KANSAS CITY -- No one predicted this. On Monday, when the Indians and Royals opened a four-game series at Kauffman Stadium, they occupied the top two spots in the American League Central standings.
At 11-4, Cleveland was in first place and off to its best start since 2002. At 10-5, Kansas City sat in second, off to its best start since 2003. Indians manager Manny Acta said he sees a lot of similarities between the pair of rebuilding ballclubs.
"I do," Acta said. "I don't care how early it is. I'm excited for my ballclub and I'm happy for the Royals. I'm very happy for both towns, both franchises and the young players that we have. This is good for baseball. This is the way it should be.
"We are kind of in the same situation. We started a couple years ago. They have a lot of talented players, and a lot more coming."
The Indians and Royals can only hope that -- no matter how early it is in the season -- their showings are a sign of good things to come. This is the first time since May 31, 1999 that Cleveland and Kansas City held the top two spots (in any order) at least 15 games into a season.
"I'm excited," Acta said. "That's what baseball is all about. I know that last year, at the end, we were fighting for fourth place. Now, three weeks into this season, we're playing a series for first place.
"It's early, yes. But I don't care. I'm happy. I'm excited about my club and I'm happy for them."
With Sizemore back, Brantley No. 7 in lineup
KANSAS CITY -- After a one-day hiatus, Michael Brantley returned to the Indians' lineup on Monday, but the young outfielder had a new home in the batting order. Brantley was Cleveland's new seventh hitter.
With Grady Sizemore back with the Tribe, following a lengthy rehab from left knee surgery, Brantley was forced to shift from center field to left and vacate the leadoff spot. Sitting at his locker inside the visitors' clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium, Brantley said manager Manny Acta explained the decision.
"We sat down and talked about it yesterday," Brantley said prior to Monday's game against the Royals. "He just kind of reiterated what was going to happen and what's going on. I'll keep that between us."
Asked if he was fine with the lineup change, Brantley said the team came first.
"It's whatever they decide," he said. "I don't make that decision. I'll just go out there and play hard each and every day and let the management and upper management take care of that. Wherever my name is in the lineup, I'll be ready to play."
Entering Monday's action, the 23-year-old Brantley was hitting .302 with four doubles, six RBIs and a .367 on-base percentage through 14 games as Cleveland's leadoff man. The Tribe's left fielder is hoping to continue to have that type of success out of the No. 7 hole.
"I've been playing very well," Brantley said. "I'm very happy with the way I've been playing. I've been playing good each and every day, and just helping my team out the best I can. That's all I can ask for out of myself, and hopefully I can continue to do that throughout the year."
Acta believed the seventh spot was ideal for Brantley for a few reasons. First, the manager liked the idea of Brantley hitting behind No. 6 hitter Orlando Cabrera. Acta believes Cabrera and Brantley will create "more traffic" for Matt LaPorta, who boasts decent power out of the eight spot. Beyond that, due to Brantley's ability to steal bases, Acta feels LaPorta might see more fastballs.
"I think it's a good fit," Acta said.
Acta added that he does not buy into the theory that a faster, leadoff-type hitter should be slotted into the ninth hole, pairing him with the No. 1 hitter. The Indians manager believes Brantley is too good of a hitter to bat last. Acta also hopes Brantley will maintain the same approach at the plate.
"He works the count and uses the whole field," Acta said. "I don't think he's going to change it. I think most of these guys, their approach won't change unless you really drill it in their head that they need to do this and they need to do that."
Brantley, however, said the move will probably alter the way he goes about things.
"When you hit seventh, you have to change your approach," he saod. "You're not a leadoff hitter. It's not about taking pitches. It's not about working the count. It's really about driving in runs when you're in the seventh hole. So, yeah, my approach does change. But at the same time, you've got to swing at good quality pitches."
Indians hope Gomez performs like last year
KANSAS CITY -- The Indians have stormed out of the gates this season largely due to the string of strong performances from their pitchers. The Tribe is hoping that Mitch Talbot's injury, and the arrival of Jeanmar Gomez as his replacement, will not disrupt the early success.
"We'll have to see," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "Gomez pitched well for us last year, and Gomez was battling for that [fifth] spot at the end of Spring Training, too. We're just going to have to see. None of us has a crystal ball to see how [Talbot] was going to continue to pitch for us here."
Talbot, who was 1-0 with a 1.46 ERA in two starts this season, was placed on the disabled list with a right elbow strain on Sunday. Indians head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff noted on Monday that the right-hander was scheduled to resume throwing on Saturday, and the hope is to have him ready for a Minor League rehab assignment in one month.
Needless to say, Gomez, who went 4-5 with a 4.68 ERA in 11 starts for the Indians in 2010, is with the Tribe for more than one outing.
"It's not a spot start," Acta said. "Gomez is going to be here to take his spot, and we'll go from there."
Gomez, 23, was 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA through two outings for Triple-A Columbus before joining the team on Monday in Kansas City. He will be officially added to the roster for the start on Tuesday. Cleveland has not announced who will be removed from the roster to clear room.
Acta said Gomez's main objective in the Minors was to concentrate on improving his slider and changeup.
"We sent him down there to work on his secondary pitches," Acta said. "That's still a work in progress for him. He's a guy who can throw strikes with a good two-seam fastball and work low and away, which is a key pitch up here in the big leagues.
"He only had two starts, but he was very good down there. He survived over here last year because he was able to throw strikes. We're expecting him to do that again."
Quote to note
"Every day I get about 20 or 30 different lineups sent to me, or second-guessing my bad decisions. So when somebody says that I'm in first place, I enjoy that one, too." -- Indians manager Manny Acta, referring to messages from his followers on Twitter
On Monday, Indians head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff discussed the injury to starter Mitch Talbot, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a right elbow strain. Soloff said the results of the MRI exam performed on Talbot's elbow last week were "consistent with a starter of his age and having an injury history consistent with his." Talbot sprained the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow in 2009, when he was in the Rays system. Soloff said the current strain is not considered as severe as the previous injury. Cleveland hopes to have Talbot back in game activities (likely a Minor League rehab assignment) in one month.
Infielder Jason Donald, who is on the 15-day DL with a left-hand issue, ran into an unrelated setback in his Minor League rehab with Triple-A Columbus. On Saturday, Donald strained his left groin while fielding a grounder and he is expected to miss three-to-five days.
On Monday, the Indians traded Minor League pitcher Yohan Pino to the Blue Jays in exchange for cash considerations. Pino was pitching for Double-A Akron.
Soloff noted that right-hander Anthony Reyes, who fought an issue with his throwing elbow during Spring Training, is currently building up his innings in extended spring training in Arizona. Reyes is expected to be ready to throw four to five innings by the end of this month.
Entering Monday, the Indians were 9-1 in games in which they scored first.
Indians closer Chris Perez entered Monday with a scoreless streak of 26 innings, dating back to last season. It's the longest active scoreless streak in the Majors.