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Francona easing Zimmer into lefty matchups

MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona weighs multiple factors when decided whether to sit rookie Bradley Zimmer against a left-handed starter. Francona will consider the style of the lefty, while also examining the opposing team's bullpen, trying to determine if Zimmer could be a weapon off the bench.

On Saturday, Francona admitted he may have over-thought the situation one night earlier.

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CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona weighs multiple factors when decided whether to sit rookie Bradley Zimmer against a left-handed starter. Francona will consider the style of the lefty, while also examining the opposing team's bullpen, trying to determine if Zimmer could be a weapon off the bench.

On Saturday, Francona admitted he may have over-thought the situation one night earlier.

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"I should've played him last night. I was kicking myself," said Francona, referring to having Zimmer on the bench during Friday's 5-0 loss to the Twins. "It's not an exact science. We're trying to develop this kid. You try to maybe give him what you think he can handle, because I think as he grows, he's going to grow into handling a lot.

"But, I don't think it's bad to kind of work into it, because this league can be really tough on people. You feel a responsibility to kind of try to help guys along. I know he wants to play every day, and there's going to be a day when he does."

Last season, Francona limited Tyler Naquin's exposure to lefty pitching and the outfielder thrived offensively, finishing third in voting for the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Lonnie Chisenhall has been used mostly against righty pitching and has made a career out of that role. The manager has adopted a similar approach early on with the 24-year-old Zimmer.

Throughout his Minor League career, Zimmer was used to being in the lineup on a daily basis. He hit .273 with a .467 slugging percentage against righties (946 at-bats), compared to .264 with a .411 slugging against lefties (299 at-bats). That is not a dramatic difference, but Zimmer has experienced more inconsistency vs. southpaws. Last year, while undergoing a mechanical overhaul with his swing, for example, Zimmer hit .179 with a .250 slugging off lefties.

Video: LAD@CLE: Zimmer hustles for an RBI infield single

"I didn't even really notice that I wasn't hitting lefties very well at that time," Zimmer said, "until our hitting coach sat me down and said, 'Hey, you're doing God awful against lefties.' He was right. I think with the adjustments I made in my swing, certain things I did allow me to now see lefties better. I've had much better at-bats and success off lefties this year."

Between Triple-A Columbus and Cleveland this season, Zimmer was hitting .302 with a .472 slugging percentage in 53 at-bats off lefties, entering Saturday.

Zimmer said he has no issues with how Francona has handled his playing time.

"At first, it was definitely new," Zimmer said. "I mean, it still is. I'm sort of just used to showing up, and I usually don't even look in the lineup. I usually just know that I'm playing no matter what. So, it's been an adjustment, but I think it's good for various reasons. One being, if I'm not starting, I stay locked in and am able to come off the bench."

"I've faced a handful of lefties here, so I've definitely gotten my opportunities," he added later. "It's just kind of baby steps, and then we'll see what the future holds."

Indians sign four more picks

Cleveland signed 2017 Draft picks outfielder Johnathan Rodriguez (Round 3), lefty Kirk McCarty (Round 7), lefty Matthew Turner (Round 11) and right-hander Nick Gallagher (Round 16) on Saturday. The Indians have now signed 21 of their draftees, including six of the team's first 10 picks.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Bradley Zimmer