Indians platoon outfielder steadily improving despite limited playing time
CLEVELAND — Sometimes the waiting is unbearable. The uncertainty can grind at the soul.
Still, Franklin Gutierrez keeps his glove ready and his mind sharp. It’s life as a platoon outfielder.
Gutierrez plays fifth fiddle with the Cleveland Indians. His most natural position, center field, is commanded by one of the premier players in the sport in Grady Sizemore. Left field is shared by offseason free agent acquisition David Dellucci and Jason Michaels, while veteran pickup Trot Nixon mans right.
Gutierrez is enjoying his longest stint with the Indians. His playing time has come most often against opponents using a left-handed starter. But more and more, manager Eric Wedge has leaned on the 24-year-old to spell Nixon, who has continued to battle a longtime back condition.
“I just have to be ready for anything,” said Gutierrez. “It’s hard sometimes. But this is the big leagues, so you’ll take it no matter where they put you. You just have to always be prepared.”
Gutierrez has played in 18 games and is batting .194, with six hits in 31 at-bats. But the offensive numbers are an afterthought to Wedge.
“We’re thrilled with the progress he’s made,” said Wedge. “He’s such a special defender. He did a great job of looking in the mirror, listening and just getting better at his craft. He definitely has the potential to be an everyday player.”
Gutierrez’s playing time only stands to increase if Nixon continues to be hobbled by a bad back. Entering Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Braves, Nixon was hitless in his previous 19 at-bats.
The Indians signed Nixon to a one-year, $3 million contract despite him having back surgery. Nixon has gone on the DL in each of the last three seasons, including two stints in 2004, and has not had 500 at-bats since 2002.
Slumping in stride
While the Indians continue to boast one of the league’s most prolific offenses, ranking first in the American League in homers (81), second in slugging (.440) and RBIs (348) and third in runs (358) and walks (263), one of their key hitters this season is in midst of his first career batting slump.
First baseman Ryan Garko has just one hit in his last 19 at-bats and has twice as many strikeouts in June (11) as he does hits (five).
Wedge, though, says the drop-off is expected — maybe even healthy.
“It’s very ordinary,” said Wedge. “People have to remember, as successful as he was last year, this is still his first full year in the majors. He had got off to a great start. But going through (the league) a second time around, now it’s time for him to make adjustments. He’s a smart kid and I’m very confident he will.”
Bet-ter than you think
Ever so quietly, right-hander Rafael Betancourt has become one of the American League’s hottest relievers.
In his past 14 appearances entering Saturday’s game, Betancourt has not allowed a run. More importantly, in the 16 times he’s appeared inheriting baserunners, none has scored.
“We’ve really counted on him,” Wedge said. “You always want to know what to expect from a reliever. He epitomizes that more than anybody.”
Betancourt has struck out 28 batters and walked just three. He ERA has dipped to 1.21., fifth best among relievers in the league.
Injured right-hander Jake Westbrook is slated to make his final minor league rehab Monday in AAA Buffalo against Louisville, with a return to the big leagues looming thereafter.
Westbrook’s been sidelined since May 7 with a left abdominal strain. His workload will be boosted to approximately 85 pitches, up from 67 in his last start.
A solar electric system will be installed at Jacobs Field to operate the 400 TV receivers throughout the park.
The system will generate 8.4 kilowatts of clean, renewable energy from 42 solar panels constructed on a newly erected pavilion that faces south on the upper deck concourse, overlooking Carnegie Avenue.
No other American League ballpark is using solar energy.
Stat of the day
Entering Saturday’s game, the Indians’ pitching staff was tied with the San Diego Padres, having issued the fewest walks in the majors with 174.
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or email@example.com.