Hannahan wins Tribe's starting job at hot corner

Hannahan wins Tribe's starting job at hot corner

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jack Hannahan has been given the job as the Indians' Opening Day third baseman. With his confidence soaring, and his place on the roster secure, Hannahan believes now is his time to embrace his role and run with it.

"I'm sick of looking in the rear-view mirror," Hannahan said.

On Tuesday, Hannahan was allowed to look forward. Cleveland optioned young third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall to Triple-A Columbus, making it official that Hannahan would be at the hot corner for the Tribe to start the season.

Chisenhall is considered the future for Cleveland at third base, but the club feels he still required offensive development before being handed the everyday job on the big league stage. In the meantime, Hannahan does not want to take the field feeling like a stopgap solution.

Hannahan believes he can be more than that for the Indians.

"I've always kind of been that last guy to make a team," Hannahan said. "If you don't do your job, they're going to find someone else to do it. Instead of just always looking in the rear-view mirror at who's coming, I'm not going to worry about that stuff. I'll just go out and I'm going to play and be myself and let everything take care of itself.

"This game is about having confidence and believing in yourself. Last year and this year in spring, I really believe that not only defensively, but offensively, I can contribute. I'm really looking forward to having an opportunity to do that."

Chisenhall's demotion came as part of a trio of transactions on Tuesday morning. Cleveland also optioned struggling first baseman Matt LaPorta to Columbus and reassigned outfielder Chad Huffman to Minor League camp. The Indians' roster now stands at 43 players with a week left until camp breaks in Arizona.

The Indians know what they have in Hannahan: an above-average defender who can only help a pitching staff that relies heavily on creating groundouts. That alone makes the 32-year-old Hannahan a fit for Cleveland's infield. As for his place in the lineup, Hannahan's aim this year will be to build on the strides he made over the last two months of 2011.

In Chisenhall, the Indians believe they have a budding star who will eventually emerge as a top talent in the Major Leagues. The 23-year-old third baseman showed last season, and again this spring, that he still has plenty of room to grow as a hitter. In 16 Cactus League games, Chisenhall hit .205 (8-for-39) with 16 strikeouts and one walk.

Cleveland hoped to see improved plate discipline this spring from Chisenhall -- the club's first-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft -- after he posted an uncharacteristically low .284 on-base percentage in his 66-game taste of the Majors last season. In that initial tour with the Tribe, Chisenhall hit .255 with seven homers and 22 RBIs.

"He knows he needs to work on controlling the strike zone better," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "That will come with time. This guy has been one of the youngest players in just about every league he has played. Kids his age, you can find a ton of them in A-ball or in Double-A.

"We know that he's going to be the main guy here for years to come, but right now he needs to play baseball."

Last summer, Chisenhall got the call to The Show on June 27, when Hannahan was moved to the bench while mired in a 44-game slump in which he hit just .177 for the Indians. Hannahan wants to avoid a similar situation this season, and he firmly believes he turned an offensive corner down the stretch last year.

With his average down to .213 on the season, Hannahan switched to a heavier bat and went on to hit at a .368 clip with 17 RBIs over his final 26 games of the campaign. That late tear allowed Hannahan to end the year batting .250 (a solid showing given his .231 career average) with eight homers and 40 RBIs in 110 games.

That finish played a big role in helping Hannahan earn the everyday job this spring.

"He helped himself," Acta said. "Obviously, if he would've finished the season the way he was when we put him on the bench, I don't think we would be discussing that right now on the same level. It was good that he finished on a good note over the last two months."

The Indians will be interested to see if that solid showing down the stretch was a hot streak or an indication of an upward trend.

"He'll get that opportunity Opening Day," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "We expect him to continue to run with it. We have a pretty good feel for what we'll get defensively. Jack's challenge will be to continue to be consistent offensively."

Hannahan -- a non-roster invite for the Indians in Spring Training last year -- said he is excited about taking on that challenge.

"I feel more confident and I feel like I've got a better understanding of the game," he said. "Everything slows down a lot more. I feel really comfortable in the batter's box. I feel good. It's a mind-set. You go about your business the same way.

"But when you dig in, it's always a great mind-set when you feel comfortable and confident in your swing, and really knowing what you want to do -- not so much what the pitcher wants to do to you."

And it is a great feeling not to be looking in that rear-view mirror.

"This game is a game of opportunity," Hannahan said. "When you get that opportunity, you need to take advantage of it."

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.