Michael Bourn went on the DL the final week of Spring Training with the thought that a couple days rest and a few quick games with the Clippers would be all he would need to get back to the Tribe. The AAA games would be a test to make sure he was set to sprint at a Major League level. He has hit a snag here and it has nothing to do with his hamstring.
While the Indians have been adversely affected by the rain this season (they have already had two rain outs and a long delay at the home opener), the Clippers have had it even worse, since they don’t have a Major League grounds crew or facilities to keep the field playable. Like the Tribe, the Clip Show’s first home game was filled with rain and had to be postponed. Game two, Thursday, saw similar conditions, but they were able to get the game in, without Michael Bourn. On Saturday, the fleet-footed center fielder finally made his debut in center and lead-off. In his second at bat he singled, but there was nothing else of note. Bourn would just need one or two more games before rejoining the Indians.
The Indians didn’t want to push Bourn, so he was held out of the second game of the Saturday double header and he missed Sunday’s finale against the Indianapolis Indians due to poor field conditions. According to his original DL date, he was allowed to rejoin the Tribe on that Sunday, but with just one rehab game under his belt, it was decided to at least keep him in AAA for the game on Monday. Of course, just like Indians, the Clippers were rained out on Monday, leaving Bourn still with just one game played and still in Columbus.
The Clippers have just two more home games against the Louisville Bats before heading on the road and it is unlikely the Indians will want Bourn to go with the Clippers to Kentucky. Hopefully, he will be able to play tonight against Louisville without pain or mud and should be pulled off the disabled list Wednesday for the Tribe’s double header. Because of the upcoming road trip for both teams, Bourn will almost certainly rejoin the team by Thursday when the team treks to Chicago.
That leaves only the question of who will go to make room for Bourn. The initial answer looked to be obviously Bourn’s replacement, Nyjer Morgan. Morgan was not going to make the team in any fashion until it was announced that Bourn wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day and seems like the kind of guy that might accept a minor league assignment with the hopes of rejoining the Major League team in the future. There are two problems that have arisen since then, however. First, the fact that Bourn was unable to play in three games the Clippers actually played as a team is worrisome. If he couldn’t play in back to back games in Columbus, will he be able to in Cleveland? If he isn’t able to play every day, it may be worth keeping Morgan, who is the only other real option in center.
While Michael Brantley, Mike Aviles and Elliot Johnson can physically play the position, they would leave the Indians defense weakened one way or another. If Brantley is in center, it would hurt the left field defense as Aviles or Raburn would need to be used and putting Aviles in center is just asking for errors. Using Elliot Johnson at all is extremely detrimental to the offense and questionable in center.
The second “problem” with removing Morgan from the roster is that he is actually playing very well. After stumbling on Opening Day, Morgan has picked up a line-drive swing, leading to an average above .300 and a couple early RBI. In addition, the player known for excessive swings and misses has six walks to two K’s. If there is a way to earn a spot on a roster, Morgan is doing it right.
With Morgan out as an option, there are two other places to look. First, in the bullpen, where the Indians are carrying eight players and second at Elliot Johnson, who is essentially a lesser version of Mike Aviles. When sending relievers down, options are just as important as talent. Luckily for the Tribe, those two things line up right now. The two most inconsistent relievers this year in an above average bullpen have been Blake Wood (10.12 ERA, 2.2 IP) and Vinnie Pestano (13.50 ERA, 2 IP) and both still have options. Of these, Wood, as the younger player, would probably get more out of another AAA visit. Pestano has already had a half season in Columbus last season and it is hard to imagine him improving at that level.
Johnson is the only other option to make room for Bourn. While he played well during Spring, he hasn’t reached safely in two games this year and that matches up closer to his career numbers than his March success. If he was removed, the Indians would still have Aviles as reserve infielder and Raburn for extreme situations. Lonnie Chisenhall has dispelled any early thoughts that he couldn’t hit at the Major League level, so Aviles shouldn’t be needed as a starter. This way, Morgan would be available to play for Bourn if necessary and to pinch run or come in as a late defender in right field. Terry Francona will also likely want to keep his eight man pen intact as he has been using every pitcher often this season.
Either way, it is good news to know that the Indians will be getting their starting center fielder back. No matter who is sent down, the team will be better offensively and defensively with Bourn as starter. What will be interesting is the player that will actually be chosen to be sent down. It will say a lot about the current make up of the team and the trust that Bourn is actually ready depending on if it is Morgan, Johnson, Pestano or Wood. The first roster move of the season is coming up and we shouldn’t have to wait long to see who it is.