GOODYEAR, Ariz. — While catcher Yan Gomes endured another injury-filled and unproductive season in 2016, backup Roberto Perez enjoyed a breakout year of sorts, starring in the postseason for the American League champion Indians.
But according to manager Terry Francona, there will be no competition this spring. Gomes is still expected to hold down the starting job to begin the regular season.
“We have two good catchers. We’re fortunate,” Francona said. “Gomer’s been our catcher, just for different reasons, whether it’s been injuries ... Roberto stepped in and really did a great job. So it’s my responsibility to make it work for both of them, and we will.”
Francona left open the possibility of Perez serving as more than just the traditional backup.
“I think the way Roberto’s played, we want to find games for him,” Francona said of Perez, who had three home runs and seven RBIs during Cleveland’s postseason run. “He deserves that. If we have a situation where we have two catchers and we just can’t find at-bats because they’re so good, man, good for us. That’s a headache I’ll take any day of the week.”
Gomes, who has battled injuries, has seen his offensive production plummet. In 2014, he won a Silver Slugger award after batting .278 with 21 homers and 74 RBIs. Last year he hit a meager .167.
The Indians are hoping a new season translates into Gomes performing more like he did three seasons ago.
“It is a clean slate,” Francona said. “The one thing we talked to Gomer about was, the first time he goes through a tough stretch, because he will, everybody does, he’s got to be strong enough in his confidence and his thinking that he can handle that and move on. I think if anything, he views it now — because it’s in the rearview mirror — as a learning experience, which is good, and it should help him in the future.”
Francona supports the upcoming World Baseball Classic, but, like most managers, he would prefer his players remain with his team for the entirety of spring training.
“MLB sponsors it and it’s a great event,” Francona said. “I think the guys that want to go, it’s an honor to represent your country, which I understand and support. Saying that, we’ll be thrilled when they come back.”
The time away from the team and potential injuries are Francona’s primary concerns with the WBC, especially where pitchers are concerned.
“There is just no perfect timing to have this tournament,” he said. “You’re asking pitchers that have been in camp for a couple weeks ... some of these guys don’t even throw their breaking ball until the end of camp. Now you’re going to ask a guy to come in with a man on third to get somebody (out). He’s going to go right to his breaking ball, and you’re going to try to execute pitches that you may not be ready to execute.
“That’s why during the spring, when guys get a little tired or fatigued, we send them to the bullpen to work on their secondary pitches. We value the repetition, but we don’t want them doing it with a runner on third, trying to throw their best one. That’s how guys get hurt. So, yeah, our hearts in our throat a little bit.”
The WBC has burned the Indians before.
“Vinnie Pestano is the best example,” Francona said of the former right-hander, who pitched for Team USA in the 2013 Classic. “He threw too hard, too quick. It’s not his fault. He’s put in the game and he’s competing, but he was never the same.”
On the bases
The Indians will be without the speed of Rajai Davis, who signed a free-agent contract with Oakland this offseason after leading the AL with 43 stolen bases.
“That’s going to directly impact our stolen base numbers. We know that,” Francona said. “It doesn’t need to impact our base running. We were a good base-running team last year and we need to continue that, knowing that our stolen base numbers will probably be down a little bit.”
Right-hander Danny Salazar has taken a cue from third baseman Jose Ramirez and his orange hair, dying parts of his black hair blonde.
“The first thing I asked him, I said, ‘Did you lose a bet?’” Francona said. “I think it’s funny. They’re young. You can do stuff like that when you’re young. My guess is he’ll probably look back 20 years from now and think, ‘Wow, what was I doing?’”
Ramirez isn’t sporting his orange-tinted ’do this spring but said he will color it again once the regular season begins.
Position players were expected to report to camp Thursday and will undergo physicals today, with the first full-squad workout scheduled for Saturday.