After nearly two months on the shelf, the Cleveland Indians announced on Tuesday that right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall had been activated from the 10-day disabled list.
Chisenhall’s return had been expected, as he had worked his way back through his rehab assignment with stops at Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. The corresponding transaction to create room on the roster for the outfielder was much more surprising, as the Indians optioned center fielder Bradley Zimmer to Columbus.
Zimmer’s demotion resolved a lingering question regarding how the Indians were going to address the slew of outfield-related roster moves that were coming up for the ball club, which at one point had four different outfielders inactive. While some could still return to the MLB roster for the Indians at some point, there was simply no room for all of them, leading to some tough decisions for the front office both now and over the next couple of weeks.
Zimmer, unlike several players in that outfield mix, has minor league options remaining, and his performance at the plate has been inconsistent. Greg Allen, who many thought a leading candidate to lose a spot due to his own options status, has capitalized on regular playing time of late to push his batting average up to .263 in 24 games of work. Veterans Rajai Davis and Melky Cabrera have made minimal contributions, with the latter doing so in a small 13-game sample size since his call up from Columbus last month. Michael Brantley has been well worth every cent of his option picked up over the winter and could find himself on a third career All-Star team in July.
Zimmer, meanwhile has slashed just .226/.281/.330 in 34 games. He played just twice since being activated from his own disabled list stint on June 1 after missing more than three weeks from the ill effects of a collision with the outfield wall at Yankee Stadium in early May. He has struck out 44 times and walked just seven in 114 plate appearances with five doubles, two homers, and nine RBI on the year. Since returning to the active roster, he had gone 2-for-8 with two singles, but five strikeouts.
“Offensively, it’s been a struggle for him. The strikeouts. We talked to him about that,” manager Terry Francona shared with the media prior to Tuesday’s game about the decision and talking to Zimmer with team president Chris Antonetti. “We wanted to talk to him together. A lot of guys have gone back to Triple-A and worked on their game and then come back. We fully believe that will happen with Zim. We want that. He’s our best center fielder. Trying to make some of the adjustments at the Major League level can be hard.”
The other outfielders mentioned, most notably Allen, Davis, and Cabrera, could be at risk when the Indians need to activate Brandon Guyer and Tyler Naquin from their rehab assignments. Guyer has scuffled all season, putting up a .150/.244/.325 line at the plate in 33 games before landing on the disabled list last weekend with a cervical strain. Naquin has been out since May 12 with a left hamstring strain, right as he began to heat up at the plate. He was performing better than Guyer, providing a .333/.367/.453 hitting line in with three doubles, two homers, and 11 RBI in 30 games.
The Indians are reportedly eyeing a Friday activation for Guyer in Detroit for their series with the Tigers. Naquin just began his rehab assignment on June 3, but he could also be optioned to the minors upon his return due to the lineup crunch.
Chisenhall rejoins the Indians lineup after appearing in nine games during his minor league rehab assignment in Akron and Columbus, hitting a combined .286 with three doubles, two homers, and six RBI. He had been sidelined since April 7, when he strained his right calf playing just his seventh game of the year.
He was hitting .235 (4-for-17) with three singles and a double at the time of his injury for the Indians.
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