The early morning e-mails began landing in my Inbox several years ago. They were from an Italian named Carlo Pellegrino, and they were entertaining not just for his (sometimes ill-fated) attempts to write in English but also for his insightful thoughts and questions about the Indians.
Over time, I came to realize that Carlo is easily the Tribe's most devoted fan east of the Atlantic. He hails from the Tuscan town of Grosseto, where baseball was introduced to the natives by U.S. servicemen during World War II and caught on. Carlo grew up enamored with the sport, got hooked on a video game in the mid-90s in which the Albert Belle-era Indians were one of the best teams in baseball and quickly became a Tribe fan for life.
Now, Carlo stays up most nights until 4 or 5 a.m., watching Indians games on MLB.TV and, when the mood strikes, e-mailing yours truly. We've become pen pals. His English has improved; my Italian has not. I learned that Carlo is not just a fellow baseball fan, but also a fellow sportswriter. He covers the Grosseto soccer team for a chain of newspapers in Tuscany. (If I had any brains coming out of college, I would have interned there.)
Carlo and I finally met in person a few weeks back, when he and his friend, Perry, took in a couple Indians games at Progressive Field as part of a 24-day, coast-to-coast journey across the U.S. They went to Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Busch Stadium, Dodger Stadium and various points in-between, finally returning to Italy last week. "Our crazy trip" was how Carlo described it. He showed me the hundreds of dollars' worth of Tribe paraphernalia he purchased in the Progressive Field Team Shop. And he pulled out his official Tribe Fan Club membership card.
"There is a limit to everything," Perry explained. "He passes it."
And so I'm sending this long-overdue edition of the Indians Inbox out to my pen pal Carlo. And if any of you out there have questions about the Grosseto soccer team, I'll be happy to pass them along.
I can live with Grady Sizemore going on the disabled list, but only if that means we get to see more of Michael Brantley. Why is Brantley still stuck in Triple-A Columbus? And when will Sizemore return? -- Mike D., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
The Indians are still getting a handle for how long they'll be without Sizemore. But I'd say the fact that he's getting second and third opinions from two specialists this week does not bode well for a quick return. If Sizemore has torn cartilage and/or a microfracture that needs repaired, that has the potential to threaten his return this season. That's the worst-case scenario, of course. An update on Grady's condition and outlook is not expected until the weekend.
Not knowing the full extent of Sizemore's condition at the time he went on the DL, the Indians didn't want to just call up Brantley for a couple weeks, only to send him right back down to Columbus. Also, keep in mind the service-time situation with Brantley that we've discussed here in the past, as well as the fact that just five of his 34 hits with the Clippers have gone for extra bases.
Trevor Crowe was already here and has performed well since his May 15 promotion, and Manny Acta, who was impressed with Crowe this spring, wants to give him an earnest opportunity. Right now, Crowe is making the most of it.
I know the Indians are regularly knocked for their poor drafting record. I don't want anybody in the scouting department to be like Denny in "The Room" and scream, "Stop ganging up on me!" But I cringe every time I look at Jason Heyward's numbers with the Braves, knowing we passed him over to select Beau Mills. What was the reason behind that decision? -- Tim B., Cleveland
Heyward, 20, was the 14th pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft and has a .989 OPS in his rookie season with the Braves.
Mills, 23, was the 13th pick in that Draft and has a .663 OPS in his second season at Double-A Akron.
Yeah, I'd say your frustration is justifiable, Tim.
Signability clearly wasn't the issue with Heyward. He signed with the Braves for $1.7 million, while Mills received $1.575 million from the Tribe. Unless the fates of Heyward and Mills take a drastic turn, this was a swing and a miss on the part of the Tribe's scouts, and one of the reasons the Indians have reevaluated their modus operandi in preparation for this year's Draft, in which they have the fifth overall pick.
"I can tell you, and we've got the reports to prove it, [Heyward] is a guy we gave strong consideration to," said John Mirabelli, assistant GM in charge of scouting. "We can only make decisions based on all the information we have at the time. That comes from our guys in the field and our scouts. We make the best decision we can at the time they call our number. I can tell you, in that instance, our process was solid. We're going to move forward with Beau and feel he can be a good Major League player."
If Monday night's performance wasn't reason enough for Justin Masterson to be removed from the rotation, what will it take? Perhaps it would be good to send him down to Columbus so he can tweak his mechanics and prepare for the transition back to the bullpen. Does Masterson prefer to start? Would moving him to the 'pen risk him feeling betrayed and fed up with this world, like Tommy Wiseau in "The Room"? -- Mike R., Boca Raton, Fla.
Have a question about the Indians?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Indians beat reporter Jordan Bastian for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
I could certainly be wrong, but, in talking to Masterson since he was acquired by the Indians last summer, I've never gotten the impression that he's particularly adamant about being a starter. I think he was comfortable in that bullpen setting in Boston, and he obviously performed well in the role. He's gone through quite a bit of culture shock since coming over to the Tribe.
I'm with you, Mike, in that I thought Monday night's outing would be the final straw for the Masterson-as-a-starter experiment. But it continues Sunday in the Bronx, and you'd have to imagine Aaron Laffey, for one, has a vested interest in how much longer it goes on.
My annual vacation to Cleveland (that's right, Joakim Noah) is scheduled for late July this year. What chance do I have of seeing Asdrubal Cabrera in action? How about Carlos Santana? -- Matt M., Essex, Conn.
That was a pretty nasty fracture suffered by Cabrera. So I'd say, all things considered, you have a higher chance of seeing Santana. But with Luis Valbuena batting .144, I'm sure the Indians will do everything in their power to speed Cabrera's recovery along.
With Cabrera on the DL and Jason Donald replacing him, who is the backup shortstop and third baseman on this team? And is Matt LaPorta going to lose at-bats because of all these first basemen and corner outfielders (i.e. Russell Branyan, Austin Kearns and Shelley Duncan)? -- John L., San Diego
At the moment, Valbuena is the backup shortstop and the starting second baseman. Mark Grudzielanek will continue to dip into the struggling Valbuena's playing time at second, and Valbuena can start at short on the days Donald is rested. Manager Manny Acta said he won't have Jhonny Peralta make the occasional start at his old position at short. When Peralta rests, Grudzielanek can play third.
What you're watching up the middle these next couple months is, essentially, an audition between Donald and Valbuena for playing time, once Cabrera returns in late July/early August. Valbuena was on the verge of a demotion and Donald a promotion when Cabrera got hurt. Now, the Indians don't have any obvious options down on the farm to augment the middle infield. So it's Donald and Valbuena, with a splash of the veteran Grudzielanek for good measure.
So far this season, Valbuena has done nothing to dispute the notion that he might be better suited for a utility role. Donald has been pegged with that label in the past, but this is his first opportunity in the Majors, and some in the Indians' front office think he can be an everyday guy.
As far as LaPorta is concerned, your question is answered with one look at Acta's lineups. Because of LaPorta's struggles and the emergence of Austin Kearns, LaPorta is not the everyday player the Indians expected him to be by this point in this season. He is, however, still getting consistent at-bats, as Acta has remained careful with Branyan and his back. You can certainly make the argument that LaPorta might be better off playing on a daily basis in Columbus to build up some confidence, but for now the Indians are adamant that he can work out the kinks up here in this capacity.
I had the (mis)fortune of taking my two younger brothers down to Kansas City exactly a year ago, May 19th, only to see Kerry Wood blow a three-run lead in the ninth. This leads me to ask: What will it take to get May 19th declared "Kerry Wood Blown Save vs. the Royals Day"? Or better yet, what will it take to get him on track? -- Andrew N., Ames, Iowa
May 19 also happens to be the anniversary of Anne Boleyn, wife of King Henry VIII, getting beheaded for adultery and treason. So let that be a lesson to Wood: It could be worse.
The best cure for a struggling closer is regular work, something that's not easy to come by on a losing ballclub. Acta believes the Indians can rig it so that Wood never goes more than three days without getting on the mound. If the plan works out, that should help Wood stay more sharp than he was last season.
The bottom line with Wood is that, between Spring Training, his rehab assignment and his appearances with the Indians thus far this season, he's pitched exactly 10 innings in game situations since March 5. Ten innings in 12 weeks. That's not a recipe for sharp stuff.
It's safe to say that, due to circumstances both in and out of his control, Wood has not been the shutdown closer the Indians hoped for when they signed him to a $20.5 million contract. But to be fair, let's not judge his 2010 performance until we see more of him. It's no secret the Indians would like to see Wood pitch himself into trade bait territory.
I've been following you on Twitter (@Castrovince) for some time and just recently discovered that David Huff (@DHuff11) has an account, too. Are there any other Tribe notables to follow? -- Kevin K., Independence, Ohio
Matt LaPorta is @Gator4God. Tribe media relations director Bart Swain is @tribeinsider. The Indians' PR department's account is @tribetalk.
I'm liking the move the Indians made with Donald. Might we see more callups soon, and maybe some trades? -- Daniel B., Rochester, N.Y.
It's still a little early for the trade talks to heat up. The Indians have very few tradable commodities. Kearns, Jake Westbrook, Wood and Peralta all have the potential to be dealt, though it's hard to say what the level of interest will be. At present, Kearns would be the most attractive trading chip of that bunch, given his salary-to-OPS ratio.
Regarding callups, I already discussed the outlook for Brantley. Fans are clamoring for a Santana callup, and I'd say that's entirely possible after June 1, when the 2010 season won't count toward his arbitration clock and the Indians can say they gave Lou Marson a legit opportunity as a starting catcher at this level. Those are the only two prospects on the immediate horizon who would fill a current Major League need.
Can you please tell me why the Indians released Scott Lewis? His numbers were looking good down in Triple-A. -- Jason Y., Woodsfield, Ohio
Lewis' chronic injury troubles finally forced the Indians to cut the cord. As you know, Lewis missed most of last season with a left elbow strain. It was a troubling development, considering Lewis, the Tribe's third-round pick in the 2004 Draft, had Tommy John elbow surgery while still at Ohio State and biceps and elbow issues throughout his Minor League career.
Lewis made it to the big leagues at the end of the '08 season and was the AL Rookie of the Month that September. But missing the bulk of '09 hurt his development and his stock in the organization. And when the biceps issues returned last month and his rehab from the injury wasn't going particularly well, the Indians felt it best to just move on.
With Rafael Perez struggling again this year, can he be sent to the Minors, or is he out of options? -- Steve, no location given
Perez is out of Minor League options. He has a 6.92 ERA to go with a $795,000 contract, so there's obviously a chance he could get through waivers unclaimed, if the Indians chose to send him down.
And finally...When's the Inbox coming back? I know the Indians aren't very inspiring so far this year, but I'm still addicted and need to get my fix. Give me your shot of Inbox methadone, Anthony. -- Ali M., Cleveland Heights, Ohio
I hope this gave you the fix you were looking for, Ali. I suppose this makes me some sort of enabler. But at least this addiction of yours won't lead to an intervention, a la the one in "The Room," when everybody ganged up on Denny.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.