Cleveland’s National League dates in Cincinnati this weekend mean no designated hitter. On Friday, that meant no Franmil Reyes in the lineup, though manager Terry Francona does plan to use Reyes in right field at least once in the three-game series.
“It’s not perfect,” Francona said. “There’s no way it can be, because we don’t have the DH, and we’re built for that.”
This could be the last season an AL skipper like Francona has to handle such an inconvenience. MLB and the MLB Players’ Association could agree to permanently bring back the universal DH -- which was utilized in 2020 as part of the coronavirus health and safety protocols -- as part of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement.
But an interesting compromise between AL and NL rules was brought to the forefront earlier this week, when MLB announced that the independent Atlantic League will be experimenting with the “Double-Hook” DH rule. Every team will have the DH spot in the lineup, but when a team removes its starting pitcher, it reverts to NL rules -- either a pinch-hitter must be used in the DH slot, or the relief pitcher must be sent to the plate.
Theo Epstein, the former Red Sox and Cubs executive now working with MLB as a consultant regarding on-field matters, had a meeting with MLB managers during Spring Training to explain this experiment and others. Francona said he is curious to see how it plays out in a lower-stakes environment.
“The way [Epstein] explained it was that, a lot of times, it’s the unintended consequences you have to worry about,” Francona said. “I’m OK with them experimenting as long as they always do it in the Minor Leagues first, because you don’t want it to interfere in a Major League game or a schedule.”
A consequence of the “Double-Hook” rule is that teams whose starters get roughed up early would be further compromised in their attempt to come back by losing the DH when the starter gets yanked. MLB will analyze the results in the Atlantic League to determine if the rule is worth experimenting with further in the Minors. But there is pretty wide sentiment in the industry that the universal DH is likely to become reality in the big leagues before long.
Until then, Francona and other AL managers in NL parks must continue to adjust their lineups.
Some poor luck baked into poor results
It’s no secret that the Indians' offense is struggling this season, most notably when it was no-hit by Carlos Rodón on Wednesday night.
There is, however, some poor luck baked into the early results. Going into Friday’s game, the Tribe’s batting average was .198 -- second-worst in the Majors ahead of only the Cubs (.163). But their expected batting average (xBA) -- the Statcast metric that measures the likelihood that a batted ball will become a hit -- was a bit better, at .237. That negative differential between the actual results and the expected results was second-highest in MLB, behind only the Brewers (.204 average, .244 xBA).
Francona was asked if he pays attention to the advanced data in assessing his offense.
“I try to look at everything,” he said. “But I know what I see, and I trust my eyes. The one thing you try to talk to guys about is, when they do hit the ball hard and they don’t get rewarded for it and their batting average isn’t very good, that’s when guys have a tendency to try to do more. I try to pat them on the back and remind them, ‘Hey, that was a really good swing.’ You can’t do more. If you do continue to hit the ball hard, you will get your hits.”
Tyler Naquin's injury-plagued Cleveland career came to an end when the club non-tendered him in December. A litany of issues involving his lower back, hamstring, hip, calf, knee and toe had limited Naquin to just 209 games played in the previous four seasons, erasing all the progress and promise Naquin had shown in an exciting rookie year in 2016.
Naquin found a new home with the Reds, for whom he’s flourished in the early going. Naquin wasn’t in the Reds’ starting lineup Friday, but he had a .265/.359/.735 slash line through 39 plate appearances.
“Everyone that’s been around him loves him,” Francona said. “I don’t want him to beat us, but when we leave here I will never root against him. He’s a favorite of a lot of people here.”