It’s been a full year since Emmanuel Clase was able to be with the Indians. Just as Spring Training was put on hold due to the outbreak of COVID-19, Clase was informed that he had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and would need to miss the 2020 season.
“I think it was just a disappointment for not being able to be there with the team competing,” Clase said, through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “But I think in terms of progress of my development, I think it was the same. I kept working and I kept focusing on my things, and I think that’s the bottom line.”
Clase was tested in December 2019. He received the results in March when he was recovering from a right shoulder strain incurred during camp. He and his agent decided against appealing the suspension, given the uncertainty of the 2020 season, and now he’s ready to turn the page.
“We were so excited last spring,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “And then we all know what happened, and he had to pay the price and miss the year. He’s come into camp and seems like he’s in a much better spot, a lot more comfortable, even in his own skin, being with a new ballclub and everything. That’s a big arm. We are excited to watch him. And we need to remember, he basically missed the whole year. But I’d be lying if I said we weren’t excited.”
Clase stayed in Arizona for some time rehabbing the shoulder, and he reported back to Goodyear on Feb. 10 before camp got underway. Although he’s missed a year of competition, the 22-year-old does not think that his stuff has regressed in any way.
“I feel my stuff is just nasty,” Clase said. “Right now, it’s playing out really well out of the hand. I liked the feedback from the catchers as well.”
When asked what the fastest speed he’s ever thrown a pitch, Clase recalled a time in Double-A that the radar gun clocked him throwing 104 mph. Maybe he doesn’t hit that number after missing a year of game action, but if Clase’s cutter can effectively sit around 100 mph like it has in the past, he may give James Karinchak some competition at the back end of the bullpen at some point this season.
“I’m a closer,” said Clase, rated Cleveland's No. 21 prospect by MLB Pipeline. “For me that’s my goal to become the closer for the team and be able to compete. I think it’s a great group of guys, and I’m excited to keep doing my best and keep doing my work like I’ve been doing this Spring Training so far. Obviously, my role is a closer, and that’s what I’m going to compete for.”
The best shape of their lives
Every year there’s mention of the Spring Training cliché of who reported to camp in the best shape of his life. While none of Cleveland’s players have used that exact phrasing, there’s been plenty of talk about the players who put in tremendous work this offseason to lose weight and put themselves in a better position for 2021.
“When they show up like this, heck yeah we're excited,” Francona said.
Francona praised the work put in by his young roster over the past four months. However, in typical Tito fashion, he couldn’t help but go for the punchline.
“Not everybody's blessed to have a body like me,” Francona joked. “I get it. Some of those guys have to work at it.”
From scooter to golf cart
Although Francona is often seen on his scooter in downtown Cleveland, he’ll now temporarily be trading in his “hog” for a golf cart during Spring Training. Because he’s on crutches, the manager has turned to the golf cart to help him navigate the facility grounds. But on Sunday, there were photoshopped pictures taped to his ride, and now he’s on the hunt to find the culprit.
“My guess is [replay coordinator] Mike Barnett, because he’s the only one of that whole crew who knows how to use the printer,” Francona said. “When you give it out, I guess you have to take it. The one picture of the 'Little Red Corvette,' that wasn’t a terribly flattering picture. That looked like me in my junior year of high school.”
Plan for spring opener
Francona said the Indians will have a three-inning intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday in preparation for their spring opener. On Sunday, Feb. 28, the Tribe and the Reds have decided to play an eight-inning game at Goodyear Ballpark. Francona left it up to Cincinnati skipper David Bell whether to have his team bat in the ninth inning -- regardless of the score -- because Cleveland has enough pitching to staff a full game. The Tribe was still waiting to hear if the game will extend into the ninth.