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Published: Tuesday, 2/19/2013

Balance sought for Indians

Matchup problems still around for lefties

(CLEVELAND) PLAIN DEALER

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The Indians have added a switch-hitter in Nick Swisher and right-handed hitters in Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs, and Mike Aviles to help balance the lineup, but they could still have matchup problems with left-handed hitters Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, and Lonnie Chisenhall.

It was a dilemma for former manager Manny Acta, and it will pose some problems for Terry Francona as well. Just look at the top of the lineup.

Francona could go with Bourn, Kipnis, and Brantley in the first three spots, but that's an open invitation for a left-handed pitcher to go to work against them late in the game. Last season, that happened seemingly on a nightly basis.

"It's not really an issue with Bourn because his splits are almost identical," Francona said. "I just don't want to make it harder on Kipnis and Brantley. Not that they can't hit lefties, but I'd rather not have a manager look up and say this inning is made for my left-hander."

Bourn hit .275 against righties and .273 against lefties last year in Atlanta. Kipnis hit .280 against righties and .215 against lefties. Brantley hit .299 against righties and .265 against lefties.

One solution is using switch-hitter Asdrubal Cabrera in the No. 2 spot.

"He's certainly a candidate," Francona said.

Cabrera started 88 games in the No. 2 spot last year, hitting .258 with 11 homers, and 36 RBI. Overall, Cabrera hit .263 against righties and .286 against lefties.

SWING AND A MISS: The Indians, according to baseball-reference.com, have only had two seasons in which they've had more than one player strike out 140 or more times. Jhonny Peralta and Grady Sizemore were the guilty parties in 2006 and 2007.

This year, the Indians will start the season with four players who struck out 140 or more times last year in Swisher (141), Bourn (155), Reynolds (159), and Stubbs (166).

"We're going to strike out a lot," Francona said. "There will be periods when the team is in a funk, and you're going to see a lot of strikeouts. The good side of that is we really can run, which will give us a chance to manufacture runs."

Last year, the Indians had the second fewest strikeouts and the third most walks but still scored the second fewest runs in the AL.

"Ultimately, it only matters how many runs you score," Francona said. "You have to strike a balance. ... I think strikeouts are more a byproduct of today's player. There are more strikeouts today than there used to be. Bats are lighter, guys swing harder, ballparks are smaller. But runs are up compared to 30 or 40 years ago."

TAKE YOUR CHOICE: Pitchers will start throwing to hitters today in preparation for the start of the Cactus League season Friday against the Reds.

Hitters will have the choice to swing or track pitches.

Each Tribe pitcher has thrown three bullpen sessions since the start of camp and has had two days off before facing hitters. They will not pitch from behind screens.

NAME TO REMEMBER: Right-hander Matt Capps made 30 appearances last season with the Twins because of shoulder problems. This spring he's thrown well.

"We put him on a little slower progression because of what he went through last year, but he's good to go," Francona said. "He's commanding the ball very well, and that's a sign that he's healthy."

Capps, 29, is in camp on a minor league deal. He's 29-33 in his career with a 3.52 ERA and 138 saves. He opened last season as the Twins’ closer, converting 14 of his first 15 save situations before going on the disabled list with a sore right shoulder.

— Paul Hoynes



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