Outfielder pinch-hits in Thursday's loss, expected to be in starting lineup Friday
By Connor Mount
ST. PETERSBURG -- Indians manager Terry Francona knew his club was interested in acquiring outfielder Jay Bruce from the Mets, so after Cleveland's frustrating 12-inning loss to the Rockies on Wednesday, Francona spoke to president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff.
"It was funny, after the game last night, we had a tough loss yesterday, I come up and Chris and Chernoff are sitting there, and I'm like, 'When do we get Jay Bruce?'" Francona said. "And he was like, 'Give me a little time.' And I went, 'Really?'"
Sure enough, the Indians added the lefty slugger later that night, bringing a player into the fold with 29 homers and 75 RBIs this year. The Indians will pay the entirety of the remaining salary on Bruce's $13 million contract for the year, as they try to stabilize a banged-up outfield and fortify their roster for October.
"[Chairman] Paul Dolan deserves way more credit, I hope he's getting it, because he kind of took a big bite right there," Francona said. "And don't think we don't appreciate it, because it's going to give us a better chance to win. We have some pretty key guys banged up, but getting a bat like that -- man, that's a big difference-maker."
Francona expects Bruce to bat fifth when he's ready to join the starting lineup Friday. That will be just a starting point, as Francona said he wants to sit down to talk with Bruce about his role and will manage the lineup based on matchups and batting order balance.
On Thursday, topping off what he called "a bit of a whirlwind day" that saw him reach the ballpark an hour before game time, Bruce pinch-hit in the seventh inning of the Indians' 4-1 loss to the Rays. He popped out on the first pitch he saw with one out and the go-ahead run on third base. After the game, Bruce raved about being able to join a Cleveland squad in postseason contention.
"This team is awesome. They were awesome without me, and I hope to just add a little bit to it," Bruce said. "I'm not trying to be Superman, not trying to come in and do anything other than what I can do and be myself."
While Bruce will be able to slip right in initially, the lineup could become more difficult to juggle when outfielders Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley return from injury.
Aware of the potential logjam down the road, Antonetti called the injured outfielders before the Bruce trade was made to communicate with them, Francona said. Bruce and Bradley Zimmer seem certainties, if healthy, to occupy two outfield spots on most days. Brandon Guyer, Austin Jackson and Abraham Almonte have all seen time in the outfield.
"But Chris made a good point yesterday," Francona said. "If it comes to a point where we think we have too many outfielders, good for us. Because right now, we're playing two short."
Chisenhall is inching closer to his return. Out since July 14 with a right calf injury, Chisenhall will run the bases again Saturday, Francona said. He should be able to play on a Minor League rehab assignment Monday, and possibly as early as Sunday.
Connor Mount is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Petersburg. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.