Neal, Phelps get chance to start Saturday

Neal, Phelps get chance to start Saturday

KANSAS CITY -- As the season winds down, the final days provide an opportunity for September call-ups to play, and the Indians' lineup reflected that on Saturday at Kauffman Stadium.

A pair of young players -- outfielder Thomas Neal and infielder Cord Phelps -- got rare starts and some playing time, batting eighth and ninth, respectively, in the second game of Cleveland's series with the Royals.

For Neal, it was his fifth big league game of the season. He's started sporadically, as the Indians try to get a look at him following a stellar season at Double-A Akron, where he hit .314 in 117 games.

"It's been very brief," manager Manny Acta said of what Cleveland has seen from Neal. "Unfortunately, he hasn't gotten as many at-bats. We're happy with the year he had and the way he's handled himself up here. He's been very attentive in every game and asks questions. He's handled himself as a professional here, and we like that. He has worked extremely hard. We wanted to take a look at him after the year he had and what he's done in the past. So that's what we're doing."

The 25-year-old, acquired last season in exchange for Orlando Cabrera, has collected two hits in his first 13 big-league at-bats. Neal said his transition from Double-A to the Majors has actually gone pretty well.

"It's been kind of smooth, to be honest with you," Neal said. "I've had time to sit down and watch some games and learn a little bit, talk to some of the older guys. At the end of the day, the game's pretty much the same game. They still have to throw it over the plate for strikes, and you have to stick to your approach. It's been a fun experience so far."

Young players always talk about making the most of their opportunities. What does Neal think can come from doing just that?

"Hopefully you just prove to them that you can play this game at this level and that you belong up here," he said. "Those are the biggest things. I think we all want to strive to be the best. We're all going to continue to work hard to do that. That's one of the things you can do with the opportunity."

Phelps' situation is different, as he plays second base, where Jason Kipnis has a pretty firm grasp on the position. He appeared in 35 games for the Indians last season, and his playing time has been rare this year. Saturday, he made his first start in almost a week.

"It's not ideal, but you're paid to be a professional and be prepared when you get in there and just do the best you can," Phelps said.

In seven games this year, Phelps has picked up one hit in 14 at-bats. What does he want to show his coaches and teammates?

"I don't think it's anything in particular," he said. "I'm just trying to play my game. When you're getting in there every couple days or maybe once every five days, you've got to find your own rhythm, just try to do what you can do and not try to do too much.

"It's not my job to think 'If I get a couple hits today, what happens? If I go 0-for-4, what happens?' I just try to take every moment as it comes, and something good will come of it."

Acta said he's seen all his players as much as he wants to by this point in the season, adding that he has no assigned number of games in which he wants to see guys play. He also commented on the need to play his everyday lineup against contenders like the White Sox and Tigers.

"It's kind of hard for them because they're not playing every day to learn by actually experiencing it, making adjustments from day-to-day," Acta said.