Martinez Makes the Cut as Naquin Optioned Wednesday

Needing a spot on the 25-man roster on Wednesday to add starter Mike Clevinger in advance of his Major League debut, the Cleveland Indians opted to send outfielder Tyler Naquin back to Triple-A Columbus and keep 33-year-old utility man Michael Martinez on the roster.

The move may have come as a surprise to some, especially the many around the game taking note of Naquin’s contributions at the plate this season in his own rookie effort. The center fielder was added back to the roster for the second time this season on Friday when he was called up to replace Lonnie Chisenhall while he was on the bereavement list.

Martinez followed the next day when the Indians placed Michael Brantley on the disabled list with continued concerns regarding his surgically repaired right shoulder.

Naquin was, to some degree, the easy move. He had options and it looks as though he will make that trek back and forth along Interstate 71 a few more times this year. His bat has proven to be capable of playing at the Major League level. His defense has been good, maybe not great, but he has been able to man the center field spot for the Tribe and do so with some proficiency.

As was the case when he was sent down previously, the word from the Indians on his transfer back to Columbus was more of the same – keep working on becoming a better defender.

“We want him to play center field,” said Indians manager Terry Francona on Wednesday. “We want him to work on his jumps and routes, because, as I was telling him last night … if you look at the good teams, center fielders are elite, and he has that ability. We want him to continue to work on some of those things.”

As for Martinez, how long he remains on the roster is probably far more linked now to the health status of Brantley.

Martinez was signed by the Washington Nationals as an amateur free agent in 2005 out of the Dominican Republic. He was a Rule 5 pick by Philadelphia in December of 2010 and appeared in 88 games for the club the following season, hitting .196. Those numbers dipped over his next two years in the City of Brotherly Love, as he left Philly after 2013 with a career .187 batting average.

He appeared in 26 games for Pittsburgh in 2014, hitting .128, and signed with the Indians for the 2015 season. He spent the bulk of the year at Triple-A Columbus, hitting .289 in 102 games, and appeared 16 times for the Indians towards the end of the year, hitting .267 in 32 plate appearances while fielding four different positions.

In four games of action, Martinez is hitting .429 on the year with two singles, a double, and one run scored in seven trips to the plate. Prior to his promotion, he was hitting .288 with a .351 on-base percentage for the Clippers in his first 27 games.

Martinez brings extra flexibility to the Indians lineup, something lost some with Jose Ramirez expected to see more playing time in left field in Brantley’s absence. Rajai Davis can continue to hold down center field with Marlon Byrd and Chisenhall expected to see the bulk of their time in right.

Keeping the versatile Martinez around gives the Indians a pinch-runner off of the bench and a jack-of-all-trades on the field. He has played every position but catcher and first baseman throughout his professional career.

“The ability to move Michael around I think can enhance the guys we have,” shared Francona.

Just as he has been used already, Martinez may allow Francona to give some guys some extra rest late in games, as he did on both Monday and Tuesday to give Jason Kipnis the rest of both games off in blowout wins over the Cincinnati Reds. Kipnis and Francisco Lindor have both appeared in every game this season and while you want both men in the lineup as often as you can have them, the season is long and grueling. Shaving some late innings off of each player’s workload to bode well as the year progresses.

As for Brantley, he will be shut down for five to seven days after receiving an anti-inflammatory shot in his troublesome right shoulder during his trip to visit Dr. Craig Morgan in Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday. Upon re-evaluation, he could resume hitting related activities at that point.

“There is no timetable listed because there isn’t one,” said Francona prior to Wednesday’s game. “It’s completely on how he feels.”

Photo: Leon Halip/Getty Images

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