Naquin relishes first week in bigs despite lone nod

April 11th, 2016

CHICAGO -- Tyler Naquin will never forget the feeling of seeing his name in the Indians' lineup for the first time. That moment arrived on Wednesday. There he was, penciled into the order as Cleveland's starting center fielder. That sheet of paper hanging on the clubhouse wall represented a lifelong dream realized.

Nearly a week later, Naquin is still waiting for his second start.

"I'll be ready," Naquin said. "I'll stay warm and be ready when my name's called. And when they call, I'll go out there and do my thing."

Circumstances have led to the unusual gap between starts for the rookie outfielder. After his torrid showing in Spring Training, the Indians rewarded Naquin with an Opening Day roster spot to be the primary center fielder against right-handed pitching. One week into the regular season, Cleveland has only faced one right-handed starting pitcher.

Naquin was out of the lineup on Tuesday against Red Sox lefty David Price, and he was on the bench again on Friday and Saturday, when the Tribe faced White Sox lefties John Danks and Chris Sale, respectively. Naquin was not in the planned lineup for Sunday, either, considering Chicago was going to start southpaw Jose Quintana before the game was postponed.

On Tuesday, Tampa Bay is throwing lefty Matt Moore. Wednesday? It will be Rays lefty Drew Smyly.

Over the weekend in Chicago, Indians manager Terry Francona was asked if it was good for the team to see so many left-handers out of the gate.

"Not for Naquin," Francona quipped.

The manager understands the excitement surrounding the arrival of the 24-year-old Naquin -- Cleveland's top pick in the 2012 Draft -- but Francona is also trying to field the best lineup. Naquin is not only getting his first taste of Major League pitching, but his track record in the Minors includes solid numbers against righties and subpar production against left-handers.

In his career in the Minors, Naquin hit .303 (947 at-bats) against right-handed pitching, compared to .229 (371 at-bats) against lefties. Francona wants to ease Naquin into the mix when it comes to facing Major League southpaws, so that could mean getting a late-inning at-bat here and there when a lefty reliever enters the game.

When Naquin does not start, the Tribe plans on using him as a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement late in games.

Until Naquin has more big league experience, Francona does not want to overexpose the young hitter.

"I think he understands," Francona said. "We're here to win, and his numbers are substantially different versus righties than they are against lefties. It's hard to sit like a Rajai Davis or somebody. That's part of getting to the big leagues. He'll be fine. He's a smart kid and he's always ready. I think he knows that he'll probably end up getting in most games."

Naquin said he has not felt the need to discuss the situation with Francona.

"The righty lineup makes 100-percent sense," Naquin said. "When my name's called, that's when I'm going to play and I'm going to play hard. We're good enough all the way through the lineup to take care of any team, I believe. I'll just be ready. We haven't talked about it just because I think Tito, he knows where I am with that. I trust him 100 percent."

That second start will come, followed by many more.

"I wish for his sake we weren't facing all these lefties," Francona said. "But he's a pretty solid kid. He's not panicking."