CLEVELAND — Indians manager Terry Francona would not confirm that the team had signed veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera to a minor league contract.
“I know it’s out there,” Francona said prior to Cleveland’s interleague series opener against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday at Progressive Field. “Until things are official, I need to stay away from it. There will be a time for that. It was on the internet, though, so it must be true. There will be a time. I know it’s out there. We’ll get to it.”
It certainly appears an announcement is imminent. When that happens, Cabrera, 33, is expected to report to extended spring training in Goodyear, Ariz., before joining Triple-A Columbus.
The free agent has been training in Tampa, Fla., after batting a combined .285 last year with 17 home runs, 85 RBIs and a .746 OPS in 156 games for Central Division rivals Chicago and Kansas City.
Cabrera, a career .286 hitter over 12 seasons, was an All-Star in 2012 with San Francisco.
The Indians lost right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall to a calf injury shortly into the season and Tyler Naquin and Brandon Guyer have struggled in his absence. If Cabrera proves he can still produce, he could be an option, with Naquin likely heading back to the minors.
He has fared well at Progressive Field, where he is a career .312 hitter with 10 homers and 33 RBIs in 55 games.
Michael Brantley had the choice of playing Monday in the series finale in Baltimore or Tuesday against the Cubs, as the Indians continue to ease the left fielder back into the everyday lineup.
He chose wisely after the Indians arrived in Cleveland early Tuesday morning, thanks to problems with the team plane.
“I thought he made a good decision,” Francona said. “Nobody knew our plane wasn’t going to be ready. If he didn’t play (Monday) night and we get home at 3 a.m., that’s not a big break. So I thought it made sense.”
Brantley, who began the season on the disabled list following offseason surgery on his right ankle, is off to a hot start, leading the team with a .320 batting average, one homer and eight RBIs in 12 games.
“I think our team is different when he’s here,” Francona said. “Not just his bat, his presence in the lineup. But his steadiness in the outfield, the teammate he is. The way he competes. I think
he makes everybody better. Myself included. I know it’s a nice feeling during a game when he’s here.”
In today’s all-or-nothing approach and rising strikeout rates, Brantley is a throwback hitter. He’s struck out only three times in 50 at-bats.
“He and (Jose Ramirez) kind of stick out,” Francona said. “Maybe it’s because I’m older, but I like it. Just the idea of making adjustments with
two strikes and taking what the other team gives you. Hitting the ball the other way. I really do like that.”
Francona believes baseball’s cyclical nature will see more players use the approach.
“I think to have success, you’re going to have to see that,” he said. “Because you’re seeing so many guys get shifted now. You’re going to see guys work on being better bunters. Because that was a bit of a lost art at times.
“That’s one way. Hitting the ball the other way. And it’s not all the time. Because you don’t want to make guys just have singles. But leading off innings. Things like that. When a baserunner can be just as important as a double. I do think you’ll see that. If you don’t see that, you’re going to see run production go down.”
With the rotation off to a spectacular start, innings have been tough to find for Indians relievers. No member of the bullpen had logged more than 10 innings over the first 20 games through Monday.
“Come August and September, every one of those guys is going to be glad they had a little bit of a blow or whatever,” Francona said. “We’ve been really fortunate the last week where our starters have gotten deep. Every one of (the relievers) will have their innings when it’s all said and done. It never fails. And I think they know it. They’re not guys that are first-year guys anymore. I think they know that.”
Not surprisingly, Andrew Miller (10 games, 10 innings) and closer Cody Allen (nine games, 10 innings) had appeared the most through Monday, with neither allowing a run.
“We’ve played so many close games ... yeah, it’s a good feeling,” Francona said of employing the duo at the back end. “People don’t see behind the scenes how hard they work, preparing and everything like that. Andrew, everybody knows what he’s done, but Cody for the last six years here, he’s been about as reliable a reliever as anybody in the league.
“He works hard to be available and takes a lot of pride in that. I personally think he’s one of the better closers in the game. I know his name doesn’t always pop up on those lists, but I think he’s been really good.”
Allen had converted all four of his save opportunities through Monday.
- Tuesday was the anniversary of the Indians’ first game in 1901, an 8-2 loss in Chicago to the White Stockings.
- Ramirez entered Tuesday with six homers over his last 10 games. He led the team with seven through Monday and his 16 homers since Sept. 1 are tied for third most in the majors over the span.
- Former Ohio State football coach and current president of Youngstown State University, Jim Tressel, threw out a ceremonial first pitch.