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Indians' utility, bullpen races narrow

Flaherty elects free agency; Clippard re-signs after release
@MandyBell02
March 21, 2019

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians have a history of breaking camp with at least one non-roster invitee and Indians manager Terry Francona has said to expect it to happen again this year. But it won't be a handful of veterans they brought in on Minor League deals. On Wednesday, the

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians have a history of breaking camp with at least one non-roster invitee and Indians manager Terry Francona has said to expect it to happen again this year. But it won't be a handful of veterans they brought in on Minor League deals.

On Wednesday, the Indians announced they informed Alex Wilson, Ryan Flaherty and Justin Grimm that they will not be making the Opening Day roster to give them time to check with their agents and explore other options. A.J. Cole was also reassigned to Minor League camp.

"All were as professional as you could be," Francona said. "Unbelievably professional. This is when it gets hard -- it gets hard for everybody. But when you're days away from breaking, it's hard for guys and we respect that. But we also really respected the way they handled it and almost makes it harder."

Francona said he hoped to be able to keep them all in the organization, but Flaherty informed the club shortly after that he would be opting out of his Minor League contract to become a free agent. The 32-year-old was one of the top candidates in the utility race, which is now down to Eric Stamets and Max Moroff.

"I mean, Stamets is probably our best defender," Francona said Tuesday. "Moroff is a switch-hitter that can move around. Well, they can all move around."

Wilson and Grimm both had solid spring showings, posting a 2.16 ERA (eight appearances) and 1.04 ERA (nine appearances), respectively. Brad Hand will be the closer and Dan Otero, Oliver Perez and Adam Cimber seem to be locks in the Tribe's bullpen. This leaves the remaining three or four spots to Jon Edwards, Tyler Olson, Neil Ramirez and Nick Wittgren. Nick Goody will likely need some time to be built up. Adam Plutko could be another option, as he has also said he's willing to take the ball in any situation.

No matter who makes the Opening Day roster, Francona said he emphasizes to the guys who are cut that the team will not use the same seven or eight relievers all year.

"And that's not to diss our relievers," Francona said. "You don't keep seven or eight guys the whole year. It's not possible. Just try to remind, especially the veteran guys, like 'Hey, it's a kick in the stomach. We know that, but don't let that derail you from what you're doing because that doesn't help anybody.'"

Clippard stays put

While the Indians work to keep Wilson and Grimm, they were able to lock down Tyler Clippard, who was released and re-signed to a new Minor League deal Wednesday. Clippard was a front-runner non-roster invitee to make the Opening Day roster, but suffered a pectoral strain that has him shut down for the next three to four weeks.

"I know there are some mechanics that had to be done," Francona said. "But the idea is to allow him to get back to being himself, give a proper timeframe but also be fair to him."

Kipnis, Stamets pulled for precautionary reasons

After grounding out in his first at-bat in the top of the first inning of the Indians' 13-0 split-squad loss to the Giants in Scottsdale, Jason Kipnis was pulled from the game due to experiencing tightness in his right calf. It's the same injury that scratched him from last Thursday's lineup and sidelined him for four games.

"He just got here, though," Francona said after the Tribe's 4-2 win against the Angels in Goodyear. "He drove back, so he's just now -- like, five minutes ago, he got here. We'll get an update. They're looking at him now."

In Goodyear, Stamets was also removed from the game vs. the Angels with left hip tightness.

"I think he's OK. It was more precautionary," Francona said. "It's like a hip flexor, but he's already been examined. We were going to play him tomorrow. I don't think we'll do that now. But I don't think it's anything more than that."

Luplow goes deep

Jordan Luplow's bat appears to be coming alive in his last few games. In the bottom of the first inning at Goodyear Ballpark, Luplow blasted a two-run homer to give the Indians an early 2-0 lead.

"Good time to do that," Francona said. "That's why you can't look at Spring Training batting averages. It just doesn't tell the story."

Up next

Cleveland right-hander Mike Clevinger will start against Texas righty Drew Smyly on Thursday at Surprise Stadium. First pitch is slated for 4:05 p.m. ET.

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.