Notes: Mercado mashing; Santana's ovation

April 7th, 2021

CLEVELAND -- The Indians’ alternate training site squad has officially begun its exhibition game schedule. And with two games in the books, outfielder already has two homers on his stats sheet.

Triple-A Columbus matched up against Triple-A Indianapolis on Monday, and Mercado went 1-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs. The two teams went head-to-head again on Tuesday, and Mercado went 2-for-4 with a double, a homer and another trio of RBIs.

Mercado was projected to be the Tribe’s Opening Day center fielder heading into Spring Training. Although he struggled mightily in 2020, Mercado was confident that his work in the offseason would help him start ‘21 on a better note. But when the offensive production wasn’t translating in Cactus League play, Cleveland opted to send him to the alternate training site in order for him to get on a hitting program to get back to the player he was in ‘19.

So far, so good.

Mercado will need some time to get more consistent at-bats, but the immediate results would have to be reassuring to the club. Along with Mercado’s homers, Harold Ramirez went 2-for-4 with a homer over the first two contests. Bradley Zimmer went 1-for-4 and Daniel Johnson was 0-for-7.

Having a handful of exhibition matchups while the Triple-A season is in a one-month delay makes the alternate training site a much different experience than it was last year, when players were limited to intrasquad scrimmages.

“Not only that, but they know in a little less than a month they’re going to be playing their schedule,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “So that really gives those guys something to look forward to. I agree, that was tough duty last year. The fact that games are looming is also helpful.”

Standing ovation for Santana
Carlos Santana received a warm welcome back to Progressive Field when he was announced during the pregame home opener festivities, but that didn’t compare to the roaring ovation he earned when he walked up to the plate in an opposing uniform for the first time in his career.

“It doesn't take away our affection for him because he's in a different uniform,” Francona said. “We certainly don't want him to beat us. That would never be the case. I thought it was really cool the way the fans reacted to him when he came up to hit. You can tell it meant a lot to Carlos. Again, all the things that we ever said about him we still feel that way. That will never change.”

Tribe starts vaccination process
The first half of those in the Tier 1 and Tier 2 (players, coaches and any staff in direct contact with the team) groups who are opting to receive the COVID-19 vaccination received their first shots on Tuesday. The team wanted to split this group in half just to be cautious of any lingering side effects. The second group will receive its vaccination during Thursday’s off-day.

Clubs were informed just before Opening Day that MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to relax certain health and safety protocols contained in the 2021 Operations Manual for fully vaccinated Tier 1 Individuals and for clubs where 85 percent of their Tier 1 Individuals are fully vaccinated. As part of that memo, players and staff were again strongly encouraged to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines when eligible.

“I mean, that's everybody's personal choice,” Francona said. “You can't make somebody do that. That wouldn't be right. Like I said, I hope we get to a certain amount though, where we are able as a team to relax some of the restrictions. That would be helpful. And our people do a good job of explaining things to the players so they can make an informed decision.”