As the Tribe officially moves out of their home away from home in Goodyear and on to two meaningless paid exhibition games with the Houston Astros, it is time to take a look back on the long adventure that was Cleveland Indians spring training.
With the second installment of the WBC this season, the Cactus League was extended by two weeks and many, many games. The pitchers "got their work in." The position players "took it a day at a time." And manager Eric Wedge used countless other analogies to describe baseball games in March that don't count.
Here were some of the highlights and lowlights of the spring that was...
Cliff Lee's 12.46 ERA
I never know how to judge a pitcher in exhibition baseball. Are they working on certain pitches? Is the Arizona air misrepresenting the flight of the hit baseballs? Do the pitchers really try? Besides one solid outing against the Rockies (6IP, 2ER), Clifton was shelled, but he wasn't the only one. Wedge gave his opinion about the pitching in general here.
A few of Lee's starts were just about working on spotting his fastball, while others, as he said, he just didn't have it.
Lee seems to be the kind of guy who really gets focused on each and every start through scouting and mental preparation, so obviously his normal in-season routine is fairly different.
I am not too worried about Cliff, just a bit concerned, especially when he has his first start in the band box that is The Ballpark at Arlington.
Shin Soo Choo .118 batting average.
Choo was gone for three weeks of camp due to the glorified exhibition that was the WBC. Even though his actual at-bats were of more significance than a normal Cactus League game, they were far too infrequent. When Choo experienced some tightness in his left arm (where he had Tommy John surgery), the Indians asked the Korean team to use him strictly at DH. That seems to have made the right fielder a bit rusty, making mental mistakes out in the field and over-swinging on high fastballs.
Choo should be fine, but don't be surprised to see him sitting a few days a week against left handers in favor of rookie Trevor Crowe.
When a soft tossing reliever can't keep his 85 MPH down in the zone, it may be time for his team to move on from said pitcher.
Masa has been a disaster this spring, basically supplying batting practice for the various teams out in Arizona. If he wasn't on the hook for more than $3 million this season, he would have been jettisoned, just like Tomo Ohka was earlier in March. The way Wedge has been describing Kobayashi in the media ("Masa's pitches were flat and up," ), I wouldn't think it would take too many more clunkers to have him jettisoned off the club.
The pen seems pretty solid with Wood, Perez, Lewis, Smith, and Betancourt. The other two roles may be a revolving door most of the season.
Mark DeRosa .367 batting average, 3 HR, 9 RBI.
Another WBC casualty, DeRosa was able to make an impact in limited time (30 AB) spent in Goodyear. He also led Team USA in RBI, where he played, like, five positions. The former Cub has acclimated himself to the club very nicely and has immediately become a big threat in the two hole this season. This will provide much needed protection to Grady Sizemore in the order.
Kerry Wood/Rafael Perez/Jensen Lewis/Joe Smith Combined ERA 1.87 in 33 2/3 IP, 37 K's
If these guys pitch like this in the regular season, the Indians will be in contention all year. Newcomers Wood (0 ER in 6 IP) and Smith (12 Ks in 7 2/3 IP) look like excellent acquisitions, while Perez (3.00 ERA, 9 Ks in 9 IP) and Lewis (1.64 ERA, 10 Ks in 11 IP) picked up where they left off last season. Normally, relief pitchers feed off of one another's success, so hopefully their performances will spill into the regular season.
Guys like Jackson and Kobayashi won't be relied upon as much, and the fans can start putting last season's bullpen from hell out of their memories forever.
With David Dellucci and his three year, $11 million contract hovering over the Indians like a buzzard, it was nice to see a guy go out and really compete for an outfield spot who has more than one discernible skill.
The former first rounder and top prospect amassed 56 at bats this spring and played all three outfield positions very well. Double D will start the season on the 15-day disabled list, with probable time spent in Columbus, opening up a roster spot for some new blood.
Nothing against The Looch, but with the current makeup of the corner outfield having question marks, a guy with his skill-set (left handed pinch hitter) does not fit well on this current club. If Crowe hits, runs, and hustles like he did in Arizona, he will find himself on the roster as a guy who can play center field, switch hit, and run.
Look for Trevor to play a few times a week, also.
Many other positives came out of camp (young guys in Columbus, steady Grady, Victor, Fausto), along with what may turn out to be some negatives (Scott Lewis' last two starts, Shoppach's Ks, fielding issues). In short, the team as a whole hit extremely well, but pitched pretty poorly.
The only real answers will come as the season plays out and Opening Day begins a new year of baseball. Cliff Lee takes on Kevin Millwood Monday, finally putting to rest all of the reflections, prognostications, and hyperbole.
Let's PLAY BALL already!
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