Spring Training Notebook: Chisenhall heats up

The beat goes on for the Cleveland Indians, who had another busy week in Spring Training and now have a record of 12-7, which is tied with Seattle for second in the Cactus League.

We’re getting to that point where pitchers are really starting to get stretched out, and the regular season is just right around the corner.

These next few weeks are also special because we know that the roster battles will soon be decided. There’s an opening for the fifth spot in the rotation, two bench spots and at least one bullpen spot, so it will be interesting how those battles get settled over these final weeks.

But, with that being said, let’s take a look at all things Indians from this past week…

Player of the Week

Lonnie Chisenhall — 4 G, 4-for-11, 1 HR, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K.

Chisenhall continued his strong spring this past week, and the left-hander hitter has now gone 13-for-31 overall in 13 games. This is not Chisenhall’s first strong showing in Spring Training. In fact, just two years ago, Chisenhall went 13-for-26 in 12 games during the spring season. As a reader pointed out last week, the thing that’s nice about this showing is that Chisenhall seems to be more patient at the plate as he’s struck out just four times and also drawn four walks. While Chisenhall has had his ups and downs since making his Major League debut with the Indians, it’s important to remember that he just turned 24 this past October. In other words, this is not Matt LaPorta — a player who made his Major League debut when he was 24 and never really improved. Chisenhall is still very young, and his moderate struggles are completely excusable. If everything goes right, this could be a huge year for the North Carolina native. So far it appears as if Chisenhall is on the right track.

News & notes

— Some unfortunate news came out of Spring Training this week as the Indians announced that right-handed relieverFrank Herrmann had undergone Tommy John surgery and would be out 12 to 18 months. The surgery is the result of an elbow injury that Herrmann suffered on Feb. 25 against Oakland. I’m not exactly sure of why, but I’ve always been a big fan of Herrmann’s. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s one of three, yes three, Harvard men to pitch in the Major Leagues. Or maybe it’s because Herrmann’s an easy guy to root for considering he initially made the Indians as an undrafted free agent. Or, the most likely reason is because Herrmann, his mid-90s fastball, splitter and the addition of his curveball seemed to have the makings of a solid middle reliever. At the earliest, Herrmann could compete for a bullpen job next Spring Training, but Herrmann will be almost 30 years old at that point, so it’s conceivable the Indians may want to go in another direction as the right-hander is still far from a proven Major League reliever.

— While Herrmann unfortunately dealt with some bad news this week, it was pretty much the opposite case for left-hander reliever Rich Hill. Hill came into Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, but that is now officially a thing of the past. On Monday, the Indians announced that they had purchased Hill’s contract and placed the left-hander on the 40-man roster. While nothing is guaranteed, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that Hill has now clinched one of the open left-handed spots in the Tribe’s bullpen. Hill has been solid this spring as he’s allowed no runs in six games and 5 2/3 innings of work. He’s also struck out eight while walking just three. However, perhaps the most intriguing thing about the addition of Hill to the roster is that it now means that only one of either Nick Hagadone and Scott Barnes are going to have a chance to make the Opening Day roster. While both players have pitched solid this spring, it seems as if the edge has to be given to Hagadone thus far. In five innings of work, Hagadone has allowed zero runs and fanned seven while issuing just one walk. We always mention how Spring Training stats are meaningless, but they are probably most easily analyzed when looking at relievers. After all, the situations that relievers typically pitch in are at least somewhat similar to what they’ll experience in regular season contests. Knowing that, Hagadone’s performance becomes even more impressive.

— Asdrubal Cabrera returned from the WBC to the Indians on Wednesday, and he also left a pretty decent impression as he socked a two-run double to stake the team to an early 2-0 lead. Cabrera’s return is welcomed as it’s always good to have your regular starting shortstop back in the lineup, but there may be one slight downside. With Cabrera out, top prospect Francisco Lindor really was able to grab a significant amount of playing time, and it was exciting to follow. In six games this spring, Lindor has gone 3-for-11 with a walk, a strikeout and a stolen base. The numbers aren’t too impressive when you consider it’s only 11 at-bats, but we also need to remind ourselves that this kid just turned 19 in November. The sheer fact that he’s playing at all is very exciting, and it’s just further evidence as to just how far along this kid really is. We all know that he has massive potential, and the reality is that he could be closer to tapping into that potential than any of us realize.

— Matt Langwell is not going to make this team out of Spring Training — but maybe he should. In seven games and 9 2/3 innings of work, Lamgwell has allowed two earned runs while walking just one and striking out eight. For his efforts, he has a nice, shiny ERA of 1.86. This of course comes after a strong winter season in which Langwell posted a 1.13 ERA in 16 innings in the Puerto Rican Winter League. In reality, Langwell seems to be the casualty of too much of a good thing. The Indians’ system is filled with promising relief prospects, and it seems as if Langwell has been overlooked along the way. The right-hander does not overpower hitters, but he does seem to have the stuff and mentality to make a more-than-capable middle reliever. There’s no telling if his Spring Training performance has actually turned some heads within the Indians’ system, but for his sake, let’s hope that’s the case. On a positive note, it at least seems as if he’s turned one. “He’s opened a lot of eyes this spring,” Tribe skipper Terry Francona said of Langwell on Thursday.

— While it’s been nice to see Ryan Raburn go out and essentially grab one of the open bench spots, the unfortunate thing is that it all but guarantees Cord Phelps will have no chance of making the Opening Day roster. The switch-hitting Phelps has been very productive this spring and has gone 9-for-28 (.321) with two doubles and two home runs in 14 games. Phelps has spent a small portion of each of the past two seasons in Cleveland, but he’s never really gotten enough time to consistently get in a groove. Before the signing of Raburn, he’s a player that I was really hoping would go out and claim one of the bench spots as I believe he could be an excellent utility man for the Tribe. It does at least appear as if the Indians still envision Phelps in this role as well as he’s been taking ground balls at first base this spring. Phelps can already play third base and second base, so this will only make him more versatile. Also, it may serve Phelps well to spend some time in the outfield as that will only further enhance his value moving forward.

— After Daisuke Matsuzaka left Monday’s game, it certainly seemed fair to expect the worse. Yet, days later, it seems as if it was just a false alarm and Matsuzaka is fine; he merely suffered a cramp in his right calf. While his velocity has left a lot to be desired, Matsuzaka has actually been solid this spring and has allowed just two earned runs in eight innings of work. Regardless, he still seems to be a major long shot at best to grab the fifth starter’s spot. Though, Matsuzaka could prove to be a valuable piece if he chooses to start the season at Triple-A Columbus. Injuries inevitably happen over the course of a 162-game season, so the Indians may have to turn to Matsuzka at some point this year. With that in mind, let’s hope that there’s actually something to his solid spring campaign and it’s not just smoke and mirrors.

Quick hits

— The Indians granted Ben Francisco his unconditional release this past week, and he quickly signed with the New York Yankees. Francisco actually had a decent spring for the Indians and went 8-for-20 in 11 games. Still, I think the writing was on the wall for the former Indian, and he obviously realized this as well. With the team already having three center fielders plus the addition of Raburn, it seems as if Francisco would be the odd man out. Hopefully his fresh start in New York will ultimately lead to him claiming one of the Yankees’ bench spots.

— It seems as if Scott Kazmir is the heavy favorite to win the fifth spot in the Indians’ starting rotation. Kazmir has yet to allow a run and he’s looked solid so far, but as the IBI’s Tony Lastoria illustrated this week, we shouldn’t get too excited just yet. However, of all the options, Kazmir does seem to be the most viable at this point.

— Closer Chris Perez seems to be advancing well in his throwing program, and he could throw off the hill on Saturday. The right-hander suffered a right-shoulder strain on Feb. 26 against the Royals, and his recovery timetable was expected to be three to four weeks. If he does indeed throw off the hill Saturday, that can only be considered a positive when it comes to his chances of being ready for Opening Day.


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