The first weekend of Cactus League play is in the books and the Cleveland Indians had, as expected, some good and some bad to show for it. After opening the spring training calendar with a home loss to the Cincinnati Reds, 6-4, on Friday from their shared complex at Goodyear Ballpark in Arizona, the Tribe notched its first win of the exhibition season with an 11-2 win on Saturday from Salt River Fields at Talking Stick against the Arizona Diamondbacks. They returned home to Goodyear, this time playing as the visitors on Sunday, playing to a 2-2 tie against a split-squad Reds team.
Now, a look at how some of the temporary residents of Arizona fared in their first weekend back out in the sun…
MAKING A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION
Yonder Alonso’s introduction to Indians fans, at least those who did not get caught up in his shenanigans during Tribe Fest, was a pretty solid one as he ushered in the first Hammy home run call of the season in his first at bat for the Indians.
Stepping in against Reds pitcher Sal Romano, Alonso jumped quickly on the young right-hander, driving the ball well over the right field wall to put the Tribe on top, 1-0.
“I’m just going out there to get a good pitch to hit,” shared Alonso to Indians.com after the game. “I think especially early on in spring training, you want to make sure you’re attacking the right pitches, making sure your mentality is the right way. After that, just compete. Any time you get your first at bat in your first game going, get it out of the way, that’s the hardest one.”
Jason Kipnis has plenty to work for and maybe a little something to prove this spring after his name circulated in trade rumors over the winter and he appeared for a stretch of time to be a man without a position on the club.
Instead, Kipnis remained a Clevelander and looks to be slotted back in at second base after a brief experiment in the outfield last year after injuries and ineffectiveness hampered his production to the 2017 version of the Tribe. In what seemed to be a bad omen, a back injury kept him out of action during the first two games of the Cactus League schedule, but he found his name in the two-hole and at second base on the lineup card for Sunday’s rematch with the Reds. After striking out in his first at bat against Homer Bailey, Kipnis pulled an 0-1 pitch from David Hernandez down the right field line for a two-out home run to give the Indians an early 1-0 lead in the third inning.
ALLEN WANTS A JOB
Greg Allen got the September call-up last year and found himself playing meaningful games down the stretch and again in October during the Indians’ unpredictably short postseason experience. Now, he is one of a handful of candidates vying for a chance to claim one of the bench spots up for grab this spring.
After going 0-for-2 with a strikeout in his first action on Friday, the outfielder was 2-for-3 in the Tribe’s win over Arizona with a single, a double, a stolen base, and an RBI. He flashed plenty to like the next afternoon as the Indians returned to Goodyear. Taking over for Rajai Davis in the bottom of the fifth and playing left field, Allen tried to even the score in the seventh inning by dropping down a well-placed one-out infield bunt single that moved catcher Jack Murphy into scoring position. The pair would be stranded on consecutive strikeouts to end the inning.
His next at bat changed the outcome of the game entirely. With one out in the ninth, his teammate in Columbus last season, Francisco Mejia, singled to left. Murphy struck out for the second out of the inning, but with the exhibition contest on the line, Allen served sidewinder Ben Rowen’s pitch deep to center for a game-tying triple. He would be left stranded, but his clutch hit was the difference between a loss and a tie in an otherwise meaningless spring contest.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
Spring training is the time of year that young prospects get their chance to make a lasting impression on the Major League coaching staff and several Tribe farmhands have taken advantage of the early opportunities for playing time.
Eric Stamets followed Alonso’s lead and homered in his first plate appearance of the spring. The shortstop, a 40-man roster addition in the offseason, entered the game as a defensive replacement for Francisco Lindor in the top of the fourth and stepped to the plate for the first time in the sixth. Leading off the frame, he sent a 2-1 pitch over the wall to cut the Reds’ lead to 4-2.
In the club’s 11-2 win over the Diamondbacks on Saturday, five different players who are likely heading back to the minors at season’s start put together two-hit games and crossed the plate at least once. Allen had a pair of hits and a stolen base. Tyler Naquin hit a two-run homer in the third and added a double later. Yu-Cheng Chang added a single and a double while starting a double play in the field in his first action of the spring at third base. Willi Castro also picked off a base after getting a pair of singles on the afternoon.
Catcher Eric Haase doubled home a run in his first plate appearance of the spring in the eighth inning and added a solo homer in the ninth, the Tribe’s third homer of the frame. His shot was back-to-back with Richie Shaffer, while Nellie Rodriguez started the inning off with a monstrous clout measuring over 440 feet.
A LITTLE RUSTY
Spring has not been as kind to some of the members of the pitching staff.
Preston Claiborne, one of numerous non-roster invites in camp with the Indians, similarly gave up a two-run home run in the sixth inning to pad the Reds lead. He looked better in his second spring outing, striking out the side in order, including a pair swinging, in the seventh inning of the 2-2 tie on Sunday.
A third pitcher was tagged for a rough inning over the weekend, as reliever Josh Martin allowed a pair in an inning of work on Sunday. After retiring the first batter on a pop up, he walked Billy Hamilton on four pitches. The speedster took third on a single to right and a double by Tony Cruz plated both base runners to give the Reds a 2-1 lead. With another big run in scoring position, Martin got a second pop up and a strikeout to limit the damage.
The spring schedule does not slow down for the Tribe, as the Indians have games scheduled all week long. The team will head on the road on Monday to face the Milwaukee Brewers before hosting the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday. Wednesday will be a split squad day, with some staying put in Goodyear as the Indians welcome in the Seattle Mariners, while others head out on the road to take on the Los Angeles Angels in the final game of February.
The Indians will kick off March on the road against LA’s other team, the National League champion Dodgers, before back-to-back home dates against Texas and San Francisco. They will get a rematch with the Brewers on Sunday in their second trip to Maryvale in the week.
Photo: Rob Tringali/Getty Images