Indians will prep for ALDS with intrasquad tilt

Francona doesn't want four-day layoff before facing Astros

September 28th, 2018
Cleveland Indians' Jason Kipnis, center, celebrates in the dugout after he scored during the sixth inning of the team's baseball game against the Chicago White Sox in Chicago on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)Matt Marton/AP

KANSAS CITY -- Indians manager Terry Francona does not believe momentum for the American League Division Series is created in the final games of the regular season. Francona is a firm believer that it can be created during the four off-days prior to the postseason.

That is why the club has planned an intrasquad game for 3 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Progressive Field, where the Tribe will practice for three days before traveling to Houston for the ALDS (Game 1 is Friday, Oct. 5). Cleveland's regulars will square off against the reserves, and while there is risk involved in holding such a game, Francona feels it will be a critical part of his club's preparation.

2018 postseason schedule

Francona was asked if he had any trepidation over having players face each other in a game setting.

"I do," Francona said. "But, I have more about four days off. It's just, that bothers me. I don't think you put your best foot forward playing in a game [after four days down], because the speed of the game is so drastically different, even right now [in the regular season]. And I don't want that to affect us. I think it's something we need to do."

Francona suggested earlier this week that the game might be open to the public, but that did not prove feasible after the Indians explored the concept. There is a concert taking place at Quicken Loans Arena on Tuesday night, complicating the traffic and parking situation around Progressive Field. Assembling staffing (ballpark employees, police, etc.) was also problematic on short notice.

Even without fans in the seats, Francona hopes to take some steps to simulate a game environment.

Francona said he and pitching coach Carl Willis have not yet mapped out how many innings the Indians will play in the intrasquad tilt. First, they need to get through this weekend's games against the Royals. When the regular season is over on Sunday, Francona and Willis will have a better gauge on which pitchers need innings during the scrimmage to prepare for the ALDS.

Francona noted the planning for the Astros has already started, too. The manager and his coaching staff had a lengthy conference call with the team's front office on Friday to go over some scouting reports. That process will continue with meetings on Monday and Tuesday. By Thursday, when the Indians will have a workout at Minute Maid Park, information and plans will have been filtered down to the players.

The Indians are also still in the midst of ironing out the details for their ALDS roster.

"We've tried to weigh everything," Francona said. "Like, OK, 'What looks like our best team?' And then, 'If this went wrong?' Because the last thing you want to do is have something go wrong and have it derail your chance to win. So, you kind of have to have a Plan B, but you don't want to just plan for so many things to go wrong that you don't put your best team out there, either."

Worth noting

• Utility man (hit in the head with a pitch on Wednesday) has been in MLB's concussion protocol and continues to make progress. Francona said the hope is that Gonzalez -- the Tribe's top backup option at shortstop -- will be cleared to take part in Tuesday's intrasquad game.

"The good news is he's doing well," Francona said. "We've just got to let him heal, but he looks kind of bright eyed and clear eyed and everything, so it's obvious that it wasn't one where he's just down for a week and you can't have a light on. He's doing OK."

• The Indians entered Friday's action with a Major League-leading 132 stolen bases and were the first team to have four players with at least 20 steals in the same year since the 2011 Royals. Francona said the threat of the stolen base is important, but he continues to stress other baserunning elements such as going first-to-third.

"I don't think it's just stolen bases," said Francona, whose team led MLB with 15.2 base runs above average, per Fangraphs, entering Friday. "One, it's the fact that you can steal, so they have to defend it. But then, it's going first to third. That's the biggest thing, for me, is going first to third. I think that creates momentum in your offense."

, , Brad Hand and are virtual locks for the Tribe's ALDS bullpen. Rookie Shane Bieber will join them, if he does not work his way into the rotation plans. If Cleveland goes with an 11-man staff, that leaves two openings with Dan Otero, , Josh Tomlin, and as the leading candidates.

"The last bullpen spot," Francona said. "That's a tougher one. We'll wait on that [decision]."