One can sense the pride in Terry Francona’s voice when he’s talking about baseball. On Wednesday afternoon, the Indians manager was asked about the state of the sport.
“Months ago, I came out and said this was a chance for baseball to shine,” Francona said. “I was disappointed with the way the negotiations went because they were so public and I didn’t think that was the respectful manner in which we needed to treat our game. But despite that, once we get on the field, it’s a wonderful game and it has a way of always moving on.”
That’s certainly the hope for the sport, which fought through disputes and dysfunction, at times creating significant doubt that there would be a season at all, to get to the point of being just over a week away from baseball.
“I don’t think we do a good enough job explaining to people how much we love what we do,” Francona added.
In terms of the developmental side of the game, minor league baseball is off. College baseball was cut short, and the draft was just five rounds. Francona said there’s undoubtedly an uncertainty level surrounding that aspect.
“I don’t think any of us know how it’s going to impact the game,” the eighth-year Tribe skipper said. “There are high school kids that were potentially going to sign, and now are going to college. There were juniors and seniors that were potentially going to sign, and now they’re going to go back. I don’t think we know. But I do know that, if you’re a good baseball player, we’re going to find you.”
It will be interesting to see how finding those talents continues to evolve.
Turning to the Tribe, Francona said it’s difficult to collectively evaluate the bullpen at the moment.
“They’re at different places in their throwing,” Francona said of his relievers. “I would say that for the very most part, everyone was very diligent in what they did while they were gone..
There’s no question the Tribe bullpen carries a question mark with it. We know that Brad Hand is the closer, but how Cleveland gets to that point is an area that needs to be hashed out. With the new three-batter minimum rule, Francona can’t simply play the matchup game with arms like specialists Adam Cimber and Oliver Perez. Nick Wittgren has shown he can be relied upon, but as to what extent, we shall see. And James Karinchak is nasty, but the goal is to channel that with more efficiency.
“We will certainly ask our guys in the bullpen to be patient,” Francona said. “Not only are we under some different rules, but they’re going to pitch in probably one or two games before we start. So, we’re going to try to not overdo anybody. We’re going to try to use common sense. We’re going to try to win every game we can, so that’s going to take some patience on their part also.”
Francona said Perez actually had to be held back from going back-to-back days of relief duty on Monday and Tuesday, but that it’s a good problem to have. He stressed the fact that the 38-year-old has executed against right-handed hitters before, and that Perez understands that he must do that to succeed.
In terms of some other takeaways from Tito’s Tuesday availability, Francona said perhaps no one has benefited more from the work stoppage than outfielder Tyler Naquin, whose bat has been strong in Summer Camp. It would appear that all signs are pointing to Naquin being the opening day right field starter. Oscar Mercado has center locked up, and if Franmil Reyes is healthy, one would think that’s the route Francona will go. Reyes is slated in Wednesday’s lineup.
Tribe players also met on Wednesday to discuss the team’s coronavirus code of conduct that will be implemented throughout the season.
“When the season does start and we start flying, traveling and staying in hotels, that’s when everything we’ve tried to live by here, will really come into play even moreso on the road,” Francona said.
Another intrasquad game is ahead Wednesday night, with Mike Clevinger getting the start for one side. He’ll be opposed by 25-year-old left-hander Scott Moss.
In terms of transaction news, the Indians are sending pitcher Anthony Gose back to Lake County to be with the taxi squad for the sole purpose of getting more reps, according to Francona. The organization likes Gose’s potential, but would like him to get more appearances at the moment.