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Indians sweep split-squad bill against Cubs and Giants

Santana, Swisher and strong pitching key to Tribe victories

Indians sweep split-squad bill against Cubs and Giants
Aaron Harang earns his second Cactus League win in one of two victories for Tribe on Sunday against the Giants and Cubs. (Photo: Joe Camporeale)
March 16, 2014
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Technically, you could say that the Indians were only at half strength in both Scottsdale and Mesa on Sunday as far as their big league roster is concerned with only half of them travelling with each team in the split-squad effort against the Giants and Cubs, but that didn't slow them down as the Tribe emerged victorious in both matches 3-2 against Chicago and 5-1 over San Francisco.

Offensively, Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana powered the Tribe with solo homers while Justin Masterson and Aaron Harang locked things down on the mound.

Masterson in Midseason Form

Staff ace Justin Masterson continues to prove why he has been chosen as the opening day starter (and possibly why he's worthy of a multi-year extension) as he shut down the Cubs in six innings with only two hits and a hit batsman allowed and eight strikeouts recorded. His counterpart, left-hander Travis Wood, was almost as effective allowing two runs and striking out eight in six innings, but that pair of runs allowed in the first inning proved to be the difference.

In four Cactus League appearances so far this spring (13 innings-pitched), the sinkerballer has not allowed a run and has only served up six hits. He has walked two and hit three batters, but has also struck out 14. In a notoriously, offense-friendly environment in Arizona, opposing hitters are batting career-spring-training-low .146 off the right-hander, who also has compiled a career low 0.62 WHIP.

The only thing that may be mildly concerning is the fact that Masterson's velocity only topped out at about 90 mph on Sunday. Of course, he may just be saving his strength until the regular season or the radar reading may be off in Mesa, but whatever the case, he's looking sharp on the mound.

Offensive Prowess

It was a quartet of players who ended up being the primary contributors to Sunday's victories as far as swinging the bat. Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher, Lonnie Chisenhall and Jeff Francoeur all provided fireworks at the plate to put runs on the board.

Swisher went deep for the first time this spring to drive in the go-ahead run in the third inning against veteran starter Tim Hudson and the Giants. Santana hit his second home run of this year's Cactus League campaign in the sixth inning in Mesa to broaden the Tribe's lead to 3-0 at the time. Swisher and Santana also recorded a single and double, respectively. The Indians will look to both players this season to drive in runs.

Lonnie Chisenhall, probably feeling the pressure of possibly losing his starting third base job to teammate Carlos Santana, drove in a pair of runs with a groundout and RBI triple on Sunday. On the spring, he is batting .281 with a homer and five RBI. One observation I noted on Chisenhall while I was in Arizona last week was the fact that he was hitting a lot of line drives during games and batting practice.

Obviously getting the good part of the bat on the ball consistently has been a struggle for Chisenhall, but when he does, he can do a lot of good at the plate.

And last, but not least, Jeff Francoeur drove in what would end up being a pair of key runs against the Cubs in the first inning as Travis Wood would end up shutting down the Tribe for the next five innings. With two outs in the first inning, Francoeur doubled to drive in Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana and stake the Tribe to an early 2-0 lead. As of right now, "Frenchy" is one of the favorites to land a spot on the bench.

Crockett Poised for Bright Future

The Indians drafted left-hander Kyle Crockett in the fourth round of last year's draft out of the University of Virginia. In just his first season of pro ball, the 22-year-old was promoted to three different minor league affilliates despite only making 21 appearances. He was dominant, nevertheless compiling an impressive ERA of 0.36 at Low-A, Single-A and Double-A combined.

This spring, the left-hander has made his first appearances with the big league club during Cactus League play. Last week during the Tribe's 12-6 win over Kansas City, Crockett made his exhibition debut retiring the only batter he faced.

On Sunday, Crockett pitched a full inning against the Cubs and despite walking a batter, completed a scoreless frame with a pair of strikeouts.

The Indians have high expectations for this young southpaw and believe he could be an effective left-handed specialist out of the bullpen maybe even as soon as this season.

Facts and Tidbits

  • Center fielder Michael Bourn exited Sunday's game against San Francisco early due to a "mild" left hamstring strain.
  • Manager Terry Francona announced that Carlos Santana will catch a bullpen session and possibly appear in a game as a catcher in the near future to refresh his skills behind the plate and test his versatility between catcher and third base.
  • The Tribe faced three former players on Sunday in Luis Valbuena and Hector Rondon (Cubs) and David Huff (Giants).
  • Indians outfield prospect Tyler Holt has recorded a hit in all three games he has played with the big league squad this spring.
  • Veteran reliever Scott Atchison has only allowed one run in five appearances so far this spring.

Up Next: Indians vs. Reds @ Goodyear Ballpark. First pitch at 4:05 pm ET.

The two Buckeye State rivals will meet again for the fourth time at Goodyear Ballpark this spring as Indians number two starter Corey Kluber will take the mound against Mike Leake. The Indians are an MLB-best 14-3-2 in exhibition play this spring and bested Cincinnati 2-1 in their Cactus League-opening series.

Kluber is coming off a bit of a rough outing against the Padres last week where the right-hander admits he "ran out of gas" after four innings of work. Leake, on the other hand, has only made two appearances so far this spring for the Reds and has allowed a run in each outing.

Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.

User Comments

Joe Chengery
March 17, 2014 - 6:29 PM EDT
It's probably a "tale" of two seasons: For 2014, the Indians almost have to make it work, as I don't think they just want a light-hitting, all-defense catcher, as that would take out a bullpen pitcher or remove someone from the "Goon Squad" like Francoeur, Johnson, or even Giambi.

Beyond 2014, I would think Santana would become a 3B, 1B, DH player, perhaps being an emergency catcher. As I mentioned, it's essentially a tale of two seasons. If Santana can't handle the transition (I.e. Is horrid at the transition), that will throw a wrench into this year's roster construction. However, unless that transition is horrid, it's a likely bet they'll "make it work," even if it's not ideal.
March 17, 2014 - 11:58 AM EDT
So...what happens if this "test" of Santana's versatility between 3B and catcher doesn't work out? Do they scrap 3B...or scrap him catching...

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