July 29, 2014

Medina
Mostly cloudy
59°F

Chris Assenheimer: Trying to convince myself the Tribe’s slow start is no cause for alarm

I keep telling myself that it’s too early in the season to get a true reading on what the rest of the year holds for the Indians, who some — OK, fine, including myself — picked to make the playoffs.

I keep telling myself that the Indians’ slow start (6-10)  really means nothing. Get back to me at the end of the month, maybe even at the end of May.

I keep telling myself that, even though it was considered a weak link when the season began, a poor performance is not a sign of things to come from Cleveland’s rotation, which, outside of Justin Masterso,  has been brutal. If it doesn’t improve, the postseason is obviously out of the question.

I keep telling myself that this new-and-improved lineup stocked with speed and power is going to start scoring runs on a consistent basis. The Indians’ batting order has been decimated by injuries, but it needs production from more than a couple players, and that’s all we’ve seen to start the season.

I keep telling myself that Masterson will continue to offer ace-like efforts and not return to the inconsistent pitcher he was last season, when he was a No. 1 starter only in title. If the right-hander doesn’t hold his form this year, things could get disastrous for the Indians in the starting pitching department.

I keep telling myself that we are not seeing the same old Ubaldo Jimenez, a right-hander who’s been a huge disappointment since arriving in a big trade with Colorado in 2011. After performing well this spring and in his season debut, Jimenez has resorted to his old ways, pitching ineffectively and without confidence. A silver lining is that he’s been throwing his fastball in the 94-95 mph range, something rarely seen during his days in Cleveland. Now, he just has to locate the pitch.

I keep telling myself that a sore left elbow for second baseman Jason Kipnis will not linger and prevent him from having more than one good half of baseball to show on his big league resume. This is a big year for Kipnis, who is hitting in a magnified spot in the order — third — and needs to prove he can produce on a regular basis for a full season at the big league level.

I keep telling myself that shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera losing weight and coming to training camp in what he called the best shape of his life was a good thing. You’d think a new physical and mental approach would benefit Cabrera, but the two-time All-Star was batting just .138 with two home runs and three RBIs in 15 games through Friday. Maybe he needed the extra weight in the batter’s box? More bad news for Cabrera came Saturday when he left the game with a wrist injury.

I keep telling myself that the Indians are going to get more from Nick Swisher other than an energetic, friendly guy that says “bro” all the time. Like many, Swisher got off to a slow start, but unlike many, he’s in the high-profiled cleanup spot in the batting order. Clubhouse leaders are great, but the Indians require more from their big-money man than some rah-rahs in the clubhouse and dugout.

I keep telling myself that Michael Brantley’s blazing hot spring after a solid .288 average last year makes him more Dr. Smooth, than Mr. March. He is batting .250 with just one homer and five RBIs in 15 games. Sure, Brantley had a nice season last year and a big exhibition effort, but let’s wait until he hits .300 before we consider him a batting-title contender.

I keep telling myself that Michael Bourn is going to come off the disabled list and be the type of leadoff hitter the Indians haven’t seen since the days of Kenny Lofton. It sure looked as though Bourn was headed in that direction, with the speedy center fielder batting .333 in 10 games before he sustained a cut to his right index finger. Though it is considered a minor injury, it was a bad break for one of the few players producing on a regular basis. The Indians need Bourn back, healthy and contributing to get things going at the top of the order.

I keep telling myself that Brett Myers has been a reliable starting pitcher on the major league level; that he isn’t going to give up a record amount of home runs — 10 over 21 1⁄3 innings — and that he really can throw a fastball over 90 mph. Myers has a track record but the Indians haven’t seen anything resembling positive past performances from the right-hander, who signed a one-year, $7 million contract this offseason. He returned to Cleveland on Saturday for an MRI on a sore right elbow, so maybe that’s the reason for his struggles.

I keep telling myself that this is the season catcher Carlos Santana finally breaks out. He appeared to benefit the most by not having to carry the offensive load, and  started hot — .378, three homers, eight RBIs in 13 games. A big year from Santana would be a bonus for a team that was expected to score more even without top-shelf production from him.

I keep telling myself that left-hander Scott Kazmir is going to complete a successful comeback after making just one big league appearance over the past two years. But then I watch his season debut Saturday (six runs on seven hits and a 16.60 ERA in 3 1⁄3 innings) and remember that he pitched for the Sugarland Skeeters in 2012.

I keep telling myself that there’s no way the the Indians should have entertained bringing back Travis Hafner. But then I see that he is hitting .349 with five homers and 10 RBIs in 14 games for the Yankees through Friday. And then I tell myself again that there is no way the Indians should have entertained bringing back Travis Hafner.

I keep telling myself that there’s no way Terry Francona, who has already won two World Series titles, would take over a team he didn’t expect to win at some point. Friendship with the front office couldn’t be the only reason he left the television business. There had to be something he liked about this club. Still, as Francona found out during his final year in Boston, a manager is only as good as his players.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.