It was a beautiful sight to see as live Major League Baseball games were back in Arizona and Florida this weekend as 2017 spring training action got underway.
The Cleveland Indians opened their Cactus League schedule on Saturday as they hosted the Cincinnati Reds at the two clubs’ shared facility at Goodyear Ballpark. The Indians then went on the road to Mesa, taking on the Chicago Cubs before a packed house at Sloan Park, where 15,388 took in the exhibition.
The Tribe got the better of the Reds in Saturday’s game, defeating their in-state interleague rival by a count of 8-2 in a game that was close in the early innings before four late runs by the Indians. Cleveland and Chicago played to a tie in Mesa on Sunday, as the game was called after nine innings deadlocked, with both clubs putting up single runs in the fourth inning.
While the two games marked the early start to the 2017 spring training schedule thanks to the interference of this year’s World Baseball Classic that begins in March, there was plenty of news of note from the weekend contests.
Merritt Gets Starting Nod
Indians left-handed pitching prospect Ryan Merritt toed the rubber as Cleveland’s first starter of the spring in Saturday’s game against the Reds. In his first action as he works to stretch out to likely open the season with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, Merritt worked two innings, giving up two runs on a Eugenio Suarez opposite field homer in the second inning. He struck out two and did not issue a walk.
Encarnacion Makes Debut
Free agent addition Edwin Encarnacion made his Cleveland Indians debut on Saturday, hitting fourth in the lineup for manager Terry Francona and the Tribe. He gave fans a good taste of what he is capable of, delivering an RBI-single to left in the first inning against his former Reds club to drive in the Indians’ first run of the spring. He followed with a single to center in his second at bat in the third inning and was lifted for pinch-runner Nellie Rodriguez, bringing an early end to his first day on the field with the Indians.
Rodriguez had a big day himself after filling in for the Tribe’s big and new slugger, going 2-for-2 with one run scored and another run driven in with his two singles on the afternoon.
Zimmer Already Making a Case to Come to Cleveland
Top prospect Bradley Zimmer wasted little time getting the attention of the Indians coaching staff in Saturday’s ball game.
The young outfielder drew a two-out walk in the first inning against Cincinnati to load the bases. He was robbed of extra bases in the third, when he sent a sharp grounder down the first base line that was snagged by a diving Joey Votto. The out was still productive, however, as he drove home Jose Ramirez from third base on the bases loaded smash.
In his third at bat of the game, he singled home his second run of the game to give Cleveland a 4-2 lead. As if that effort was not enough, he blasted the Indians’ first home run of the spring with an opposite field three-run shot to left-center to break open the game at 7-2. He was lifted after the inning for defensive replacement Mike Papi.
In his day’s work, Zimmer was 2-for-3 with five RBI.
What a Relief
Indians pitchers combined for seven shutout innings to wrap up the start for Merritt Saturday. Mike Clevinger worked a solid inning, striking out a pair of the three men that he faced. Andrew Miller gave up three hits in his inning, but kept the Reds from scoring and struck out one. Shawn Armstrong, who has been able to rack up some strikeouts throughout his professional career as well, pitched a scoreless inning, giving up a single but retiring all three outs via strikeout.
All eight Indians pitchers to throw on Saturday afternoon recorded at least one strikeout.
Everyone is in Spring Training Mode
There was a little unusual excitement in the eighth inning of Saturday’s game as the sprinkler system at Goodyear Ball Park started up prior to the completion of the contest between the Indians and Reds, reminding all in attendance and watching on Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio that even groundskeepers have to get into the swing of baseball action resuming around the country.
Danny Salazar made his spring debut on Sunday in the World Series rematch against the Cubs from Mesa. He threw two scoreless innings, walking the leadoff man in the first and giving up a leadoff single in the second. He struck out three in the otherwise promising start to his season.
Naquin Picks Up Where He Left Off
After grounding out in his first at bat of the spring on Sunday, Tyler Naquin got back to work in the fourth inning, hitting a leadoff double off of Cubs reliever Casey Kelly. He would move around to third on a fly out from Abraham Almonte before a groundout by Carlos Santana drove him home with the game’s only run.
Walk This Way
The Indians mustered just three hits in Sunday’s tie, but drew four walks off of the eight Cubs pitchers used on the day. It came just one afternoon after Cleveland put up eleven hits and drew five walks against eight different Cincinnati pitchers.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis’ start to the spring training schedule was delayed due to discomfort that he had felt in his throwing arm, leading to an MRI and the discovery of a mild rotator cuff strain. Kipnis was expected to start the second game of the preseason schedule while playing designated hitter before he was scratched from action.
“It’s considered a cuff strain, which I think in the grand scheme of things is about the least you’re ever going to find when you go do that,” said Indians manager Terry Francona from Arizona. “You just try to use good judgement.”
Kipnis is expected to be held out for a few days as a precautionary measure.
Left-handed pitcher Tim Cooney, brought over to Cleveland in a waiver claim in November, is expected to miss the next 10-to-12 weeks with a left mid-forearm flexor strain.
The 26-year-old southpaw, who was added to the 40-man roster when picked up from the St. Louis Cardinals, missed all of last season while dealing with left shoulder issues that later led to a shoulder scope at the end of July. He had appeared at the Major League level for the Cardinals in six games in 2015, posting a career mark of 1-0 with a 3.16 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 31 1/3 innings. He has worked in 79 games over four minor league seasons from 2012 to 2015, making 76 of those appearances as a starting pitcher.
“By all accounts, it is an extremely unique area,” Francona shared regarding Cooney’s mid-forearm strain. “They are going to shut him down for a couple weeks.”
Carlos Carrasco will make his spring training debut on Monday afternoon as the Indians host the Texas Rangers from Goodyear Ballpark at 3:05 PM ET. Right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez is expected to start for the Rangers.
Photo: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin