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Carrasco and Francona at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

(Photo courtesy of USA Today)
There's nothing joyful about watching the Detroit Tigers play baseball at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario. After watching this past weekend's games against the Motor City Kitties, I felt nothing but rage against the machine. The Tigers loaded up on offense, and brought it to Cleveland all nice and shiny, polished for a sweep at the renovated Progressive Field.

My god do I hate them.

I don't care about sense and sensibility when it comes to the Indians. I want them to win. I want them to win every game, and while I never worry about losses this early in the season, I can't stand losing to the Tigers. With every Victor Martinez hit, I feel like I've been bitch-slapped in the face. When Miguel Cabrera smirks behind his flubbery frame, I have to physically force myself not to dry-heave.

And I'm damn sick of J.D. Martinez, and the story of plucking him away from the Houston Astros.

The Tigers rolled into Cleveland, scored 25 runs off of 33 hits, stole a win from Corey Kluber, and otherwise ruined a beautiful Cleveland weekend in April.

It almost feels like the Tribe paid for this beautiful North Coast weather with a pound of flesh. I'd gladly take a foot of snow if it meant Indians' wins, but I'm not sure there's a metric for that.

To hell with the Tigers, and I'm looking forward to when the inevitably come down to earth. This is an aging team, that certainly can't keep to the pace of their early start, but boy did they take us to the woodshed.

Terry Francona is a top three manager in baseball, and to many, the best in the game. It's really hard to measure what a manager does for a baseball team. I've watched over the years, as people have tried using data and the eye test based on in-game decisions, combined with behind the scenes player-handling.

It's all nonsense.

The only way you can truly measure a manager's tenure at any level, and in any year, is to look at the results.

Terry Francona gets results.

You simply can't argue with his record or his track record, even if you have to quibble with his methods. Right now, there isn't anyone better than Bruce Bochy in San Francisco. Bochy is heralded as being a guy that relates to his players, and does an amazing job of handling his bullpen.

This is all true. It also doesn't hurt that he's had a top ten rotation and bullpen over the past five years, three of which ended in a Giants' World Series victory.

If you ask anyone inside the game of baseball, they'll rank Francona right with Bochy in regards to the handling of players in the locker room, as well as the in-the-game use; looking at consistency as a massive factor.

I don't care what anyone says, Francona is masterful handling his bullpen over the long haul.

Now, organizationally, I question the depth options over the years that the Indians have had. You can blame that on in-house players not living up-to-potential, and Antonetti and his staff not hitting on enough lower-tier players in the off season.

You can also "blame" the Indians for losing a key piece or two from the pen into the rotation. Of course, I'm speaking of Carlos Carrasco, but I'll get there in a minute.

Last season, the Tribe's pen's ERA was a staunch 3.12, and ranked fifth in the league with regards to usage. Some would point to overuse, and there is a tinge of truth to that, but others would point to the simple fact that he went to players he trusted, and who trusted his use of them at certain points in the game.

That's important.

There's also a "feel" piece to it that obviously can't be measured. The problem with that "feel" is that there are times when performance just doesn't meet the need, and that often has to do with talent.

I also don't want to confuse "feel" with complacency either. In my job as a teacher, I utilize data every day. It's massively important for me to look at the data as a daily prescription for improvement for my students. If you walked into my building and asked my boss or those with whom I work, they'd likely describe me as a geek. I test and data collect, sometimes daily. No, my assessments aren't always conventional, but I need to know where my kids are with our rigorous curriculum.

At the same time, the biggest part of my job isn't that data collection, but the relationship that I build with each child. No, ten year olds aren't the same as 30-year-old millionaires, but I guarantee you there are more similarities that anyone would care to admit.

Why am I good at what I do? I earn the kids trust by being the most consistent and caring person in their lives. They can count me at every point in the day to do the same things when I have to, and change when I need to.

After 17 years, I have an amazing feel for the trends, and transition without hesitating when I need to move in a different direction.

Francona manages exactly like that. He utilizes data as well, but not like I do (I don't have the Indians infrastructure personnel-wise). He has a history of hiring amazing lieutenants, and trusting them to do their jobs. In the Indians' front office, you have one of the smartest group of individuals in all of baseball, and Francona trusts them as well.

While metric decisions likely aren't as big in-game as others, he utilizes them on a day-to-day basis, and combines that with the best "feel" of any manager in the game. You can't argue with Bochy being the best, but when it comes to getting the optimum performance from his players, Francona has a track record better than most.

In Boston, he had the best talent money could buy. In Cleveland? Not so much, but he has taken young talent and made them about as relevant as possible. He's not perfect, but he utilizes every inch of this roster, in a manner that may be off-kilter to some.

But seriously, we're going to bitch about Francona?

I thoroughly enjoy the "experts" that shred Francona's in-game use of players. Most of these fantastic critiques come from those outside the game. In the world of social media, it's easy to follow the sheep and crush a manager...in early April...in a player's first start.

I'll get to that in a second.

Look, there isn't a manager in the game that doesn't make mistakes, and even the best make pretty big ones, and pretty regularly. I recall an interview with Joe Torre, who said, "I've managed the same way my whole career. Sometimes the talent put around me makes my moves a lot easier to make, and a lot easier to gloss over."

I'm sure you could fault Terry Francona for allowing Zach McAllister in the game too long on Friday Night. In the grand scheme of things, I couldn't really argue with that. Some will say that how you handle a guy in their first game is the same way you should handle a guy in their last in the big leagues. Some would even say that "messages" are stupid.

Those are great opinions, and just wrong.

Anyone that manages people understands that there is nuance to the skill on a day-to-day basis, and it's totally dependent on the situations put in front of you. In the bigs, the first week is a big deal with respect to independent trust.

Francona made a point to showcase McAllister's preparedness in all his comments, and he was clearly ahead of the hitters in spring. Should he have pulled him after looking horrible in the fourth of last Friday's game? He gave up a two-run homer in the fifth, and then Cleveland put three on the board in the bottom of the inning.

Yeah, it makes good baseball sense to have pulled him. But, if the sense is that by throwing McAllister out there for one more inning helps the psyche long-term when he's called upon to make a big start, or more likely, assume a spot in the pen, do it.

I'm sure Franona's fine taking the heat from both the media and the fans that know better because they/we can deal in hindsight. In the meantime, Francona earns the trust of his players, and better yet, wins baseball games.

Francona can manage personalities for sure, but before you say that's all he does well, ask yourself this: Does he know baseball? He sure does, and better than nearly every other manager in the game today. Being critical is fine, but remember...it's April, and this team is still finding it's way. There isn't any manager I'd trust more to lead them down that path.

He excels with veterans, and he excels with young players, and that's a mix that isn't found in many. His typecast is just understanding the game of baseball, and relating that to any player, and that's a rare breed indeed.

Of course, it's baseball, and someone's always gotta complain about something.

What about Zach McAllister and his long-term tenure in the rotation? I said it at the end of March, and I'll say it again now: McAllister is going to end up in the pen, and that's likely been the plan from the start. Had Salazar lit it up in the spring, things may have been different, but he didn't.

There's no doubt in my mind that the McAllister-plan from the start was to bring him up in April as a starter before ultimately bringing up Salazar by the end of April, or in early May. In Columbus, he immediately becomes the #1 starter, pitches every five days, and perhaps even learns a bit of a lesson after a somewhat tumultuous offseason.

I know, I know, it's another one of those evil "messages."

It's clear that Salazar has a bit further to go with his development, both in pitches and make-up. He's does have a good head on his shoulders regarding baseball, and normally, his work ethic is top notch. Once it clicks, he's going to be really, really good.

I think it's still happening this year. Salazar will be up sooner, rather than later, and McAllister will no doubt both hold down a spot in the pen, and make random starts throughout the year. That's a pretty valuable commodity, unless he continues to look like Tigers' garbage every start.

Not likely.

McAllister relieved Carlos Carrasco tonight after the Indians starter was drilled in the cheek/jaw in the first inning against the Chicago White Sox, and went 3 2/3 innings pitched, and made 50 pitches. It's pretty tough coming in on a moments notice and essentially take over a start, and then make that many pitches when the mind-set was that you were going to miss a start.

Not sure how this will effect him going forward, but the injury to Carrasco is certainly something to keep an eye on. I'll get to that in a second.

The Carlos Carrasco injury occurred after I had written the entirety of this piece. I sat in stunned silence for much of the game, and had even written the bulk of another piece on Carrasco, when news came out that he wasn't concussed, and that he didn't have a break in the jaw or cheek-bone. He's most definitely not out of the woods yet, and my thoughts and prayers head out to Carrasco. I just wanted to point out that the next section was written prior to the injury, although I have updated it a bit, to add the Carrasco news.

Anyone that thinks the competition in spring is where it ends is really just kidding themselves. In the case of the Cleveland Indians, Spring Training is just the first tune-up. Francona always looks for 'outside the box' thinking regarding his pitching staff, and he's always been extremely fluent with regards to his bullpens and rotations. Last year, Francona used eight starters 14+ times, and only three starters made 20+. The bottom five were between 13 and 19 starts, and I could see a scenario where that happens again.

The question is who?

We know that the top three are locked and loaded with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. Of course, with Carrasco only making eight pitches tonight after getting drilled by a line-drive, the "who" question becomes much more important.

Right now, the next two in the rotation are T.J. House and McAllister, who have both struggled mightily (against the Tigers, mind you) in their first starts. Salazar would most definitely be the next guy in the order.

For those counting at home, that's six starters strong, not taking into account any downtime for Carrasco. And folks, if you saw him get hit, I can't imagine he doesn't miss at least one start, if not more. My best guess here is that when they need to make the move for a starter, Salazar would be the guy, but for those counting at home, Bruce Chen pitched in Columbus on Tuesday night as well, and while he took the loss, he went six innings, striking out three, and giving up two hits, one of them a home run, the only run of the game.

They could just bring Chen up to take his spot. Of course, he's not on the roster, and if they bring him up and he doesn't stick, like Marcum, they lose depth when they DFA him, and they already don't have it.

So who are the next two or three guys, especially now that Shaun Marcum has been released?

Nick Maronde, Michael Roth and Jordan Cooper round out the rotation in Columbus, and the Indians signed Jhoulys Chacin to a Minor League contract today. The Rockies released him at the end of spring, and he's put up some pretty good numbers for Colorado. According to Jordan Bastian,
"Chacin is currently building up pitch volume at Cleveland's spring complex in Goodyear, Arizona, and he's slated to join Triple-A Columbus in the coming weeks."
The Rockies had signed the righty to a one-year, $5.5 million deal this past winter, and he was thought to be a lock to start. Their loss could be the Indians gain, especially with them needing Major League ready starters.

I could see a couple guys pop up from Akron, but the likelihood of the Indians front office making a rush-move with a prospect is pretty doubtful. I still love Cody Anderson's make-up, and Ryan Merritt is another guy on the radar, but they are still at least a year away, and even then, no lock.

If there's an issue with attrition, starting pitching could be an issue past the top of this rotation. The Tribe may have to make a move, and perhaps we'll see a shake-up in the middle-infield that allows some player movement.

It's pretty simple: the Tribe's depth, without Floyd or Tomlin, is problematic. With Chen and Chacin, there are eight guys with possibilities, and Marcum could return to give them nine, but Carrasco's scare on Tuesday night opens the door to a lot of questions with regards to the rotation.

It's funny how fluid these things are, isn't it?

This could be the last gap that we see with the Indians rotation in the coming years, because there are some really interesting arms on the horizon. In Lynchburg, the Indians have Dylan Baker (hopefully, he went on the DL on Tuesday), Adam Plutko, Mitch Brown and Luis Lugo, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's some guys down there with electricity, either in stuff, make-up, or both.

If the Indians can maintain this, their rotation has bright spots in the coming years.

What about Carlos Carrasco. I've already written about how wrong I was about the flame-throwing right-hander, and I have no problem eating crow on a weekly basis. His 2014 renaissance was beautiful to behold. His first start in 2015 was equally impressionistic.

The Indians offered Carrasco a four-year, $22 million deal with two club options worth $18.5 million. Both the MLBPA and his agents advised against him taking the deal, but Carrasco, citing "family security," signed his name on the dotted line.

I'm not sure there could be a better feel-good story.

When he went down after getting hit, you take all of this into account. I remembered the Cliff Lee deal that brought him to Cleveland thinking, "why would the Phillies want to get rid of him instead of Drabek?" I remembered failed attempts to stick, then a scintillating 2011 stretch in which he was dominant, followed by throwing at people and Tommy John. I remembered more head-hunting in frustration, and what I thought was a final move to Triple A, then a bullpen move.

But boy, what a 2014.

I don't know what the future holds for Carrasco. He was hit pretty hard, and while the reports are that there's no serious injuries, it's hard to imagine that Carlos just returns to the rotation. It's equally hard to imagine that there aren't going to be at least a few mental aspects to getting back on the mound.

Who knows.

This is what I do know. I'll be counting the days to see Carrasco making American League hitters looking like fools. Let's hope it's sometime early next week, or shorty thereafter.

How ludicrous was tonight, and how the hell did it become a microcosm of the Indians' early season?  While I'm watch Carrasco lay face first on the mound, I was getting barraged by some off-broadway Browns idiocy in which they presented nine versions of their new uniforms as though the heavens parted, and each jersey represented a win during next season's football schedule.

There's a lunacy to it all, being a Cleveland fan, that's hard to comprehend until you have night's like this. The Indians, 2-5, have already faced seemingly a season's worth of adversity, and we haven't even gotten through a second week.

Brantley has yet to play, Gomes is out for perhaps two months, and now Carrasco. On top of that, I was curious if the carny known as the Browns' jersey representation outdrew the Indians' game.

Just another day in paradise...
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