New dad Chisenhall trying to make his mark

New dad Chisenhall trying to make his mark

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Things are a lot different for Lonnie Chisenhall this spring. A year ago, making the Opening Day roster was not an option. His chances of earning a job as the Indians' starting third baseman this time around are legitimate.

Trying to crack the big league roster is the easy part, though. Chisenhall is also a new father. He and his wife, Meredith, welcomed a baby boy -- named Cutter -- into the world in January. Needless to say, life on and off the field has changed drastically for the third baseman.

"My time is kind of spent with him," Chisenhall said. "I get home from the field and play with him a little bit until he gets cranky and wants to go to bed. It's a little different coming home to that."

It surely puts things in perspective.

Suddenly, fielding ground balls smoothly or trying to time a swing to perfect hitting left-handers does not sound so hard. And, if Chisenhall does enough impressing along those lines this spring, he could conceivably force Cleveland's hand in its decision over whether to bring him north when camp breaks.

The Indians know what they have in veteran third baseman Jack Hannahan. He is a slick-fielding defender -- one of the best in the business at the hot corner -- and a hitter who has had more valleys than peaks. Hannahan is a starting third baseman at best and a solid utility option off the bench at worst.

The Spring Training evaluation will center around Chisenhall.

"We're looking for Chisenhall to come in and make the progress we're expecting," Indians manager Manny Acta said earlier this spring. "Sometimes in Spring Training it's just hard to make a decision based on numbers. So, we're going to have to zero in not only on numbers, but the quality of at-bats and defense and what's best for our franchise in the end."

Chisenhall knows what he needs to do.

Last season, he was a respectable defender in the field, and it stands to reason that he can only get better by working with Hannahan on a daily basis this spring. What Chisenhall needs to show Cleveland's brass is improved plate discipline after having his career-long approach disappear once he hit the Major League stage.

"It just felt like my plan kind of went out the window," Chisenhall said. "I hit the panic button. I was worried about hitting for a high average."

Overall, Chisenhall hit .255 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs in 66 games for the Indians after joining the club in June. Within that showing, though, Chisenhall posted a .284 on-base percentage, which was a sharp drop off from the .353 mark he posted in his 66 games with Triple-A Columbus last year.

Chisenhall's walk rate dropped from 9.6 percent with Columbus to only 3.6 percent in his tour with the Tribe last season. Along the same lines, he struck out in 22 percent of his at-bats with the Indians after doing so just 16.1 percent of the time in Triple-A.

"Normally I have a respectable walk-to-strikeout ratio," Chisenhall said. "All throughout the Minors, it's been really consistent. It just felt like once I got up [to the big leagues], I got myself in a hole and I was trying to get those hits.

"Your average doesn't go up with walks -- that was kind of how I felt."

That topic was brought up during Chisenhall's two-on-one meeting with Acta and general manager Chris Antonetti at the beginning of camp this spring. Chisenhall said their message to him for the preseason was simple.

"They said, 'It's not all about average,'" Chisenhall said. "They told me to just go out there, have your quality at-bats, play good defense and run the bases well -- just do the fundamental things. There's a few things that they want to see that I need to pick up."

Batting average clearly did not matter last spring, because Chisenhall hit .500 (13-for-26) with two home runs and five RBIs in 12 Cactus League games while the Tribe was holding a competition for third base. He might have been trying to force the Indians' hand then as well, but he was sent to the Minors as expected.

On Saturday, in the Tribe's Cactus League opener against the Reds at Goodyear Ballpark, Chisenhall got rolling on a strong note. In the second inning, he ripped a pitch from Cincinnati's Mike Leake into right field for an RBI single en route to a 1-for-2 showing.

The Indians have admitted that they promoted the 23-year-old Chisenhall to the Majors likely before he was ready, but injuries and other issues at the big league level necessitated the move. Upon his arrival, there were still questions about his ability to hit left-handed pitching, given his .200 average against southpaws at Triple-A at the time.

Those doubts appeared to have merit when Chisenhall hit just .111 (2-for-18) against lefty pitching before September. Over the season's final month, however, Chisenhall was worked into the lineup more often, and he answered by hitting .315 overall in his last 19 games and .344 (11-for-32) against lefties in September.

"This guy did some good things when he had an opportunity to go out there and play more often at the end," Acta said.

The strong finish allowed Chisenhall to enter the winter in a strong frame of mind.

"When you get opportunities, you have to take advantage of it," Chisenhall said. "Fortunately, I finished strong. It leaves a good taste in your mouth through the whole offseason. I was happy with my September."

And Chisenhall is happy to be getting a little more sleep this spring.

Cutter is only waking up once or twice each night.

"We thought we had a vampire for a little bit," Chisenhall said with a laugh. "He didn't know night from day."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.