Fans often ask about my obsession for coming up with nicknames for players. I think it all stems back to my childhood, when my dad wielded his corny sense of humor to crack up his kids. I can still hear my mom, slicing through the giggles with her constant plea.
"Don't encourage him!" she'd say.
Well, I think Mrs. MLBastian would agree that I've inherited -- fortunately or unfortunately, depending on who you ask -- my father's propensity for puns. Also playing a role is the fact that I grew up in an era with some pretty cool baseball monikers. The Big Hurt. The Crime Dog. The Big Unit. Rocket.
As a baseball writer, and as a Bastian, I feel it is my duty to help bestow some nicknames upon the athletes I cover. That's why Jack Hannahan became "Supermanahan" and the reason prospect Lonnie Chisenhall became "Lonnie Baseball." I tried to dub Carlos Santana "El Oso" (Spanish for "The Bear"), but that never took off. Shame.
The Indians have a few other good ones that I can't take credit for, though. Shin-Soo "Big League" Choo. Michael Brantley was dubbed "Dr. Smooth" by Dennis Manoloff of the Plain Dealer. Closer Chris "Pure Rage" Perez. On Cleveland's last road trip, even manager Manny Acta got in on the act, calling Josh Tomlin the "Little Cowboy."
Feel free to tack on your suggestions in the comments section.
Here is this week's Indians Inbox ...
How would you evaluate the Indians' first month of play this season? I know it's early, but what do you think are some of the positives and negatives so far?
-- Ross T., Hilliard, Ohio
The biggest positive right now is that the Indians headed into Monday's off-day in sole possession of first place in the American League Central. With plenty of question marks still surrounding the club as it searches for its identity, the Tribe has managed to play solid baseball in April. That's encouraging.
I'd say the inconsistent nature of the offense has been the biggest problem to this point. Then again, the offense has been an ongoing issue for the past few years, so it is not a surprise that the lineup has already had its ups and downs. One thing that sticks out, though, is that it seems to be feast or famine with the offense.
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One thing that the offense has done well is show extreme patience. Cleveland has drawn a Major League-high 101 walks, marking only the fifth time in the franchise's long history that the team has piled up at least 100 walks through the first 20 games of a season. That has helped offset the fact that the Tribe ranks 25th overall with 169 hits.
What that says is that the Indians are still generating traffic on the bases, even when the team is not generating a lot of hits. The hope would be that the patience would be maintained throughout the season, and that things would begin evening out in the hits department, leading to more runs than have been scored early on this year.
The Indians have been able to overcome some of their offensive issues thanks to solid pitching from the rotation and bullpen. Sure, there are individual cases of underperformance, but as a whole, the pitching staff has done well in the first month. That, combined with the Tribe's solid defense, should create optimism about the team's ability to stay in the hunt down the stretch.
Any word on the progress of Choo?
-- Ross T., Hilliard, Ohio
Way to sneak another question in, Ross. Choo (left hamstring strain) went through workouts on Sunday and Monday, and the hope is that he will be ready to rejoin the lineup on Tuesday. Following Sunday's win over the Angels, Acta remained optimistic that Choo could avoid a stint on the disabled list.
I've been pretty impressed with Aaron Cunningham lately. I'll admit I was skeptical about him making the team, but now I'm getting to like him. Productive offense, good defense, and wow can that guy run. With Damon's imminent arrival, does Jose Lopez become more susceptible to a demotion or release because of Cunningham's improved performance?
-- Jake D., Akron, Ohio
When Damon joins the team on Tuesday in Chicago, the veteran outfielder will likely move into shared duties in left field with Shelley Duncan. In the past, Duncan has served as a right-handed backup for first base and designated hitter, too. That is essentially the type of bench role that Lopez has filled over the first month.
Carrying both Duncan and Lopez seems redundant, especially when super sub Jason Donald can provide depth at second and third base (Lopez's other positions). To me, that makes Lopez the most vulnerable in this particular situation. Right now, Donald is currently the only backup for shortstop and Cunningham is the lone backup for center field.
For those reasons alone, Cunningham looks safe at the moment. It certainly helps his case that he is out of Minor League options, meaning he would need to clear waivers. Also helping Cunningham's argument for sticking around is his strong defense, that .286 average against left-handers and that he's hit .300 in his past six games.
Seems like there is some Bullpen Mafia controversy brewing. With Rafael Perez on the disabled list, and questions existing about his velocity, and Nick Hagadone looking like a stud, is Perez an odd-man out? I don't see any way Hagadone gets sent back down if he keeps pitching like he has been at least. What are the possibilities here? Does Dan Wheeler get moved? Jairo Ascencio?
-- Chris C., Stow, Ohio
The Indians might not need to worry too much about this situation for some time. It's possible that Perez could miss three to six weeks with his left lat injury. It's fair to point out that Perez was pitching well enough, even with his injury and diminished velocity. Plus, he is under contract for $2.005 million. Wheeler has also shown solid improvement of late. If Asencio's struggles persist, he would seem to be the odd-man out right now. In the meantime, this is a great opportunity for Hagadone to prove to the Tribe he deserves to stay in the bigs.
With Casey Kotchman not performing offensively, how long do you think the Indians will wait to call up Matt LaPorta? I love Kotchman's defense, but his offense is really hurting the Tribe right now. I know LaPorta has had his struggles in the past, but maybe now it's time for him to get his second chance. He's hitting the heck out of the ball in Columbus, so maybe he can continue that in Cleveland.
-- Dan M., Munroe Falls, Ohio
One month is not a great indicator for an entire season -- whether that is in the Majors or Minors. Kotchman was signed to a one-year, $3 million deal (after hitting .306 last season), so he will have a very long leash. Remember, Austin Kearns hit .139 in April a year ago and Cleveland gave him until early August to try to turn things around. LaPorta might indeed rejoin the Indians at some point this season, but I highly doubt it'd be after one hot month. LaPorta has torn up Minor League pitching throughout his career. It's the next level that has been the issue.
Why does Indians closer Chris Perez sign autographs with his left hand when he pitches with his right hand?
-- Mike D., Dorchester, Ontario, Canada
The pen is mightier than the sword, so Perez feels it's far too dangerous to place any kind of writing utensil in his pitching hand. Actually, the Indians' right-handed-throwing closer is left-handed with everything outside of baseball. Go figure.