Francona juggles Tribe's batting order
CLEVELAND -- Terry Francona is certainly in tune with the modern notion that lineup alignments are a bit overrated, and he's careful not to treat this Indians club like, as he put it, "a fantasy team, bouncing guys around."
But really, something had to give here. And it gave on Sunday morning, when Francona dropped Nick Swisher from his customary No. 2 spot to No. 6 and Carlos Santana from cleanup to No. 7 for the series finale against the A's.
"We want to have a lot of respect for where guys hit and why they're hitting where they're hitting," Francona said. "I think I got to a point where, maybe, instead of being patient, I was being stubborn."
Francona doesn't know how long he'll keep those two key guys in lower-profile spots. But for one day, at least, he had Mike Aviles in the two-hole and Ryan Raburn batting fourth.
With Yan Gomes and Asdrubal Cabrera both given a Sunday breather, Raburn, who filled the designated-hitter slot, was given a rare opportunity against a right-handed starter (Jesse Chavez), in addition to taking on the cleanup role. That was primarily about maintaining a left-right balance so that the A's, who have three relievers in their bullpen, would not have a matchup advantage late.
Obviously, though, the moves with Santana and Swisher were the most eye-catching, and their early offensive issues have been glaring, too. Swisher entered Sunday with a .203/.303/.323 slash line. His .246 batting average on balls in play was an indication that he had hit into his share of bad luck (or good shifts). But the bottom line was nonetheless unfulfilling.
"When you're on the other side, you hate him because he's dirty, grinds out at-bats, and that's what made him the type of player that we wanted," Francona said. "He's trying to get back to that. It's not as easy as it sometimes may appear or seems."
Santana's struggles have been even more vexing, because the Indians thought removing him from everyday catching duties would only augment his offense. Instead, he entered Sunday saddled with a .156 average and .293 slugging percentage. The biggest issue has been a line-drive rate of 11.2 percent that drastically paled in comparison to his 2013 rate (21.8).
He said he understood the move.
"I don't feel pressure," Santana said. "Right now, this is a bad moment for me. I'll keep playing hard and see what happens."
While the moves didn't pay off in Cleveland's 13-3 loss to Oakland on Sunday, Francona hopes the dividends pay off soon. He doesn't view them as punishment so much as the fulfillment of his obligation to put the team in the best position to generate runs.
"This is not a lineup that is going to be in place for the rest of the year," Francona said. "But the hope is that it can help, maybe, jump-start us a little bit and make it a little easier for the guys who are struggling a little bit. When they get going, they're going to be guys who really help us. In the meantime, we've got to piece it together a little bit better."