After making it through the first two weeks relatively injury free, the increased workload after a long time off has started to take it's toll. First, two players are no longer in the running for a roster spot after a few unfortunately placed balls. Jason Giambi took one on the ribs and will be out most likely until at least May. At the same time, JC Ramirez broke his thumb and will be out a similar time period, keeping him out of the bullpen race. In addition, there have been some smaller injuries that have affected more important players. Ryan Raburn has now missed significant time after banging his knee into the outfield wall and is not yet ready for regular action. Michael Bourn is also having some leg issues after hurting his hamstring in Sunday's game against the Giants and new addition to the utility man race, Justin Sellers has also had some issues with his hamstring.
On to a much less important part of Spring, the Indians have continued their winning ways and against all comers. Similar to the previous week, the Indians went 5-2-1, beating the Padres (12-6), Royals (12-6), Cubs (3-2) and Giants twice (5-1 and 12-11) while earning a tie with White Sox (2-2) last Friday. The two losses came against the Reds on St. Patrick's Day (4-5) and the Diamondbacks (2-4) in their final Spring Training game before heading out to Australia for MLB's Opening Series.
While the first two weeks were a clinic on throwing strikes (and that hasn't changed too much), the Indians offense has finally started to scoring some runs. The Indians still lead the Cactus league in ERA (3.19), although the number isn't quite impressive as last week. More impressive than simply keeping runs from scoring, however, the Indians have continued their trend of keeping control of the plate and currently lead the Cactus league with 3.0 K/BB and total strike outs as well with 171. Last season, the pitching staff set a new club record for more strike outs in a season and this seems to be continuing. To provide even further confidence, the Indians top strike out starter, Danny Salazar, and their top strike out reliever, Cody Allen, have been kept almost completely out of Major League action to this point.
On the offensive side, there has been a surprising source of power and it has come from the free agents brought on minor league contracts. Elliot Johnson (.364, 33 AB, 6 RBI), David Cooper (.333, 18 AB, 5 RBI) and Ryan Rohlinger (.462, 13 AB, 5 RBI) were a huge part in the late inning scoring fests against the Padres and Royals last week. While no player would openly want another player to get hurt, all three here will benefit greatly by the Giambi injury. There was a decent chance Giambi would have stolen a spot on the lineup despite batting .217/.343/.408 since 2009 and just .183/.282/.371 last season. These three, and others including Justin Sellers (.471/.571/.647), David Adams (.258, 31 AB, 4 RBI), Jeff Francoeur (.241, 29 AB, 5 RBI) and Nyjer Morgan (.200, 25 AB, 5 R) now have a much more significant chance at breaking into the regular season with the Indians.
Whether there will be one or two spots open for all those players listed above is yet to be seen. While a few more things settled down this last week (including all but one spot in the starting rotation), these were essentially known already. Justin Masterson (0.00 ERA, 13 IP, 14 K) will lead things off against the A's on March 31st with Corey Kluber (5.02 ERA, 14.1 IP, 15 K) and Zach McAllister (2.45 ERA, 7.1 IP, .197 BAA) following him. Danny Salazar (1.2 IP, 1 ER) will almost certainly take up the fifth spot in the rotation with an unknown pitcher taking up the fourth.
This rotation spot seems to be down to a three man race now with Aaron Harang (2.00 ERA, 9 IP), Carlos Carrasco (1.29 ERA, 7 IP, 9K) and Josh Tomlin (2.57 ERA, 14 IP, 14K) all putting out stellar efforts to this point. Going back to whether one or two utility men will make the team, it will mostly depend on whether the Indians want one or two of these pitchers to make the team. All three pitchers are out of options, so they would have to be exposed to waivers if they don't make the 25 man roster out of Spring. The future of the team will also have be kept in mind. Carrasco is under team control through 2017, while Tomlin is through 2016. If the Indians go for it all this year by making the decision that Harang is the best option (and he likely is), one of the other two players will likely be grabbed by another team.
Either way, Carrasco would be a great option as a long man out of the bullpen. Although his numbers from last season look pretty bad, he was fantastic in a relief role during the tail end of the season. In relief, he through 13.2 innings in eight games and allowed just two runs and 12 total base runners. Using him in this role, he would still be available during the season if the Indians had need for another starter for some reason or another. With his upside, it would be difficult to assume another team wouldn't grab him before he made it back to Columbus.
The results of this competition will be the most interesting and of the most importance to the Indians season this year. Terry Francona is a manager who generally fields the best lineup he can, so Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall will play most every day, no matter which one is at third. Because of that, the final utility man or two is not of great importance. In the coming weeks, the fourth starter should be announced and the rest of the roster can fall in behind him.
Danny Salazar has been mostly pitching in minor league games,
like this one, with mixed results.