Tribe Happenings: Patience is wearing thin with Ubaldo
Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Time to worry about Ubaldo?
If you were to single out one player that Indians’ fans wanted to pay close attention to this spring to see how he performed, that one player would be right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. After being acquired in a major trade last July for four prospects and then struggling the rest of the season, everyone wanted to see if some time in the offseason to rest and work on his mechanics would lead to the old Ubaldo showing himself this season.
So far that has not been the case as Jimenez has looked much the same as he did last year. He is still not throwing the ball into the upper 90s on a consistent basis like he did from 2009-2010, and instead has been in the low-to-mid 90s all spring just like he was last year. With his propensity to work behind in the count and give up walks, he needs that extra life on his fastball to make him more effective, and if he is unable to get it back into the upper 90s there should be some concern with him going forward.
The concern is real as even manager Manny Acta had to pull him aside and make sure he was okay after his poor outing last Saturday. In that outing his velocity was down to 89-92 MPH and he needed over 80 pitches to get through 3.2 innings of work and allowed six runs on five hits and four walks. The discussion with Acta may have helped as in his next outing on Friday he was at 92-95 MPH and threw 76 pitches over 4.0 innings and allowed just one run on four hits and one walk.
This is not to say that Jimenez pitching in the low-to-mid 90s makes him a bad pitcher. It just makes him an ordinary pitcher, which is not what the Indians thought they were getting when they dealt their two top pitching prospects left-hander Drew Pomeranz and right-hander Alex White to the Rockies in order to acquire him last July. To make matters worse Pomeranz has been lights out in Rockies’ camp where he has thrown seven shutout innings in three appearances (3 H, 2 BB, 7 K).
The important thing to note is that spring numbers often mean little. Pitchers and hitters are working to get ready for the season, tinkering with mechanics, and they often face players that will open the season in the minors. Ideally, you want your players to play well in spring training, but ultimately the only thing that matters is they are ready for the start of the season and are healthy.
That is the one thing to take solace in with Jimenez right now. He is still getting ready for the season, and everyone in the rotation outside of right-hander Jeanmar Gomez has not had a very good spring from a numbers perspective. It is definitely time to be concerned, but the time to worry will come at the end of April if the struggles continue through his first five or six starts of the season.
Camp competition scorecard
We are well into the back nine of the competition for several positions this spring. So far the scores have mostly not been pretty as several players have played under par, though there are a few that are a few shots under. Here is an update of where things stand with the competitions for the fifth starter, left field, third base, the bench, and the bullpen.
Shelley Duncan continues to have a big spring as he socked a few more homers this week. His five homers this spring ties him Alfonso Soriano for the most in Cactus League play this spring, and his 14 RBI are 2nd in the league. He is on the team one way or another and at this point – barring an injury the final few days of camp – is unofficially the winner of the left field competition.
Jack Hannahan and Lonnie Chisenhall are still battling for the regular third base job. At this point Hannahan still appears to be the favorite as neither player is doing much offensively this spring. Hannahan is hitting .222 with a .667 OPS and Chisenhall is hitting .229 with a .507 OPS and also has 15 strikeouts in 35 at bats. Chisenhall needs more time in the minors and was rushed to the big leagues last season, so barring injury Hannahan will likely be the opening day third baseman and Chisenhall will be in Triple-A Columbus.
Right-hander Jeanmar Gomez is having a very good spring and has made a strong case to be the winner of the fifth starter competition. He should still get two or three more outings to prove himself, but so far in four outings he has not allowed a run in 11.0 innings and has yielded just four hits and three walks while striking out seven. The other two candidates right-hander Kevin Slowey (12.0 IP, 19 H, 9 R) and left-hander David Huff (14.0 IP, 17 H, 9 R, 2 BB) have not nearly been as impressive or consistent. If the winner was to be named now, it would have to be Gomez, but a lot can still change the final week.
The Indians still lack much clarity for the final two spots in the bullpen. They have a lot of candidates, but no one has truly stood out this spring. Left-hander Nick Hagadone has had the best spring (8.0 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 K), but the Indians would probably prefer he opens the season in Triple-A Columbus and bring him up a month or two into the season. The other candidates right-handers Frank Herrmann, Jeremy Accardo, Chris Ray, Robinson Tejeda, Dan Wheeler, and left-hander Chris Seddon have all been very inconsistent this spring. The answer to their bullpen quandary may come from outside of these candidates as they may still make another waiver claim or a small trade, or they may even insert Slowey into one of the bullpen spots.
Two spots on the four man bench are locked up with catcher Lou Marson and infielder Jason Donald, and a third spot appears to be all but locked up by infielder Jose Lopez who has had a very good spring (.379 AVG, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 1.093 OPS). The final spot will come down to whether the Indians want another utility player or want a true fourth outfielder. If the Indians believe Donald can back up in center field then between him and Lopez they would have depth for the outfield so they could carry another utility player. This may be one of the final decisions made in camp, and the candidates for the final spot are Felix Pie, Ryan Spilborghs, Aaron Cunningham, Russ Canzler, Cristian Guzman, and Andy LaRoche. At this time my money is still on Cunningham getting it.
The Indians still have a few players dinged up and in the trainer’s room on a daily basis. Here is a quick update on who is nursing injuries and when they will be back:
Outfielder Michael Brantley left Monday’s game with tightness in his right hamstring. He has not played since and is considered day-to-day, though the injury is not considered to be serious and keep him from starting the season on time.
Right-handed closer Chris Perez threw a 20 pitch live bullpen session on Thursday. He reported no issues on Friday with any soreness with his left oblique and was scheduled to pitch in a minor league game yesterday. If he has no setbacks he should appear in a Cactus League game on Monday and make three to four more appearances before the end of spring training, and should be ready for the season opener.
Left-hander Rafael Perez and right-hander Robinson Tejeda have left the trainer’s room and are back on the mound pitching in Cactus League play. Perez should be ready for the start of the season, but Tejeda appears to be out of the running for the final bullpen spot after missing too much time.
Third baseman Jack Hannahan has not played since March 15th and is day to day with a mild back strain. The injury is not considered to be serious or affect his chances of being ready for the start of the season, and he should be back in the lineup soon as he had a full workout on Saturday. The injury has allowed the Indians to get an extended look at Chisenhall as the third baseman this spring.
Infielder Cristian Gomez came up limping with a pulled right hamstring on Friday and is day to day. If he is out for any considerable time it pretty much ends any shot he had of making the opening day roster as a utility player off the bench.
The Indians added another arm to their bullpen this past week when they claimed right-handed pitcher Henricus van den Hurk off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays. To make room on the 40-man roster for him the Indians designated left-handed pitcher Kelvin De La Cruz for assignment.
Van den Hurk, 26, has pitched in parts of five major league seasons and has compiled an 8-10 record with a 5.97 ERA in 46 games (35 starts). Last season he spent most of his time at Triple-A Norfolk and started 26 games and went 9-13 with a 4.43 ERA, and pitched in four games with the Orioles as a September callup. Baltimore released him in February and then he signed a Major League contract with the Blue Jays on February 22nd.
This is an interesting pickup late in spring training, especially for a pitcher that has not been much of a performer in his career or had much success at the big league level. The Indians were reportedly very interested in signing him as a free agent back in February when he became a free agent, but he chose to sign with the Blue Jays. His pickup is a sign the Indians are looking for other alternatives for the bullpen as they have been underwhelmed with the performances of those competing for the final two spots in the bullpen. It is also a sign they want more Major League ready depth in the bullpen to help with injuries, something that has been a problem in camp.
Some may know van den Hurk as Rick VandenHurk. It is the same person, but he is from the Netherlands and now prefers to be called by his native name of Henricus van den Hurk going forward. Hey, whatever works and makes him pitch better is fine with me.
As for De La Cruz, what a rough month it has been for him. This is the second time the Indians have designated him for assignment in a month. He as previously designated last month and then traded to the Rangers, but the Indians got him back from the Rangers in a trade just a week ago before letting him go again. He is not officially gone yet as they have ten days to trade, release or outright him to the minors. I have a feeling that this time he will not be traded, he will clear waivers, and be outrighted to the minors. Barring another surprise trade or waiver claim, he should still be under club control in 2012.
The Indians made several roster moves this past week as they worked to whittle down their spring roster to the mandated 25 players by the start of the season.
Outfielder Ezequiel Carrera, shortstop Juan Diaz, right-handed pitcher Corey Kluber, right-handed pitcher Zach McAllister, and second baseman Cord Phelps were all optioned to the minors, and right-handed pitcher Hector Ambriz, outfielder Trevor Crowe, catcher Michel Hernandez, and right-handed pitcher Chen-Chang Lee were all reassigned to minor league camp. Players optioned are on the 40-man roster whereas players reassigned are not and are with the club on minor league contracts.
None of the roster moves are surprising as all of these players never had a legit shot to open the season in Cleveland. That being said, when a need arises this year Carrera, McAllister, and Phelps will be one of the first options called up at their position. Also, C.C. Lee is a bullpen arm that could be added a month or two into the season to impact the pen and help stabilize it.
With the moves there are now 46 players remaining in big league camp, so there is still a lot of work to be down in cutting down the roster over the final nine days of camp. There will be a slew of roster activity this coming week as the Indians get geared up to open the season April 5th.
Indians right-handed pitcher Roberto Hernandez threw an 80-pitch sim game in the Dominican Republic on Friday. He is working out so he is ready whenever he gets his visa approved to come back to the United States. When he is approved and returns, he would probably only need one to three starts in the minors to be ready to rejoin the team. … Earlier in the week the Indians acquired 27-year old minor league infielder Ralph “Davis” Stoneburner from the Rangers to complete the first Kelvin De La Cruz trade. The Indians opted to take a player instead of the cash, though he is more for depth at the Triple-A and Double-A level and not considered a big league prospect. … Infielder Jason Donald made his spring debut in center field on Thursday. The Indians are trying him out in the outfield in an attempt to create more versatility for him so they can get his bat into the lineup more often.
Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his new book the 2012 Cleveland Indians Prospect Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
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.