put in that position where they can never win. I think it’s really helped the game out.”
- The Indians entered Friday with a 58-55 all-time record in home openers and a 10-10 mark in openers at Jacobs/Progressive Field.
- Former Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove threw out the ceremonial first pitch to his former player and current first base coach Sandy Alomar.
- A moment of silence was observed for former broadcaster Mike Hegan, who passed away on Christmas Day.