GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians baseball will officially return on Saturday, as the Tribe plays the Reds in their Cactus League opener. Although there may be an itch to finally see how his team matches up against another club, Indians manager Terry Francona will not rush some of his players into these early games.
”You know, there’s usually a pretty good pace to Spring Training,” Francona said. “It seems quick this year, maybe because we haven’t been on the field a whole lot. … You want to have a representative team out there like you’re supposed to, but also have some guys wait another day just to give us another day of practice.”
The Tribe have had to endure some uncharacteristic weather this spring, working around three days of rain since pitchers and catchers arrived on Feb. 12. Because of this, the team has had to do more cage work and had a few more indoor meetings than it would’ve liked.
As he eases some guys into the early spring games, Francona has plenty of position battles to keep in the back of his mind. Will Roberto Perez earn the starting job behind the plate? Who will start in the corner-outfield spots? Will it be Jake Bauers or Carlos Santana at first base on Opening Day? Which arms will make up the bullpen?
All these questions will be answered by the end of camp, but Francona knows he has some time before he needs to start weighing his options to allow guys to get into their grooves. For the first few weeks, Francona wants to the team to focus on more of the fundamentals of the game.
”We talked a little bit about it this morning,” Francona said. “We know they’re not going to be in mid-season form. They’re not supposed to be. But there’s a way to play the game. You may not take a good swing, you may not pitch the way you want, but you can run the bases right, you can back up bases, as a defender you can be where you’re supposed to be and we can start working on good habits during the game. And then as we progress into spring, their swings and the way they throw the ball, that’ll improve.”
Preparing for Clippard
Because Tyler Clippard has yet to arrive to Indians’ camp, it may take a few days until he is worked into a game, but Francona said Clippard will work closely with pitching coach Carl Willis to come up with a plan.
”He’s thrown, by his own count, five bullpens, and he’s doing pretty well. Carl and the pitching guys will gauge where he’s at with his help,” Francona said. “You walk that fine line of trying to get a really good look at somebody without putting them in a position where they can’t show what they can do, so you just try to communicate, get feedback and make good decisions. You want to put the player in the position where they can show what they can do. That’s the goal.
”With [Alex] Wilson and Clippard, they aren’t coming off injuries, and they’re veteran guys. So at some point, you look and see if they’re the same guy that they’ve been, and that doesn’t have to be in February."
Indians in Naquin’s corner
After bouncing back and forth between the Majors and Minors and battling through injuries the past two seasons, Tyler Naquin is a top contender to start in the Indians outfield this season, and Francona is not hiding his support.
“At times, it’s been hard for him, and I know he hasn’t always understood,” Francona said. “Not that he hasn’t been a good kid, I’m not saying that, but he kind of burst onto the scene that first half and just raked. And then things weren’t as good. But, you know, if you’re sitting in his shoes it’s like, ‘Man, I struggled and they sent me down.’ We understood that. And then there were some injuries to boot.”
"That’s why I said the other day, I think he’s in a position right now where physically he feels really good and from a team standpoint, we’re rooting for [him]. I don’t think it’s fair to just hand somebody a job sometimes, but we’re definitely rooting for him to show that he can handle it.”