GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Nick Swisher finally made his exhibition debut. He’s hoping it’s the start to a new and improved regular season.
At his own request, Swisher, who struggled offensively during his first season with the Indians last year, did not play in Cleveland’s opening three exhibition games.
He was back in the lineup at first base Sunday in a 6-3 victory over the Mariners at Goodyear Ballpark, playing five innings and going 0-for-3 with an RBI on a fielder’s choice grounder.
“It was just nice to be out there, ya know, just to be out there with the guys playing,” Swisher said. “We’re super early in spring training, but just to be able to get out there and get a few hacks off. It felt good.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Swisher said of his exhibition-game delay. “I didn’t really think about it. I just said, ‘Hey, man, let’s give myself a week to get into spring training and then let’s start playing some games.’ I don’t know, man. You guys are looking way too into it, man. Go to some other clubs, see how they do it.”
Few could blame Swisher for changing his spring training approach. The 33-year-old switch-hitter is coming off one of the worst offensive seasons of his nine-year career, batting .246 with 22 home runs and 63 RBIs in 145 games.
The down year came in Swisher’s first season after landing the biggest free-agent contract in franchise history — four years, $48 million.
“I really kind of recommitted myself to the weight room,” Swisher said of his offseason regiment. “I put on some extra muscle this year. Tito’s (manager Terry Francona) saying I’m going to be at first base on a regular basis, so if I’m going to be a first baseman, I might as well look like one.”
Swisher dealt with a shoulder injury shortly into last season that contributed to his low numbers. Trying to live up to a lucrative contract as an Ohio-born former Ohio State star, didn’t help, either.
“Last year I was really nervous,” Swisher said of his spring training experience. “I was really uptight and wanted to make sure everything would go great. But this year, walking in, it’s like, ‘oh, man, I’m home.”‘
Even with key players such as Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera joining Swisher in the offensive struggles department, the Indians were able to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2007. They got hot over the final two weeks to secure the American League’s top wild-card spot, finishing a game behind Detroit in the Central Division standings.
“We knew going into the month of September that we had a shot,” Swisher said. “I think that’s when our leadership really kind of took over. Anytime you have a guy like Terry Francona taking over and leading the troops in the right direction, it’s amazing. But I think it just goes to show that if you can get everybody in the group moving in the same direction, bro, the sky’s the limit.”
Cleveland’s postseason trip was a short one. The Indians lost 4-0 to Tampa Bay in a one-game playoff, and Swisher took it hard.
“I was down,” he said. “We worked so hard to get to that day and then we came in, man, and we didn’t do nothin’. That was kind of like that Cinderella story. You wanted to go all the way.”
Even with all that went wrong during his debut season in Cleveland, there were still plenty of lasting memories and reason for optimism in the future as far as Swisher is concerned.
“It was so great, man, just with everything from the free agency process, to coming over,” he said. “My daughter was born last year ... Tribe goes back to the playoffs.
“We’re getting this organization back to where it belongs and hopefully last year was just the tip of the iceberg to what this team can accomplish.”