December 19, 2014

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Indians notes: Manager Terry Francona not worried about closer John Axford’s implosions

Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, left, takes relief pitcher John Axford out of the game against the Minnesota Twins in the 10th inning Monday in Cleveland. Axford gave up a solo home run to the Twins' Eduardo Escobar and the Indians lost 1-0. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, left, takes relief pitcher John Axford out of the game against the Minnesota Twins in the 10th inning Monday in Cleveland. Axford gave up a solo home run to the Twins’ Eduardo Escobar and the Indians lost 1-0. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

CLEVELAND — Manager Terry Francona is not concerned with the recent implosions of closer John Axford.

Axford, who converted ninet of his first ten save opportunities and entered Tuesday as the American Leader in the category (nine saves), allowed game-winning home runs in consecutive outings Sunday and Monday.

“It’s easy when you’re watching a game when you’re a fan or media (to say), ‘Why’d you go to him?’” Francona said. “He’s our closer. Up until a couple days ago, he had reeled off nine in a row. (Actually, five.) Then he had a rough night, then he comes back (Monday) night and leaves a pitch up, and it gets hit out.

“When you start running from guys, as opposed to getting them back to where they need to be, that can be unsettling for a team.”

Walks were an issue for Axford at times over the first month of the season. He walked three of the 10 batters he faced in his last two outings.

“I think his stuff is good,” Francona said. “There’s too many walks right now, which I think is stating the obvious. He hasn’t given up a ton of hits. When he works ahead, his breaking ball comes into play more.”

Moving day

Because the Indians don’t feel center fielder Michael Bourn (left hamstring tightness) is headed to the disabled list and they needed to clear a spot on the roster for Tuesday’s starter Josh Tomlin, backup catcher George Kottaras was designated for assignment.

Kottaras, recalled Saturday from Triple-A Columbus, hit two home runs Sunday in a loss to the White Sox.

“We end up having to designate George Kottaras, which we didn’t want to do,” Francona said of Kottaras, who is the only Cleveland player to ever hit homers in his first two at-bats with the team. “It was a tough conversation. George is one of everybody’s favorites. We just couldn’t figure out a way. With Ax (Axford) and Cody (Allen) pitching three, four nights in a row, we had to do it.”

The Indians could have placed Bourn on the DL to preserve Kottaras’ roster spot.

“It doesn’t sound like he needs it,” Francona said of Bourn, who missed his third game Tuesday. “We don’t want to just force a guy to the DL. It’s only been three days and he’s probably two away. You maybe lose him for 10 days and didn’t need to. At the same time, we don’t want to do something wrong for him.

“I think he thinks he’s at max, a couple days away. He’s going to run the bases (today) and we’ll go from there. He’s obviously very close.”

Patience, please

Despite struggles from a number of his key offensive weapons, Francona has avoided making changes to his lineup and batting order.

“I looked at the lineup, and the more I looked at it, I kept coming back to the fact that if I made drastic changes, it’s not helping anybody,” he said. “We’ve got Swish, we got Carlos (Santana), until they get hot, it’s harder for us …  Cabby, those are our guys. Sometimes you just have to be patient, even when it’s hard to be patient.”

Swisher entered Tuesday batting just .197 and riding an 0-for-11 skid, while Cabrera was at .211 and Santana was at .150.

“Lonnie Baseball”

Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhell has been taking ground balls at first base and has also begun to practice in the outfield, as the Indians look for more ways to employ one of their few offensive producers.

“When you have a left-handed hitter who can do multiple things, it can only enhance your career,” Francona said of Chisenhall, who entered Tuesday batting .368 over 20 games. “There’s no down-side.”

Minor details

Francona made a point of saying the Indians were not calling up Triple-A Columbus first baseman/DH Jesus Aguilar, who was leading the Clippers with a .337 batting average, seven homers and 17 RBIs in 29 games through Monday.

A Cleveland beat reporter Tweeted on Sunday that Aguilar would be joining the Indians “very soon.”

“The reports are really good (on Aguilar),” Francona said. “We’re not going to put Swish on the bench. You don’t ever know what’s going to happen health-wise. If he ends up being a possibility here, we’d be thrilled, because that means he’s doing really well. At some point, you never know.”

Roundin’ third

  • The Indians’ pitching staff entered Tuesday as the American League leader with 287 strikeouts.
  • The Indians entered Tuesday 2-5 in one-run games. They posted a 30-17 (.638) record in the department last year, which ranked second in the majors to the Yankees (30-16).
  • Tonight, 7:05, STO; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM. Salazar (1-3, 5.93) vs. Nolasco (2-2, 6.67).

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

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