July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Expectations will be high if Tribe’s Asdrubal Cabrera can stay healthy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Asdrubal Cabrera returned to the lineup Tuesday, two days after leaving an exhibition game in the opening inning with tightness in his leg.



That’s good news for the Indians, who can’t afford to have their fourth-year shortstop dealing with health issues for the second consecutive season.

“I’m 100 percent,” said Cabrera, whose 2010 season was derailed by a broken left forearm that sidelined him for two months and plagued the Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, native upon his return. “My arm feels pretty good, all my body feels really good. I’m just waiting for the season to start.”

Cabrera, 25, is healthy again and it’s shown this spring, as he’s hitting .432 (16-for-37) with three doubles, three home runs and six RBIs in 13 exhibition games. He had another productive day at the plate Tuesday in Cleveland’s 7-3 victory over the Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, going 2-for-4 with a homer and RBI.

Cabrera has also been near flawless in the field despite working with a new second baseman in his namesake, veteran Orlando Cabrera, whom the Indians signed as a free agent this offseason.

The exhibition performance has manager Manny Acta anxious to see how it translates once the regular season opens April 1 against the White Sox at Progressive Field.

“I’m very excited,” Acta said, when asked what he has thought of his shortstop this spring. “I could tell from Day 1 that he’s stronger. He’s driving balls to the opposite field.

“He’s been terrific in spring training so far.”

The same could be said last year of Cabrera, who after a productive training camp, got off to a good start over the first month of the regular season before disaster struck in mid-May.

While diving up the middle at Tampa Bay on May 17, Cabrera collided with third baseman Jhonny Peralta in a shift situation and fractured the forearm.

Cabrera’s worth was felt with him on the shelf as the Indians’ offense and defense suffered in the absence of their top fielder and run-scoring catalyst.

Cabrera returned July 19 and finished the season with a .276 batting average, three homers, 29 RBIs and 39 runs in 97 games, but he wasn’t the same player that started the year.

“We knew he wasn’t 100 percent, but he’s a gamer,” Acta said. “He wanted to be out there.”

In contrast to the wealth of inexperienced second basemen Cabrera lined up alongside last year, the Indians will employ a 14-year veteran at the position in Orlando Cabrera, who is expected to play second base full time after a stellar career as a two-time Gold Glove award-winning shortstop.

The two have meshed well this spring, giving the Indians what should be one of the top double-play combinations in the American League.

“I know he’s been a good shortstop for a long time in the major leagues,” Asdrubal Cabrera said. “I feel real comfortable with him at second base.”

The feeling is mutual.

“He makes it look so easy,” Orlando Cabrera said. “He’s truly playing like a veteran, like a guy that’s been here a long time. It makes it easy on me.

“He wants to learn. He wants to get better every day.”

Because Orlando Cabrera has played the game for a long time, and played it well, Asdrubal Cabrera will defer the infield leadership role that usually falls to the shortstop to his elder.

But Acta knows the real story.

“Asdrubal is our guy,” Acta said. “This is about experience with Orlando, but we know deep inside that Asdrubal is in charge. I trust my eyes. I think he’s one of the finest shortstops in the American League.”

Offensively, Cabrera is expected to hit second in the order behind Michael Brantley to start the season, and then Grady Sizemore, once Cleveland’s three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove award-winning center fielder has completely recovered from microfracture surgery on his left knee.

“I know the job I can do,” said Cabrera, a career .284 hitter with a lifetime .347 on-base percentage, who ranked third among AL shortstops with a .797 OPS in 2009. “My job is to help the team win, get in scoring position for (Shin-Soo) Choo and the guys that come behind me. That’s my game.”

The Indians are hoping it’s on display for a full season this year.

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