Versatile Freeman joins Tribe; Stamets optioned

April 16th, 2019

SEATTLE -- The Indians’ stability at shortstop without Francisco Lindor has been shaky at best, so as the club awaits the return of the three-time All-Star from a left ankle injury, it made a roster move with the hope that it will create a boost in offensive production.

Cleveland on Tuesday made a swap of infielders ahead of its second game in a three-game series against the Mariners at T-Mobile Park, selecting the contract of from Triple-A Columbus and optioning to Columbus. Freeman went 1-for-3 with an RBI single in the seventh inning of the Indians' 4-2 win before he was pulled for a pinch runner. He was also credited with an error at shortstop in the fourth inning that allowed Ryon Healy to reach base.

Lindor homered in his third and final at-bat during the first game of his Minor League rehab assignment on Tuesday with Columbus in Louisville, Ky., lifting a moonshot to right field while batting left-handed. Lindor finished the night 2-for-3 with a groundout and a single, and he was pulled in the top of the sixth as part of his strength-building plan. He was not expected to play the full nine innings and he will likely need multiple games to accumulate enough plate appearances against live pitching before being activated off the injured list.

A 10-year journeyman of the Minor Leagues, Freeman has gotten a taste of the Majors across 58 games with four teams over the past three seasons. He joined Cleveland's lineup in Seattle, starting at shortstop and batting ninth.

The 31-year-old was off to a productive start to the 2019 season in the Minors, with a 1.008 OPS over nine games, boosted by three homers in 24 at-bats. Freeman has consistently hit Triple-A pitching well, with a .305/.372/.418 career slash line over 517 games.

Freeman joined the Tribe on a Minor League deal in November and went to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee because of his defensive versatility, though his chances of breaking camp with the club were hindered by a right knee injury that required a lubricant injection during Spring Training. Freeman showed enough production before the injury, however, for the club to keep him. With Columbus, he’s played second base, shortstop and third, and he also has logged 191 games in the Minors in the outfield.

“That's kind of something that's been pinned with me as my career has gone on is my versatility,” Freeman said. “I think that's where I can provide some value and certainly continue to do that.”

An 11th-round Draft pick by the D-backs in 2010, Freeman entered Tuesday as a career .134/.211/.207 hitter over 91 Major League plate appearances -- including just one in 2018, with the Cubs -- in 57 games.

“Sometimes with guys that don't have a lot of at-bats under their belt, experience, sometimes all they need is a chance,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Sometimes you look at guys and you see why they hit Triple-A and why they maybe don't hit Major League pitching. I think with Mike, he's got a nice, short, compact swing that, in my opinion, should give him a chance against Major League pitching."

Stamets, who had been the fill-in for Lindor, showed plus defense, but his offensive struggles were glaring -- he hit 2-for-41 with 24 strikeouts and five walks over 15 games. An Ohio native who grew up an Indians fan, Stamets made his Major League debut on Opening Day.

“We were trying to wait until we got Frankie back. I think it was getting to the point where you could tell it was kind of eating [Stamets] up,” Francona said. “He can go to Triple-A and work on some things offensively, where it's not as glaring as it is here.”

Worth noting

Right-hander Tyler Clippard will join Columbus for a rehab assignment after throwing a final bullpen session in Arizona with no setbacks. The 34-year-old signed a Minor League deal with Cleveland on Feb. 23, but right pectoral tightness in early March halted his chances of breaking camp.