Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 8 – Lonnie Chisenhall

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Countdown to Opening Day – 8

Friday was a day that quite likely made the Cleveland Indians coaching staff cringe with the thought of losing several potential members of the team’s 40-man roster with just a week and a half to go before the regular season begins in Texas against the Rangers.

Utility man Erik Gonzalez exited in the eighth inning of the day’s contest after being struck in the hand by a pitch. In the same game against the Chicago Cubs, right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall suffered a mild sprain of his right shoulder after crashing into the wall chasing down a fly ball.

Luckily for both players, the injuries appear minor and should not prohibit either from being back in action in the next few days.

“He’ll be down three days from no activity,” said manager Terry Francona on Saturday about Chisenhall. “He will just get treatment. After that third day, we’ll have a much better idea which direction that thing goes and how quickly he can come back.”

Rob Tringali/Getty Images
Rob Tringali/Getty Images

The Indians outfield already has its fair share of unknowns heading into the season. Left fielder Michael Brantley is still working his way back from his own right shoulder injury from September of 2015, one that kept him out of the lineup for all but eleven games last season before he was shut down and ultimately underwent surgery on his right bicep.

The center field position has second-year man Tyler Naquin and switch-hitter Abraham Almonte vying for playing time, while Chisenhall was expected to team up in right field with veteran piñata Brandon Guyer.

The uncertain status of the two most experienced players in that outfield mix could lead to an interesting discussion surrounding offseason addition Austin Jackson, who has an out in his contract on Sunday if it does not look likely that he would break camp with the Tribe when spring training ends this week.

Chisenhall was absent for a stretch of spring training last year and started the 2016 campaign on the disabled list. After missing the first eleven games of the regular season, he returned to the lineup on April 20 and had some rust to kick off, but he would find his form at the plate and put up some new career bests before the year was done. Once he got going, he was hitting for high average and finding his way on base with the free pass, as he hit over .300 in May, June, and July before cooling off some in the final months of the campaign.

During one of the better chunks of his season, Chisenhall had four multi-hit games in a five-game span from June 26 to July 1, including a 4-for-4 performance to start the six-day stretch against Detroit while coming up a double short of the cycle in a three-RBI game and ending the streak with a 5-for-8 effort in Toronto with five singles on the day. He hit three of his four June home runs in the final four games that he was in the lineup for the month, but after that brief outburst, he hit just three over the course of the rest of the season.

He ended the regular season establishing new career-highs in batting average (.286) and slugging percentage (.439) and was a perfect 6-for-6 stealing bases. The power numbers were down again for Chisenhall in 2016, but he still proved capable of manufacturing runs from the bottom third of the order. His 57 runs batted in were the second-most of his career (59 in 142 games in 2014) and came in 16 fewer games played than his record-holding season. He topped the 100-hit mark for the second time in his career (also in 2014) and had 25 doubles, eight home runs, and a career-high five triples.

Defensively, he held his own in his first full season in the outfield after transitioning to the right field corner midway through the 2015 season. He made one error that year at the position and made three more in 2016, maintaining a fielding percentage of .986 in the outfield. He even made two appearances in center field for the Tribe, working eight routine innings in adding to his versatility some.

Jason Miller/Getty Images
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Chisenhall was silenced some in the postseason, especially after the first round of the playoffs against Boston. He was 3-for-10 against the Red Sox with a homer and four RBI, but he went just 4-for-16 with four singles and five strikeouts against Toronto in the ALCS and was 2-for-16 with five more strikeouts and just one RBI in the World Series against Chicago.

Given his poor numbers against left-handed pitching last season in 36 games (.217/.294/.348 slash with four doubles, one triple, no home runs, and four RBI in 52 plate appearances), the left-handed hitting Chisenhall should platoon nicely with the right-handed hitting Guyer, who made a strong impression last season during his first three months as an Indian when he showed a strong comfort handling southpaws. The two could make a nice combination in the corner for the next couple of years, as Cleveland’s first round pick in the 2008 draft was inked to a $4.3 million contract for the 2017 season in his penultimate year of arbitration and Guyer was extended through 2018 with a club option for 2019 earlier this year.

Barring a slow recovery from his injured AC joint in his shoulder, the Indians will be counting on Chisenhall to clean up the bases a bit as a number of capable hitters should be able to set the table for him to feast this season. Another consistent season from Chisenhall at the plate could make the Indians lineup a potent threat to opposing pitchers from one through nine.

Other notable 8’s in Indians history: Luke Sewell (1929-32), Ken Keltner (1941-44), Ray Boone (1949-53), Willie Kirkland (1961-62), Ray Fosse (1967-72), Albert Belle (1990-96), John McDonald (1999-2004)

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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