CLEVELAND — The Indians’ players, manager and marketing team are calling Cleveland a “Tribe Town” this year. The attendance figures aren’t supporting as much.
The Indians entered Wednesday night ranked last in the majors by a wide margin, drawing an average of 14,411 fans to Progressive Field over 15 home dates. That is 4,000 fans fewer than the next-to-last-place Miami Marlins had averaged through Tuesday.
“Bro, you can’t corner me with a question like that,” said first baseman Nick Swisher, when asked if he was disappointed in the lack of attendance. “It’s just such a tough question.
“You can’t tell people how to spend their money. I think just in general, I feel the crowds have been pretty good. The times I’ve come here in the past, it feels like all the outfield seats are filled up.”
Though it is understandable for players to avoid the subject, some have been outspoken. Reliever Frank Herrmann, who is on the disabled list after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery, posted this on Twitter: “I would never tell people how to spend their hard earned disposable income but sub 10,000 fans back to back nights to see the hottest team.”
Herrmann was referring to the consecutive home crowds of 9,514 and 9,474 that the Indians drew against Oakland on Monday and Tuesday. In comparison, Triple-A Columbus drew 8,858 fans and 9,058 to back-to-back games Friday and Saturday.
The bulk of offseason additions, which included two-time World Series-champion manager Terry Francona, were expected to generate excitement. But fans have been slow to embrace the club, despite a winning record (16-14) through Tuesday.
“We’ve got to win. We’ve got to earn the crowds,” said designated hitter Mark Reynolds. “Hopefully if we’re in this thing later on in the season, they’ll come out and support us.
“I think winning takes care of it. Fans can come out to a game and enjoy baseball, but if they’re coming out and we’re winning and they’re pulling for us and we’re actually playing for something, I think that will draw more fans than signing whoever. We’ll see where we’re at in a couple months.”
Francona said center fielder Michael Bourn (right index finger laceration) would be re-evaluated after playing his second rehab game for Columbus on Wednesday. He could join the Indians for their series opener at Detroit on Friday.
“If he needs more (rehab) games, we’re going to do whatever’s in his best interests,” Francona said.
Right-hander Zach McAllister (3-3, 2.63 ERA) has developed a new split-finger fastball, first employing the pitch April 24 against the White Sox in Chicago. Though it is a fastball in name, Francona said McAllister’s splitter is an off-speed pitch.
“It’s a pitch that’s going to be a help to him,” Francona said. “Now, we’ve reminded him numerous times that he’s 6-foot-whatever and he throws really hard. We don’t want to turn him into a soft-throwing right-hander, but it’s a weapon for him and I think it will increase as he gets comfortable with it.
“He’s taken it into a game so quickly. This kid learns so fast, it scares me.”
Prized pitching prospect Trevor Bauer continues to show flashes of brilliance, but with little control. He pitched no-hit ball for 6⅔ innings Tuesday at Columbus, but walked four and hit four batters.
On the year at Columbus, Bauer has walked 10 and hit five batters over 24⅔ innings. He has walked 13 over 10 innings of two spot starts for Cleveland.
“I think he’s still developing,” Francona said. “I think that’s part of any 22-year-old pitcher. He’s still developing. That’s part of it. I don’t think anybody’s a finished product when you’re that young.”
Bauer is expected to start one of the games of a traditional doubleheader against the Yankees on Monday at Progressive Field, but Francona would not confirm as much.
Protect and serve
In the wake of Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ taking a line drive off his head Tuesday night, Francona was asked if there was anything baseball could do to prevent such instances. Major League Baseball has discussed protective head gear for pitchers, such as the ones some base coaches use.
“As an industry, I think Major League Baseball is doing their best to try and find something that may help,” Francona said. “But until you have the right answer, you kind of have to keep working at it. There is no perfect answer right now. It scares everybody when it happens. It doesn’t matter what team you’re on.”
The 1-0 win over Oakland on Tuesday was the Indians’ fifth shutout of the season, which was tied for the major league lead entering Wednesday night.