New Bench Squad Taking Shape on Indians Roster

Last year the Indians bench, nicknamed the Goon Squad, became famous for their ability to step in for a regular starter and produce just as well as the player he was replacing.

With Yan Gomes graduating from goon to starter and Jason Giambi sidelined with a rib injury, the Tribe’s bench is taking shape with some new members in the early part of the season. Nicknames like the Goon Squad or the Bullpen Mafia often don’t carry over as well to the next season when the clientele changes, but this season’s pack of goons could be just as potent, even if they bring a different skillset.

The first new addition might not realize his goon potential yet, because Nyjer Morgan has been starting early in the season. Morgan made the team as a non-roster invitee in spring training and has filled in nicely while Michael Bourn has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. Bourn played seven innings at Triple-A Columbus on Saturday and is expected to see action with the Clippers again on Monday and Tuesday.

Morgan, meanwhile, has been holding down Bourn’s spot in center field and at the top of the lineup. In the Tribe’s six games this season, Morgan is hitting .308 and has a .500 on-base percentage. Morgan, and his alter-ego T-Plush, are not going to replace Bourn long term in center field, but Morgan could serve as a back up outfielder able to play center and left field and provide speed off the bench in late innings. That speed element is something last year’s bench lacked. Considering Bourn had surgery on his hamstring after last season and re-injured it this spring, Morgan would serve as veteran insurance if Bourn was hampered again later in the season.

Another goon-in-the-making is former starting third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. The 2008 first round pick in MLB Amateur Draft was replaced as the starter this spring by Carlos Santana. Santana converted from catcher to third base when Gomes supplanted him as the starter behind the plate. With few other positions to play and even less to prove at Triple-A it’s seemed puzzling what Chisenhall’s long-term role could be with the organization, but in the short term he’s continued to provide offensive spark.

Chisenhall has played in four of the Indians’ six games this season and had at least one hit in each game. Currently, he’s hitting .500 on the season (4-for-8) and has a .556 on-base percentage. So far, Indians manager Terry Francona has used Chisenhall solely against right-handed pitchers. Twice, Francona has removed Chisenhall from the game when left-handed relievers have entered the game. Considering the Indians face five left-handed starting pitchers in the next six games, Chisenhall could become obsolete in the short term.

The better question for the Goon Squad moving forward will be how many goons can Francona fit on his bench. Mike Aviles, Elliot Johnson and Chisenhall currently comprise the bench group, but if Morgan does slide back to the bench when Bourn returns someone will likely still have to go when Giambi comes off the disabled list. Meanwhile, the Indians signed catcher George Kottaras last week and Francona eluded that while he is at Triple-A currently, that’s not their long-term plan for the potential back up catcher.

Currently, the Indians are only carrying 12 position pitchers. Eventually, that will shift to 13 at some point, likely when Giambi comes off the disabled list, but there still may not be room for everyone biding for time.

In the meantime, old goons and new goons will just have to keep producing like the starters they replace if they intend to remain on the roster.

Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

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