NEW YORK -- The Indians would love to punch in early and put in some overtime, but the conditions have not allowed it. Hitting coach Derek Shelton believes early work, before the standard batting practice that precedes games, is an important tool for batters. But only once in this bizarre, weather-plagued early portion of the season has the Tribe been able to get such work in. That came in Milwaukee, under Miller Park's retractable roof. So as far as Shelton and his hitters are concerned, bring on the comforts of Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field and Minnesota's Metrodome, where the Indians will play their next five games, beginning Friday.
"It's going to be nice to get inside," Shelton said, "because of the work we'll be able to do. Both [night games], it's rained during BP here [at Yankee Stadium], and even in Milwaukee, it was cold inside. We've got to be able to get more work done." The Indians' bats have cooled considerably since an early outburst in the season-opening series in Chicago. Their .242 team average ranks ninth in the American League, and they're particularly struggling in the clutch, batting .180 (18-for-100) with runners in scoring position. They've stranded 38 runners over the last five games. "You come out of Spring Training, where you get a lot of reps, and we swung pretty well in Chicago," Shelton said. "Then we had a four-day layoff [because of the postponed Mariners series]. Getting work in the cages is not even close to getting on the field." In part because of the conditions, Shelton isn't at all concerned about his offense at this point. The Indians have a decent team on-base percentage of .334, which is reason for optimism. "That will be what helps us the most," he said. "We'll be fine. We have good hitters, and we're going to hit." Lineup juggling: With right-hander Darrell Rasner on the mound for the Yanks on Thursday, Indians manager Eric Wedge opted to give right-handed second baseman Josh Barfield a day off, replacing him with left-handed utilityman Mike Rouse. Third baseman Andy Marte was given his second straight day off, replaced by Casey Blake. "I wanted to give him two clean days, mentally and physically," Wedge said of Marte. With Blake at the hot corner, Ryan Garko got his first start of the season against a right-hander. And with right fielder Trot Nixon suffering from the flu, Jason Michaels got his first start against a right-hander, as well. Here's the question: Let's see how well you know the background of the Indians' players. Two members of the 40-man roster graduated from the same high school in the same year. Can you name them? Getting acclimated: The Indians anticipated Barfield might take some time to make the adjustment from the National League West, where he was a rookie with the Padres last season, to the AL Central, and they were correct. Barfield is batting just .154 (6-for-39) with a homer, five RBIs, eight strikeouts and only one walk. "He's still a young kid in his first year with a new team in a new league," Wedge said. "We've got to help him get acclimated and support him with all that." Awe and a flaw: Reliever Tom Mastny didn't appear to be too concerned with becoming the latest victim of Alex Rodriguez's astounding April. When a guy is as hot as A-Rod has been this month, Mastny said, it's impossible to sneak a mistake by him. Rodriguez scooped up Mastny's shin-high fastball and deposited it over the left-field wall for a two-run homer in the sixth inning of Wednesday's 9-2 loss. It was Rodriguez's ninth homer in 13 games. "He golfed it out," Mastny said. "I thought I could get a fastball in there. If I could get it where I wanted to, it would have been a different story. You can't make a mistake to a guy like that, especially the way he's hitting now." The 26-year-old Mastny, who was brought out in long relief after starter Jeremy Sowers was shelled, said the toughest thing about facing the Yankees is getting over their star power. "Once you get over the awe of who you're facing," he said, "you realize it's a game and they get out seven out of 10 times, just like everybody else. Then you have the advantage, because they've never faced you." Tribe tidbits: Nixon's flu bug kept him from even showing up to the ballpark Wednesday, but he was back at the field Thursday and was available to pinch-hit. ... The Indians came into Thursday's game with a 5-1 record against right-handed starters and a 1-4 mark against left-handers. ... Shortstop Jhonny Peralta's .444 average with runners in scoring position ranks sixth in the AL. And the answer is: Garko and outfielder Ben Francisco both graduated from Servite High School in Walnut, Calif., in 1999. On deck: At long last, the Indians will leave the chill of the north behind and head back to the warm-weather comforts of Florida and the indoor comforts of Tropicana Field on Friday. The Tribe begins a three-game series with the Devil Rays at 7:10 p.m. ET. Left-hander C.C. Sabathia (3-0, 2.14 ERA) will get the start opposite right-hander Edwin Jackson (0-2, 8.31).
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.