Every year, the early-season "on pace for" stats always amuse me. It can be fun to throw sample size out the window and imagine for a moment that Jack Hannahan was on pace for 162 home runs and 486 RBIs after his performance on Opening Day.
Better yet, Casey Kotchman was on pace for a .000 batting average with 162 RBIs one game into the season. So what if he never got a hit all year. I'm pretty sure the Indians would have been happy with that type of run production.
So when the Indians headed out on their current three-city tour of Kansas City, Seattle and Oakland, it was both fair and unfair to express concern over the Tribe's .176 team batting average. Was there cause for concern? Definitely. But was it right to pound the panic button and step onto the ledges in downtown Cleveland? Hardly.
Now, here we are. Cleveland is three games deeper in the schedule and has raised its team average a whopping 64 points thanks to a weekend sweep of the Royals. The Indians hit .333 (40-for-120) as a team and scored 32 runs after managing 20 in their first five games of the year. The Tribe scored at least eight runs in its first three road games of a season for the first time in team history.
Just like that, the Indians are on pace for 1,053 runs this season.
Here's the latest Indians Inbox...
With the signing of Johnny Damon, which Tribe outfielder will most likely get designated for assignment or sent down to the Minors to clear room on the roster? Also, when Damon joins the team, will he most likely be in a platoon role in left field in which he bats against righties, or will he have the job all to himself?
-- Alex K., Independence, Ohio
First things first, a disclaimer: The Indians' signing of free-agent Johnny Damon is not yet official. That said, Cleveland has indeed reached an agreement with the outfielder on a one-year contract, and the deal should be officially announced in the next day or two.
When Damon does arrive -- it could be late April or early May, depending on how much time he needs to get game ready -- the top candidates to be removed from the roster seem to be outfielder Aaron Cunningham or utility infielder Jose Lopez. Cunningham is currently the fourth outfielder, and Lopez is a backup for first, second and third base, as well as designated hitter.
The reason I'm listing both of them as candidates right now is due to the fact that Cunningham is the current backup for center fielder Michael Brantley. If the Indians aren't confident that Jason Donald can serve as a backup in center -- he's an infielder by trade -- than the team might choose to keep Cunningham in the fold.
Under that scenario, Lopez would appear to be the most vulnerable. With Damon in the mix, Shelley Duncan would likely become a part-timer in left field, as well as a backup for first base and DH. Donald can also serve as a backup for second base, shortstop and third base. That makes Lopez the most expendable in terms of having defensive positions covered.
If Duncan is hitting extremely well upon Damon's arrival, I could see it starting off as a platoon situation in left field. That said, the lefty-hitting Damon actually hit better against lefties (.277) than righties (.255) in 2011. Over the past three seasons, however, Damon's splits against lefties (.274) and righties (.270) are pretty even.
I could also see a scenario where Damon becomes the regular in left field, if Duncan is struggling offensively when the veteran outfielder joins the team. Cleveland has loved having Duncan in a bench role over the past two years, and the ballclub knows he could handle such a role again if it came down to it upon Damon's arrival.
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Why doesn't Duncan get any respect? Acquiring Damon will most likely reduce Duncan's time on the field, and at this early stage of the season, he is the Tribe's best bat. It must be impossible to shake the bench or platoon label. Why?
-- Dan. M., Huntington Beach, Calif.
As of this writing, Duncan was hitting .320 with two home runs and six RBIs in Cleveland's first eight games this season. It's a small sample size, but it's also a continuation of the strong September Duncan had when finally given a regular role. If he continues to hit this well, the Indians will do what they can to keep him in the lineup.
Given the high volume of lefties in the starting lineup, Duncan is valuable as a right-handed bat capable of providing some power. He can get playing time in left field, or can spell a player at first base of DH, too. As noted in the previous answer, I doubt Duncan would be yanked out of a starting role if he was one of the Tribe's hottest bats at the time of Damon's arrival.
Damon even said in a recent interview that he would not expect to take playing time away from Duncan if he is still one of the team's top offensive performers. Adding a veteran bat like Damon doesn't hurt, but Cleveland isn't going to mess with something that's working just to squeeze him in the lineup. It's up to Duncan to make the decision difficult for the Indians.
Would a long-term contract for starter Justin Masterson be something the Indians look at this season?
-- Adian G., Bordentown, N.J.
The Indians explored a multiyear contract with Masterson's camp during Spring Training, but the sides were unable to align on terms. As of right now, the sides have put the talks on hold. Under the circumstances, I'd expect the Indians and Masterson's representatives to wait to see what kind of year the right-hander has as a follow-up to his breaking 2011 showing before continuing negotiations.
I am concerned that Masterson is not a starting pitcher because of one thing: his sidearm delivery. Lefty hitters see the ball better than righty hitters. Will pitching coach Scott Radinsky have Masterson alter the delvery?
-- Kristin J., San Diego
The Indians are not going to have Masterson change his pitching style at this point in his career. He was a workhorse last season, and turned in one of the best seasons among American League starters. He is working on improving against lefties, but the sinkerballer is so dominant against right-handed hitters that the level of concern is not extreme right now. Masterson proved that he was a solid starting pitcher last season, and he will be in that role for the forseeable future for the Tribe.
Are the Indians getting an unfair shake when it comes to hit batsmen? It seems like they always are getting the warnings and the ejections (and suspensions) while teams are free to hit Shin-Soo Choo whenever they like. Where are the ejections and suspensions for the other teams?
-- Tim T., Richmond Heights, Ohio
I'm assuming you're referring to Saturday's events in Kansas City. Warnings were issued after Royals lefty Jonathan Sanchez hit Choo with a pitch, so the next incident was naturally going to warrant the greater punishment. When Jeanmar Gomez hit K.C.'s Mike Moustakas with a pitch, it made sense for Gomez and manager Manny Acta to earn ejections. As for the ejection to third baseman Hannahan, well, go back and watch the footage. I think the umpires were justified in getting him out of the ballgame out of fear of the Royals possibly retaliating further during his next at-bat. The umpires are simply trying to control the situation at that point, and I have no issue with how it was handled.
After watching the first few games of Yoenis Cespedes I really wish our Tribe could have signed him. The Indians were always on the list targeting him this offseason. Out of curiosity, just how much did the front office pursue him? Was it realistic for us?
-- Jake F., Harrisonburg, Va.
I'm not sure the Indians were willing to put such an unproven prospect in their starting lineup immediately out of the gates, especially at the start of a season in which the Tribe expects to be a contender for the playoffs. And as strong as Cespedes has been so far, I'll be curious to see how he does in the second half, after pitchers learn and adjust to his approach at the plate.
How long will everyone continue to refer to Roberto Hernandez as "The player formerly known as Fausto Carmona?" This has been a story for a few months. We get it. If the Indians are trying to get him back into the game and move beyond all of this, why doesn't everyone else?
-- Jim M., Dallas
There is an old journalism rule that instructs the writer to assume the reader does not know the background to a story. That is why -- likely until Hernandez actually rejoins the team -- you will see reminders in print about his past. Besides, "Fausto Carmona" is such a cool-sounding name. We're not ready to let go of it just yet.