SEATTLE – With just a few hours before the first pitch of the 2023 season, the Guardians officially set their Opening Day roster.
Cleveland had to tie up a few loose ends over the last couple of days before putting its 26 players in ink. First, the club was trying to see if it could find any external options that would be a better fit than carrying a third catcher in Meibrys Viloria. Then, starter Triston McKenzie sustained a right teres major muscle strain that will keep him down for at least two weeks, forcing the club to reshuffle its rotation and bullpen.
Now, the decisions are made. Here’s a breakdown of the Guardians’ Opening Day roster:
Catcher (3): Mike Zunino, Cam Gallagher, Meibrys Viloria
Zunino proved this spring that he’s healthy after having surgery last year for thoracic outlet syndrome, but the Guardians still want to be careful with his workload. Although he’s slated to take the bulk of the innings behind the plate, Cleveland decided to carry a third catcher to provide some flexibility on days that Gallagher is catching. Gallagher isn’t known for his bat, so if the Guardians pinch-hit for him, the club will have Viloria to replace him, rather than putting Zunino into the game on a day off. The Guardians probably won’t carry three catchers too long, but the team seemed confident this was the best way to open the year.
First base (2): Josh Bell, Josh Naylor
We won’t list a DH in this breakdown simply because whoever isn’t playing first base will likely serve as the designated hitter. Naylor’s defense appears to be more sound than Bell’s at first base, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Naylor get more reps in the field.
Second base (1): Andrés Giménez
As we all expected.
Shortstop (1): Amed Rosario
The team is sticking to Rosario at shortstop, as it has the last two seasons.
Third base (1): José Ramírez
Nothing new here.
Outfield (5): Steven Kwan, Myles Straw, Oscar Gonzalez, Will Brennan
The Guardians could’ve carried two extra outfielders, but they opted to bring just Brennan. If the club had two players filling similar needs, it felt as though it would take away from the development of each of them. Instead, Brennan will be Cleveland’s fourth outfielder after hitting the ball well all spring. Kwan and Straw will certainly be back in their spots, but after a rocky few weeks in Arizona for Gonzalez, he may need to prove that he belongs in the lineup on a consistent basis.
Bench/utility (1): Gabriel Arias
Like the outfielders, the Guardians could’ve carried another infielder to add depth to their bench. Instead, the team awarded just Arias a roster spot and decided to take three catchers to Seattle. The Guardians had a brief scare last week when Arias was hit in the right hand (that underwent surgery last year) by a pitch, but after he was removed from the game and took a day off, he was cleared to get back into action.
Starting pitchers (5): Shane Bieber, Cal Quantrill, Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, Hunter Gaddis
In what was a big blow for the Guardians just days before the season got underway. McKenzie was removed from his final Spring Training start with right arm tightness. The next day, an MRI revealed a teres major muscle strain, which could keep him on the sidelines for up to eight weeks. Cleveland had a backup starting option already in the bullpen in Gaddis, who had been stretched out to 70 pitches in camp but has just two big league starts on his résumé.
Relief pitchers (8): Emmanuel Clase, James Karinchak, Nick Sandlin, Trevor Stephan, Eli Morgan, Enyel De Los Santos, Tim Herrin, Xzavion Curry
There were no questions about Clase, Karinchak, Sandlin, Stephan, Morgan or De Los Santos making the roster, assuming they all stayed healthy this spring. Another wrench got thrown into Cleveland’s plans when lefty Sam Hentges was sidelined with shoulder inflammation. Until he’s ready to return, Herrin can fill the southpaw need out of the ‘pen. And after Gaddis was moved into the rotation, the club called Curry, who had an impressive spring campaign, to fill the multi-inning reliever role.