Red-hot Luplow earns playing time vs. RHPs

April 23rd, 2021

CLEVELAND -- For everyone who has been wondering if has done enough to prove that he can earn more at-bats against right-handed pitching, the answer is yes.

Luplow was penciled into the leadoff spot against a right-hander for the first time this season in Thursday’s 6-3 series-opening loss to the Yankees, who sent Domingo Germán to the mound at Progressive Field. Luplow started eight of Cleveland's first 16 games, but all of those were against left-handed starters.

Luplow has made it clear over the past few seasons that he has no problem mashing against southpaws, which is why it made sense that Cleveland wanted him at the top of the order to assure he would get as many plate appearances against lefties as possible. But as the Indians started to leave Luplow in against right-handers later in games, he’s been starting to prove that he can be more than a platoon player.

Now, Cleveland manager Terry Francona must figure out the appropriate balance of mixing and matching, while also giving Luplow the playing time he deserves.

“If somebody’s trying to get hot, I don’t want to be the cooler,” Francona said. “At the same time, I don’t want guys sitting very long, because that doesn’t help anybody be productive.”

Luplow last started against a right-hander on Sept. 27, 2020, and he made 11 of his 24 starts last season against righties. Although he may not have seen the results at the plate that he would have liked, the Indians have seen enough of him over the past two seasons to know that his role can continue to evolve.

“One of the biggest things was the hitting guys ... kept saying, 'I know this guy can do it, I know this guy can do it,’” Francona said. “And we have to keep track, because he's gotten banged up when we've played him too much. So we need to keep an eye on that, too. But right now, he feels good, and he's sure swinging the bat well.”

Entering Thursday, Luplow was hitting .267/.405/.800 with five home runs and 11 RBIs in 12 games. He went 0-for-4 with a walk in the series opener.

Alternate training site reports
The Triple-A season is just around the corner, as Columbus’ Opening Day is scheduled for May 4. So over the past month, those players have been spending their time at the Indians’ alternate training site, similar to last year. But this time, they’ve been playing exhibition games against other Triple-A teams and have had more detailed reports sent to the big league staff. In those reports have been updates on Oscar Mercado and Bradley Zimmer.

Both Mercado and Zimmer started the year at the alternate training site after struggling to find consistency at the plate during Spring Training. In 2020, Mercado hit .128 with a .348 OPS in 36 games, and the Indians were hoping that after he gets extra work, he’ll return to his '19 form, when he hit 15 homers and had a .761 OPS in 115 games.

“I would say mixed,” Francona said of the reports on Mercado. “You'd like everybody to get fixed overnight, but I don't know if that's always the reality of it. With a Zim or an Oscar, when we get them back, we'd like to keep them back. And you'd like them to have a base of some place to go to when things aren't perfect. And that's what they're working on now.”

Happy Birthday, Tito
It’s been a long year for Francona. He spent the early parts of 2020 having several surgeries to help fix the stomach problems that had been troubling him since the end of the ’19 season. Last July, he took time away from the team to address his health concerns and was later admitted into the intensive care unit with blood clots last August. Just when he seemed to be getting better, he learned he had a staph infection in his left big toe in January. So the skipper’s 62nd birthday on Thursday may mean a little more to him than the rest have.

“I’m probably more successful at times than others, but I’m trying to enjoy every day,” Francona said. “When we’re winning, I usually [allow myself to appreciate being back with the team more]. When we’re losing, I usually don’t. That may not change.”

And the only other thing that will never change about Francona is his humor, as he ended Thursday’s pregame press conference by saying: “How many people do you think are throwing their tickets away today that bet on the under on my birthday?”