Luplow looks healthy with HR in exhibition

July 21st, 2020

CLEVELAND -- If there was any concern that would not feel game-ready by Opening Day, the Indians' outfielder eliminated it with one swing of the bat.

In his first game in the outfield this month, Luplow crushed a solo homer 397 feet into the left-field bleachers, as the Tribe took their second straight exhibition victory over the Pirates, 11-7, at Progressive Field on Monday night. The Indians will travel back to Pittsburgh on Wednesday to finish the three-game exhibition series.

“Yeah, I’d say so,” Luplow said with a slight chuckle when asked whether the homer proved he’s feeling better. “We put in a lot of work the last few days, and to see it show up on the field like that is huge, a little confidence booster for me.”

Luplow has missed the majority of Summer Camp due to back pain that flared up just after he reported to Cleveland. He originally tried to play through it in the team’s second intrasquad scrimmage by DHing, but he did not bounce back well the next day. The Indians sent Luplow for an MRI last week that did not reveal any major injuries. After taking the rest of the week off, he got three at-bats against Adam Plutko in a simulated game at Progressive Field on Saturday and took a few more swings off Shane Bieber in a sim game on Sunday.

“It felt good [to be out in the field,]” Luplow said. “It’s a little strange being out there under the lights. It’s been a few days since I’ve been out there taking some fly balls. But it’s just like riding a bike. Just get out there with the boys, and you get used to it.”

In his only other plate appearance of the evening, Luplow hit a similar moonshot to left field, but it came up just a few feet short of squeaking over the wall. Nevertheless, he proved to his manager that his back is not a problem.

“I was asking him before the game. I said, 'Make sure you're OK. Don't be doing anything silly,'” Indians skipper Terry Francona said. “After he came back, he said, 'I'm fine,' which is pretty obvious. That was a nice swing, and he almost got one the next time up.”

Not only was the long ball a good sign that Luplow is inching closer to getting back to full strength, but the blast came off a right-hander, Richard Rodríguez. Luplow became known for his ability to mash left-handed pitching last year, hitting .320 with a 1.181 OPS, 14 homers and 30 RBIs in 155 plate appearances against southpaws. Conversely, he batted just .216 with a .573 OPS, one home run and eight RBIs in 106 plate appearances against righties. At the end of the season, Luplow was adamant that he wanted to prove he can be more than a platoon guy moving forward in his career.

“You know, at first it was a little bothersome that I was only playing against lefties, just being selfish,” Luplow said last September. “But I was able to fit into that role because of these guys in this locker room. They helped me out a lot. I found my stride with that. Now, the next step is hopefully working towards that everyday job.”

The Indians have nine outfielders remaining at their main camp and could carry as many as seven for the regular season. With Delino DeShields most likely out of contention as he continues to build himself up after his bout with COVID-19, the Tribe may only have to cut one from their current outfield group that consists of Luplow, Tyler Naquin, Domingo Santana, Franmil Reyes, Oscar Mercado, Bradley Zimmer, Greg Allen and Jake Bauers.

Despite missing so much time, Luplow appears to be in decent enough shape to break camp with the Tribe. He’s expected to make the trip to Pittsburgh on Wednesday and get a few more innings in the outfield before the regular season gets underway.

“I just think we thought we needed to [handle] it correctly,” Francona said. “Give the trainers some time to do their work with him and let that thing calm down. I think we’re pleased with where we’re at. I think he is.”