November 28, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
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Tribe notes: Acta stands by Valbuena

CLEVELAND — Prior to the start of spring training, Indians manager Manny Acta declared that Luis Valbuena was his starting second baseman. Despite Valbuena’s struggles at the plate during the exhibition season and over the first month of the regular season, Acta is sticking with that plan.

“He has struggled offensively, but he’s had a couple big hits for us,” said Acta, who had Valbuena back in the lineup Monday after a two-game absence. “I think he’s played well defensively. We’re going to continue to give him a chance and hope he takes advantage of the opportunity.”

Valbuena, 24, entered Monday batting .182 (10-for-55) with two home runs and seven RBIs in 18 games. The homers came off a pair of aces in Detroit’s Justin Verlander (grand slam) and Chicago’s Mark Buehrle.
Defensively, Valbuena had committed one error in 97 chances.

Should Valbuena’s offensive slide continue, there are replacement options on the big league level (Mark Grudzielanek) and at Triple-A Columbus (Jason Donald).

Grudzielanek, the Indians’ veteran utility infielder, is batting .237 with four RBIs in 10 games.

Donald, part of the bounty from the Cliff Lee trade with the Phillies last year, is on a tear for the Clippers, entering Monday with a .377 batting average, 15 RBIs and 22 runs in 24 games. He had hit safely in 13 of his last 16 games.

Acquired prior to last season, Valbuena spent the majority of the year as Cleveland’s starting second baseman, batting .250 with 10 homers and 31 RBIs in 103 games.

Stating his case

Hector Ambriz has made two appearances — one earned run on five hits and two strikeouts in two innings — since being activated from the disabled list, as the hard-throwing right-hander has begun auditioning for a spot in the bullpen.

“I’m satisfied,” Acta said. “He’s been around the strike zone and he’s shown that arm strength. I’m not going to make up my mind just yet. I like the fact that he’s not walking guys.”

As a Rule V draft pick, Ambriz is expected to get more opportunities. He must remain on the big league roster or disabled list, or the Indians have to offer him back to the Diamondbacks.

Wood’s world

Kerry Wood (strained right lat) began a rehab assignment with Double-A Akron on Monday and it did not go well.

Wood, who has been inactive since sustaining the injury shortly into spring training, failed to make it out of the sixth inning against Trenton, allowing six earned runs on four hits and two walks in two-thirds on an inning.

Acta said the veteran closer would make at least two rehab appearances, but it may be more after the disastrous debut.

Lefties and LaPorta

With left-hander Brett Cecil on the mound for Toronto on Monday, right-handed hitter Matt LaPorta started at first base in place of left-handed hitter Russell Branyan, despite LaPorta’s struggles against lefties
(2-for-23 through Sunday).

“He’s struggled offensively, period, like a lot of our guys,” Acta said of LaPorta, who entered Monday hitting .203 with one RBI in 18 games. “I don’t think it has anything to do with which side of the rubber the pitcher’s on.”

Minor detail

Outfielder Michael Brantley is doing his best to return to the big leagues, entering Monday with a .333 batting average and two RBIs in 11 games since being optioned to Columbus. Brantley had hit safely in six straight games. “He’s been playing well down there,” Acta said. “We know that he’s going to be part of our future.” Brantley was Cleveland’s opening day starter in left field but struggled at the plate and lost the job to a red-hot Austin Kearns, before being sent down to clear room for Branyan.

Roundin’ third

  • The Indians have scored three runs or fewer in 16 of their 25 games.
  • Entering Monday, the Indians were hitting .326 (59-for-181) over their last five games to raise their team batting average from .223 to .246.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.