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Diaz faces battle for Opening Day roster

Francona thinks 3B may be better served getting regular ABs in Minors; Kluber fans 7 Friday; Mejia has huge day
MLB.com @MLBastian

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Indians plan on opening the regular season with Jose Ramirez back at third base and Jason Kipnis manning second. That alignment has created an uphill battle for third baseman Yandy Diaz to make Cleveland's Opening Day roster.

Barring something unforeseen, Indians manager Terry Francona said the debate about Diaz will center around not only the roster composition, but whether the third baseman will be better served opening in the Minors. With Triple-A Columbus, Diaz could garner regular at-bats and playing time, rather than filling a part-time bench role for the Indians.

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Indians plan on opening the regular season with Jose Ramirez back at third base and Jason Kipnis manning second. That alignment has created an uphill battle for third baseman Yandy Diaz to make Cleveland's Opening Day roster.

Barring something unforeseen, Indians manager Terry Francona said the debate about Diaz will center around not only the roster composition, but whether the third baseman will be better served opening in the Minors. With Triple-A Columbus, Diaz could garner regular at-bats and playing time, rather than filling a part-time bench role for the Indians.

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"We'll see how it plays out," Francona said. "There's a lot of factors. There's a balance there, for sure. Sometimes you think guys are better off going to play for a while. They may be disappointed they get sent down, but getting 200 at-bats, as opposed to sitting -- especially in the first part of the season, where you're kind of struggling to find at-bats for guys, and it's cold -- sometimes they're better off going to Triple-A and playing."

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Diaz, who went 1-for-3 with a single in Friday's 8-5 win against the Rockies, opened last year as the Indians' third baseman due to Kipnis beginning the season on the disabled list. In 49 games overall, Diaz turned in a .263/.352/.327 slash line, but he finished strong. Across his final 31 games in 2017, dating back to a recall from the Minors on Aug. 22, Diaz hit .304 with an .810 OPS.

"You look at his Triple-A numbers, they're massive," Francona said. "It's an interesting bat. Now, we've got to get him to the point where he's reliable."

Kluber's march to Opening Day
The Rockies fielded a lineup with a handful of regulars on Friday, giving Indians ace Corey Kluber an opportunity to treat his outing more like a regular-season start. The pitching line that the right-hander pieced together certainly looked like what Cleveland has come to expect.

"I guess maybe trying to sequence a little more normal like we would in a real game," Kluber said of his approach against Colorado at Sal River Fields. "I'm trying to get into that mode. Earlier on, we worked on a few things, but today we kind of took it more like a real game, kind of attacked the hitters like we normally would."

Video: CLE@COL: Kluber on facing strong lineup vs. Rockies

In 3 2/3 innings, Kluber struck out seven and ended with one run allowed on two hits with one walk issued. The lone run charged to Kluber came after his exit, via a two-run homer surrendered by Neil Ramirez. Overall, Kluber logged 57 pitches, including 39 strikes in the performance.

"When the outing's over with," Kluber said, "you take a step back and analyze, 'Did I get what I wanted to out of today?' And I think, for me, part of that is feeling like I was in a good spot mechanically."

Prospect watch
The Indians are excited about Francisco Mejia's potential as a hitter. Friday, the young catcher got the start as the Tribe's designated hitter and promptly put his power on display.

Video: CLE@COL: Mejia belts a three-run jack in the 3rd

Mejia, who is Cleveland's top prospect and the top catching prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, belted a towering three-run home run off Colorado starter Jon Gray in the third inning. Mejia ended the afternoon 3-for-4 with a single, double and three RBIs.

Tweet from @MLBBarrelAlert: Francisco Mejia off RHP Jon Gray - 102.1 mph, 35 degrees (382 ft Home Run)94.4 mph Four-Seamer#Indians @ #Rockies (T3) pic.twitter.com/qGYSGXt5vK

Injury updates
• Left fielder Michael Brantley (rehabbing from right ankle surgery in October) and right-hander Danny Salazar (right shoulder inflammation) were back with the team on Friday. Both players were sent home from the complex on Thursday due to illness.

• Left-hander Robert Zarate (elbow soreness) and right-hander Cole Sulser (fractured rib) were reassigned to Minor League camp on Friday. Righty Julian Merryweather was slated to undergo Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow on Friday.

Worth noting
• The Indians made a handful of roster moves on Friday morning, reducing the number of players in camp to 59. Cleveland optioned shortstops Willi Castro (No. 5 on the Tribe's Top 30 prospects list, per MLB Pipeline) and Yu Chang (No. 7) to Double-A Akron, and also reassigned first baseman Nellie Rodriguez to Minor League camp.

• Relief ace Andrew Miller's next scheduled Cactus League appearance has been pushed back to Sunday against the Brewers. Francona said that Miller, who has not pitched in a game since Monday, is simply on a conservative spring program.

Up next
Right-hander Mike Clevinger, who projects to be the Indians' No. 4 starter, is scheduled to take the mound against the Padres in a 3:10 p.m. ET Cactus League tilt in Peoria, Ariz. Zach McAllister, Dan Otero, Adam Wilk, Jeff Beliveau, Josh Martin and Cameron Hill are also penciled in to pitch for the Tribe. Eric Lauer will start for San Diego. The game will be broadcast live on MLB.TV.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Yandy Diaz, Corey Kluber, Francisco Mejia