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Tribe Happenings: Chisenhall is off to hot start but...

Tribe Happenings: Chisenhall is off to hot start but...
April 22, 2012
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Chisenhall is hitting, but still needs work

The Lonnie Chisenhall Watch is on.

A lot of people felt that Chisenhall should have been named the Indians’ opening day starter at third base instead of Jack Hannahan. But that is not how the Indians saw it as they optioned Chisenhall out to Triple-A Columbus and stuck with Hannahan’s leadership and glove at third base.

The reasoning behind the decision to have Chisenhall start the season in Columbus was that he needed to continue polishing off his defense, be more consistent with his approach, and also get better hitting lefties.

At the moment Chisenhall is blazing hot for Columbus as in 16 games he is hitting a blistering .338 with 4 HR, 12 RBI, and .979 OPS. This is exactly what everyone hoped to see from him in his return to Columbus, but the stats in no way suggest he is ready and should be called up or the Indians made a mistake in sending him down.

While the numbers are impressive, a deeper look into Chisenhall’s numbers show his approach is still not what the team would hope as he has just two walks compared to 14 strikeouts in 68 at bats. Including spring training (39 at bats, one walk, 16 strikeouts), that is three walks and 30 strikeouts in 107 at bats. That is not going to translate well at the Major League level, and will lead to a lot of inconsistency.

On the defensive side of things he has more or less just maintained. He has not improved or regressed as he is still steady defensively, but he is still having some issues with his throws and has four errors already in 59 total chances at third base (.932 fielding percentage). With a pitching staff in Cleveland that induces a ton of groundballs, he has to be much better defensively. Sure, Hannahan has made some errors already this season, but he is a better and more consistent defender.

Finally, the other area that Chisenhall is working on – and probably most important - is getting better at hitting lefties. So far this season in 29 at bats against left-handers he is hitting .241 with 2 HR, 5 RBI, and .775 OPS. That is actually solid, but a look deeper shows he has yet to draw a walk against a left-hander and has struck out ten times (once every 2.9 at bats). The trend of not drawing walks and striking out a lot is eventually going to catch up to his batting average and OPS, so there is definitely much work needed to be done.

Another thing to remember is that Chisenhall is facing the equivalent of pitching that is a fifth starter or the last reliever or two on a Major League pitching staff, if that. He is running into very few pitchers that are true Major League front of middle of the rotation arms or backend bullpen arms. That is why the transition is so hard for players going from Triple-A to the Major Leagues as they go from seeing fifth starters and 4A arms almost every day to once every five days.

You obviously want to see a player perform well, which is what Chisenhall is doing overall. He is crushing right-handed pitching (.410 AVG, 1.131 OPS), but then again the Indians and everyone else already knows he can do that.  But to be an effective everyday player in the big leagues he has to have a better overall approach, hit better against lefties, and be more consistent on defense. So far, he has not shown improvement in those three areas, even with the gaudy overall numbers to date.

Unless an injury befalls Hannahan, I would not expect Chisenhall to see Cleveland until mid-June at the earliest. As long as Hannahan is healthy and being productive, the Indians are going to be patient with Chisenhall to be sure he is ready for his next call to the big leagues. They want to make sure that he does not ever go back to the minors and is the Indians’ third baseman for the next half decade or so.

Cabrera leaves team, Hagadone benefits

This past Tuesday the Indians placed shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera on the bereavement list so he could return home to Venezuela to be with his family after the passing of his grandfather.  He will return to Cleveland today and with the off day on Monday, is expected to return to the lineup on Tuesday when the Indians face off against the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field.

With Cabrera away from the team, the Indians called up left-handed reliever Nick Hagadone from Triple-A Columbus. Hagadone was one of the last cuts in spring training (10 G, 2.53 ERA) and at Columbus he had thrown 5.1 shutout innings in four appearances allowing two hits, one walk and with five strikeouts before getting the call.

The Indians wasted no time in using Hagadone as on Tuesday night he pitched in front of his family and friends – he is from Seattle – and was lights out. He came right back out on Wednesday night and was good again, and combined on the two nights went 2.1 shutout and hitless innings allowing one walk and had four strikeouts.

Hagadone, 26, is one of the Indians top prospects, and is one of the players the Indians acquired from the Boston Red Sox for catcher Victor Martinez back in July of 2009. He features an electric fastball that sits in the mid-90s and when he really reaches back he touches 98-99 MPH, and he complements it with a very good slider. He has the stuff and mentality to be a dominating late inning reliever.

The time is now for Hagadone as he is ready and can really impact the bullpen this season much like the emergence of right-handed reliever Vinnie Pestano fortified the pen last year. With lefties Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp so inconsistent, Hagadone offers up some rare power from the left side that is too good to not use at the moment. It is time to see what he can do in an extended look.

Reading the tea leaves, it looks like Sipp could be in danger of being optioned out to Columbus when Cabrera rejoins the team on Tuesday. The Indians could always option Hagadone back to Columbus, but that would be a senseless move considering the way he is pitching and the potential he has, and also considering how Sipp has struggled in the early going where in seven games he has a 11.57 ERA (4.2 IP, 7 H, 3 BB, 5 K).

Sipp has three options left so the Indians could easily send him down to Columbus to get him straightened out. Or they could always designate right-handed reliever Jairo Asencio for assignment (he is out of options), though I find it hard to believe they would give up on him so early; plus he has pitched okay so far (7 G, 4.35 ERA, 10.1 IP, 10 K).

But no matter what happens, I think Hagadone sticks with the team and we are seeing the beginning of the Nick Hagadone Era in Cleveland.

Damon officially signed

On Tuesday the Indians officially announced that they signed free agent outfielder Johnny Damon to a minor league contract for the 2012 season.

Damon, 38, is currently out in Goodyear, Arizona working out and already participating in extended spring training games. He made three plate appearances as a designated hitter on Friday and on Saturday played left field and made two plate appearances and hit a home run. He is being ramped up and is expected to remain in extended spring training a few more days, and if all goes well he will join one of the Indians’ minor league affiliates at the end of this week.  He is expected to join the big league team the first week of May.

Damon is only signed to a minor league contract at the moment so the Indians do not need to make a move on the 40-man roster while they await his arrival. The Indians have already agreed to pay him a one year $1.25 million salary this year, and it includes an additional $1.4 million in incentives.

Once Damon is cleared to play, he will be added to both the 40-man and 25-man roster and the Indians will need to clear a spot by trading or designating a player for assignment.  A lot can happen in the next two weeks, but I have to believe when he is activated that he will take the 40-man and 25-man roster spot of outfielder Aaron Cunningham when the time comes.

How the Indians incorporate the defensively challenged Damon into the lineup is something that remains to be seen, though these kinds of things have a funny way of working themselves out with injuries and performance issues with other players. A lot can happen with injuries and performance in the next two to three weeks while Damon gets ready, and let’s be honest, his defense and arm is no worse than most of the outfielders on the roster already.

Damon owns a 17-year career Major League batting average of .286 with 1643 runs scored, 516 doubles, 107 triples, 231 home runs and 1120 RBI in 2,426 games with six teams.  He has also stolen 404 bases in 507 attempts (80%) and has a career .353 on-base percentage.  Last season with the Rays he hit .261 with 16 home runs, 73 RBI, 19 steals and .744 OPS in 150 games, his 16th consecutive season of at least 140 games played.

Damon thoughts

I have no problem with the Indians signing Damon. It is for one year and cheap, so it doesn't hinder them financially at all. From a roster perspective he will help as even though he is in the twilight of his career he is an upgrade to the Indians’ outfield.  He will not be a savior for the offense, but he definitely will help in bringing a professional approach to the lineup and some much needed leadership.

Like everyone else, I would have preferred a right-handed bat that is proven, but they are just not out there right now. The Indians have been looking under every nook and cranny for an outfielder. A few attempts for a legit outfielder fell through in the offseason –notably Josh Willingham, Carlos Beltran, and Carlos Lee - and there were several others like Reds’ outfielder Chris Heisey they were trying to sign or trade for that did not get much press.

The Indians’ trade currency is weak at the moment because of a deflated minor league system in the upper levels that lacks must-get prospects teams would like in a trade. With this in mind I can see where some people believe they should just overpay a guy in free agency to get him here. The problem with that is it does not always make a lot of sense or workout when you do that (i.e. Kerry Wood). You still have to sign a guy at a price that makes sense.

In any case, it will be interesting to see how the Indians infuse Damon into the lineup and how it affects the play of others and the team as a whole.

Penalty box

Major League Baseball has suspended right-hander Jeanmar Gomez for five games and fined him for purposely hitting Royals’ third baseman Mike Moustakas last Saturday. He appealed the suspension but dropped it after his start last night, and will not miss his next scheduled start because of an off day on Monday.

This is already the second time this season the Indians have had a starting pitcher suspended for hitting a batter. In the last week of spring training right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez hit Rockies’ shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and was suspended for five games. In both cases the five game suspensions to Jimenez and Gomez did not force either to miss a start, showing how meaningless it is to suspend a pitcher for five games or less since they only pitch once every five days. In both cases the Indians had an off day mixed in, so neither pitcher lost any time.

Major League Baseball also fined Hannahan $500 for his aggressive actions during the bench clearing incidents on Saturday and fined closer Chris Perez $750 for a tweet he made about the incident on Twitter.

Fun with numbers

Hannahan already has four errors this season in 11 games after having just five errors all of last season in 110 games. While he has not been up to par defensively in the early going, he is more than making up for it at the plate hitting .342 with 1 HR, 11 RBI, and .922 OPS.

Jimenez has now made 14 starts for the Indians since being acquired on July 30th of last year. Even after a quality start on Friday night, he owns a 4-4 record and 6.97 ERA in eight road starts (41.1 IP, 57 H, 32 ER, 30 BB, 36 K). On the flip side, in six starts at Progressive Field he is 3-3 with a 2.79 ERA (42.0 IP, 27 H, 13 ER, 12 BB, 40 K).

The Indians are only hitting .238 as a team which is 12th in the American League, but they are 3rd in the league in runs (68), 5th in home runs (16), 4th best in least strikeouts (94), 1st in walks (57), third in on-base percentage (.342), and 6th in OPS (.743).

Parting shots

The Indians have cleared outfielder Grady Sizemore to start baseball activities this coming week. He has been doing some light jogging and exercises to strengthen his core and back. He is not eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list until the first week of June. … Left-hander David Huff made his first rehab start for Double-A Akron on Friday night and went four shutout innings and allowed one hit, one walk and had three strikeouts. … In his season debut with the Rockies last Sunday, lefty Drew Pomeranz went 4.1 innings and allowed five runs on nine hits, two walks, and had three strikeouts. He followed it up with a better outing last night going 5.0 innings and allowed two runs on two hits, three walks, and had six strikeouts.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

April 23, 2012 - 10:23 AM EDT
Yeah, will be interesting how Chisenhall is handled. Right now there is no need to call him up. Injuries and performance in Cleveland could force their hand, but the Indians would be wise if Hannahan stays healthy/performing not to call up Chisenhall until post-August like you said Steve. A lot can happen in the next 3 months though, so I think at this point it is unlikely he is down there that long.
April 23, 2012 - 8:09 AM EDT
Chisenhall should come up post-August 1st.

He should have several hot/cold streaks in that time with the hope being that he learns the mental part of pulling himself out of slumps before they consume him.

Final benefit. Pushing Chis to post August 1st will benefit the Tribe by giving the org another full year of service. He has 94 days of service to date - a post August 1st call would keep him
April 22, 2012 - 9:54 PM EDT
Hannahan can play first base. And I think when/if Chisnehall is ready, and if the Indians lack an option for 1B, that Hannahan could eventually be the Indians' temp first baseman. Could be the guy there in 2013 if Chisnehall is at 3B.

DetDawg, my memory sucks. The reference info on Sipp's options is accurate.....he only has one option left. Sorry for the confusion. And I completely agree with you on Chisenhall. People just see his overall numbers and think he is ready....not the case at all. He's going to get exposed against ML pitching, especially left-handers, and even right-handers if he can't tone down the strikeouts and work counts better.
April 22, 2012 - 1:58 PM EDT
Any report on Chisenhall's at bats? I realize that he hasn't drawn many walks, but how much of it is the fact that he's facing AAA pitching, getting his pitch, and just smacking it? I have to believe that the Indians don't want him to become passive when the pitches are in the zone.
April 22, 2012 - 1:36 PM EDT

You've mentioned a couple of times that Sipp has 3 remaining options. However, in you're latest updating of "Remaining Options" dated April 20th, Sipp is listed as have 1 option remaining.

Which of the 2 options is correct?

Implied in the question as to whether Hannahan can play 1B is that Chisenhall should be called up to play 3B. Chisenhall needs to work on his defense, plate discipline and hitting LHPs, as fully discussed in this article. I fully agree that when he is promoted to Cleveland, it should be viewed as a permanent move. I have no doubt that if he were promoted tomorrow, it would be for a limited time as major league pitchers would take advantage of his batting flaws, and our pitching staff would be adversely impacted by his substandard defense.
April 22, 2012 - 12:10 PM EDT
How is Hannahan's glove at 1B?

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