2013 Spring Training Game #1 - Indians 11, Reds 10
It's so good to be writing about Indians baseball of the Cleveland variety again (no offense to the fine people of Mayaguez). The opening day of spring training baseball represents a rebirth of sorts for a baseball fan. On days like this I am reminded of the opening lines of John Fogerty's 1985 hit song, "Centerfield".
Well, beat the drum and hold the phone, the sun came out today!
We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.
At the end of it all, though, there is a baseball game that needs to be analyzed, and that's just what I'm here to do. This game really needs to be looked upon as three 3-inning minigames due to the two wholesale lineup changes that occurred during the game.
Before I go in-depth on the first third of the game, let me note that I won't go too in-depth on Giovanni Soto's starting performance on Friday. What you saw was a man who has never pitched a meaningful game in his life above the AA level facing the starting lineup of the Cincinnati Reds. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Minigame 1 - Indians 7, Reds 5
Michael Bourn - CF
Asdrubal Cabrera - SS
Jason Kipnis - 2B
Nick Swisher - 1B
Michael Brantley - LF
Carlos Santana - C
Mark Reynolds - DH
Lonnie Chisenhall - 3B
Drew Stubbs - RF
Pitchers - Giovanni Soto (0.2 IP), Fernando Nieve (1.1 IP), Vinnie Pestano (1 IP)
The major positive I took away from the opening third of the game was the two three-run offensive outbursts. While it is still early in the preseason, these seem to bode well for the Wahoos' upgraded lineup. Another good sign to be gleaned from these two big innings is the fact that the Indians' starters proved themselves equally adept at manufacturing runs (as they did in the first inning) or setting the plate for the big homer (as they did in the third with Chiz's three-run jack). Such versatility is the sign of an offense that can avoid prolonged collective slumps as they have many ways of achieving offensive success. One last positive coming out of this opening third was a three up, three down third inning against major league opposition by setup man Vinnie Pestano. It's important to get both him and closer Chris Perez enough solid outings before the World Baseball Classic starts in earnest and they are tied up in their commitments to Team USA.
Minigame 2 - Reds 5, Indians 0
(NOTE: Don't get too caught up in batting order spots from here on out. These are all position-for-position switches.)
Ezequiel Carrera - CF
Juan Diaz - SS
Cord Phelps - 2B
Chris McGuiness - 1B
Ben Francisco - LF
Yan Gomes - C
Jason Giambi - DH
Mike Aviles - 3B
Jeremy Hermida - RF
Pitchers - Joe Martinez (2 IP), Rich Hill (1 IP)
This second third of the game is slightly worrying and would be more so if it were not the first day of the preseason. A squad of likely Indians backups and Clippers starters who would be among the first in line for a callup to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario managed only two hits and one walk in three innings on a day when everyone else on both teams seemed to be hitting the ball like they were using slow-pitch softball bats. The pitching was a tale of two pitchers as Joe Martinez gave up five earned runs on five hits (including two home runs) while managing to record a blown save pitching the fourth and fifth innings, and the lone blemish on Rich Hill's sixth inning was a leadoff single by Jason Donald who has promptly doubled up on the next at-bat.
Minigame 3 - Indians 4, Reds 0
Cedric Hunter - CF
Luis Hernandez - SS
Ryan Raburn - 2B
Jesus Aguilar - 1B
Tim Fedroff - LF
Omir Santos - C
Mike McDade - DH
Nate Spears - 3B
Matt Carson - RF
Pitchers - Matt Langwell (2 IP), Frank Herrmann (1 IP)
By this point in the game, it was more a case of the Columbus Clippers and the Louisville Bats than the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds. The strong showing of the Tribe in this final third of the game, including a ninth inning rally to win the whole thing, seems to bode well for the Clippers' chances at a return to their form of 2010 and 2011. A performance of note in this phase of the game is that of Jesus Aguilar, who made his return to North American ball after an impressive winter season with the Gigantes de Carolina in the Venezuelan Winter League. Surprisingly, given his winter K/BB ratio of 33:7, he walked and provided one of the runs that scored on Mike McDade's game-winning three-run double.
Ultimately, the big question is: What do we make out of all this? The answer, in the end, is: not much. While there were some reassuring signs regarding the new-look starting lineup and some discouraging ones in regards to the Indians position player depth, when it all boils down to what this game really was, it was the first game of a month-long preseason that got underway a week early because of the World Baseball Classic (is anyone else as excited as I am for the WBC?). While no performance can be completely ignored or written off as meaningless, Friday's game is about as close as you can get.
You know what? Just enjoy it. Baseball is back. The Cleveland Indians are undefeated. LIFE IS GOOD!!! Much as I started this report, I will leave you with the words of another of the game of baseball's great poets. Indians radio play-by-play man Tom Hamilton: BALLGAME!!!