CLEVELAND -- Shelley Duncan heads into this season free from the label that has followed him throughout his career. After years of being defined as a bench player, the Indians are giving Duncan a chance to prove he can hold his own as their starting left fielder.
"He has a great opportunity," Indians manager Manny Acta said before Thursday's season opener against the Blue Jays. "We know that he can provide some power and some leadership for us. This is going to be a new venue for him, being able to do it on an everyday basis.
"It's a great opportunity for him and hopefully he takes advantage of it."
Duncan was excited to finally have that chance.
"It's pretty cool," Duncan said on Thursday. "I'm really just looking forward to today. I'm pretty excited, first of all. I'm playing on Opening Day. I'm nervous right now, but when the game starts, I'll probably just get locked in and not be nervous anymore."
Cleveland handed the keys to left field to Duncan following a Spring Training in which the club's outfield candidates struggled as a whole. The 32-year-old Duncan hit just .161 (9-for-56), but he did flash solid power potential with six home runs, 19 RBIs and 27 total bases. That run production helped him earn the Opening Day opportunity in left field.
As camp wound down, the Indians remained reluctant to announce that Duncan was going to begin the season as the starter in left. Cleveland's hesitation to give him the good news stemmed from its ongoing search for external alternatives. While the front office searched for possible fits, Acta thought it best to wait before anointing Duncan an everyday outfielder.
"I didn't want to have a talk and then end up with a new guy the next day," Acta said. "I think everybody was fully aware of that. It's not about Shelley. It's about trying to improve our club. We're never going to stop doing that regardless of what position it is.
"You have to give credit to our front office -- they never stop. We have reasons for it. We struggled with those guys in camp. They didn't make it any easier on us."
Duncan has spent part of five seasons in the big leagues with the Yankees and Indians, working mainly as a backup option for first base, left field and designated hitter. Last year, Duncan hit .260 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs in 76 games for Cleveland, but he finished with a flourish. In September, Duncan batted .265 with seven homers, seven doubles and 23 RBIs in 26 games.
"I went through a period where I had success," Duncan said. "I got confidence and that's the most important thing you can have."