Spring Training Notebook: The Swisher surge

The Spring Training season is officially two weeks old, and the Cleveland Indians are sitting pretty with a 10-5 record, which is good for third place in the Cactus League. 10-5. Pretty nice, eh? But what exactly does it mean?

For most, the answer is simple — nothing.

Yes, the record does literally mean nothing. Spring Training wins do not transfer to the regular season, and they should not be looked at as a predictor of success.

However, I have a different take. Last season, the Indians’ record in Spring Training was 7-22. 7-22!?!?!? It was the worst record in either the Cactus League or Grapefruit League.

Also, the top six teams in terms of winning percentage from last year’s Spring Training averaged 84.5 wins during the regular season. Again, that hardly guarantees regular season success, but it does show that most of last season’s top Spring Training teams finished at least .500.

The bottom line is that while the Indians’ spring success may ultimately mean very little, would you rather the team perform in the opposite direction?

Winning on all levels is a good thing, and that’s exactly what the Indians are doing. Teammates are learning more and more about one another each day and best of all, they’re enjoying success — together. Spring Training or not, the value of that cannot be understated.

With that said, let’s take a look back at the week that was for the Cleveland Indians…

Player of the Week

Nick Swisher — 4 G, 9-for-11, 3 HR, 1 2B, 9 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K

Now this is what you call a nice four-game stretch. Swisher was just brilliant this past week as he only went hitless in two at-bats. For the spring season, Swisher is hitting .524, which only trails Ryan Raburn and Michael Brantley.  Swisher’s spring statistics only mean so much, but let’s hope this is a good sign as the season approaches. As everyone knows, Swisher is going to be asked to take on a much larger role than the one he was previously accustomed to with the New York Yankees. So far, it seems as if Swisher has embraced the challenge, and his bat seems to indicate that as well.

News & notes

— Speaking of Michael Brantley, it appears as if the outfielder could return to the Indians’ lineup sometime this weekend, possibly Sunday. Brantley was spiked back on Feb. 25 in a game against Oakland, and the injury required that he receive 15 stitches in his left forearm. The stitches were finally removed Thursday, and Brantley is practicing once again. It would be nice to see him return to the lineup because the left-handed hitter had gotten off to a strong start, going 5-for-6 with four doubles in three games. With all of the team’s new acquisitions, Brantley could be poised for a huge year this season, so let’s hope he returns to the lineup soon and gets plenty of at-bats before Opening Day.

— Brantley is not the only Indian working his way back from injury. Shortly after last week’s Spring Training Notebook was posted, it was announced that Chris Perez had a shoulder strain and would be out for three to four weeks. It’s the second straight Spring Training that Perez has dealt with an injury as the right-hander suffered a strained left side muscle last spring. Because of the injury, Perez was forced to miss the World Baseball Classic. The positive news is that Perez has not been ruled out of Opening Day, and he could start a throwing program as early as Sunday. However, he is still not expected to pitch in games for another few weeks after that point, so his chances of being on the Opening Day roster seem to becoming slimmer and slimmer by the day.

— Ubaldo Jimenez had a very strong performance on Thursday as the often-erratic right-hander was under control and allowed three hits, one earned run and struck out two in four innings of work. The solid outing follows a performance in which Jimenez was rocked for seven hits and five earned runs in two innings. So, what can we make of Jimenez’s latest outing? It sure seems eerily familiar to the pattern Jimenez followed during the regular season last year where he had one good outing followed up by a stinker. Many fans are hoping that Jimenez is just outright released come late spring/early summer, but that type of thinking seems ludicrous to me. What type of Indians fan would want to see Jimenez fail? If he does indeed get released this season, it only means the Indians are struggling and obviously not doing very well. Instead, as the IBI’s Jim Pete eloquently pointed out in Wednesday’s Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, we all need to support Jimenez and hope for the best. It may still seem unlikely that he has success this year, but we have to hope. That makes plenty more sense than just cheering for the guy to fail. It’s far too early to call Thursday’s start the beginning of a consistent Jimenez, but with each solid outing, fans should slowly once again start to have faith in the right-hander.

— Many have questioned whether Jason Giambi still has the ability to hit a baseball, but don’t look now, the 42-year-old is on a two-game hit streak and launched a home run on Thursday. Giambi has gone 3-for-16 overall this spring, so the numbers still leave an awful lot to be desired. However, it seems as if he is a near-lock to make this team, and that may not necessarily be a bad thing. I can be counted among the concerned fans that question whether Giambi can still hit, but I realize that I need to take a step back and objectively look at what Giambi’s role will be on this team. Yes, he will certainly spell Mark Reynolds at times at designated hitter and probably face some tough right-handers, but his main role is to serve as a leader in the clubhouse. At his age and with his experience, Giambi is really like another coach, and it seems like it’s a role he relishes. Young hitters like Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis can learn a great deal from the former slugger, and my feelings on Giambi are quickly changing.

— Ryan Raburn had another solid week and has now gone 11-for-20 this spring with two doubles, four home runs and 11 RBI. The IBI’s Charlie Adams wrote an excellent, detailed piece on Raburn this week. Adams provided some great, detailed statistics as to why Raburn could continue to have success provided he puts the ball into the air. It seems as if Raburn is almost a near-lock to make the Indians out of Spring Training and I, like many other fans, am okay with that. Raburn’s career has a been a mixed bag of good and bad, so let’s just hope the Indians happen to get some of the good.

— First baseman Mike McDade and Chris McGuiness have each played in the most Spring Training games for the Indians so far as each player has appeared in 13 contests. The two players’ last names also both start with “Mc.” However, that’s where the similarities end for these two players this spring. McDade has taken full advantage of his opportunity and has gone 9-for-22 with two doubles, a home run and nine RBI. In comparison, McGuiness has gone 3-for-22 with zero RBI. The sample sizes are still incredibly small, but that does not change the fact that McGuiness has been very underwhelming. There’s still plenty of time for him to rebound, but he better start quick or the Rule 5 Draft pick could find himself back with the Texas Rangers. McDade, on the other hand, likely has no chance of making the Indians’ Opening Day roster, but he has put himself in a good position to be one of the first players called up from Triple-A Columbus.

Quick hits

— Vinnie Pestano and Team USA play their first World Baseball Classic game tonight ay 9 p.m. against Mexico as part of Pool D. Pestano seems pretty fired up to have the opportunity to be a part of Team USA, so let’s hope the right-hander manages to put up some good performances.

— Frank Herrmann has been shut down because of a sprained ligament, but he is apparently scheduled head to New York to meet Dr. David Altchek, who has most recently worked with pitchers Johan Santana and Mariano Rivera. It’s unfortunate that Herrmann had the injury issue flare up when it did as he seemed as if he could be well on his way to being a more than capable middle reliever after his strong finish last season.

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