GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- A funny thing happened when Shelley Duncan earned regular playing time over the final month of last season. The career bench player turned into one of the Indians' best sluggers down the stretch.
That does not mean Cleveland is going to hand him a starting role this spring.
"It's a very small sample for us to just completely change our mind or hand the guy an everyday job," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
Duncan can play left field, and the Indians currently have an outfield opening with center fielder Grady Sizemore (lower back strain) expected to miss Opening Day. If Michael Brantley shifts from left to center field in Sizemore's absence, Cleveland will need a solution down the line.
It is possible that the 32-year-old Duncan could work himself into that mix with a strong Cactus League showing, but the Tribe is currently viewing him the same as it has for the past few years. That means Duncan's likely role would be as a backup option for designated hitter, left field and first base.
"He's a valuable part of our team," Acta said. "He's coming into the season slated to spend some time as a DH against lefties, some left field and, depending how things go, maybe a game here and there at first base."
Last season, Duncan hit .260 with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs in 76 games for the Indians, who sent him shuttling back and forth between Cleveland and Triple-A Columbus for much of the year. In 26 September games, Duncan found his groove, hitting .265 with seven homers, seven doubles and 23 RBIs.
Among his American League peers, Duncan's seven homers and 23 RBIs ranked sixth and third, respectively.
"I think he made a case for himself with the way he went about his business," Acta said. "I don't think that one month is going to make up everybody's mind about that. It always helps when you go out there and perform. He took advantage of his opportunity, but that's about it."
Asdrubal, Kipnis using spring to bond together
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The on-field relationship between a second baseman and shortstop is an important dynamic for any ballclub. For the Indians, Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera are using this spring to strengthen their bond up the middle.
"That's what's great about spring," Kipnis said on Tuesday. "You have time to work with each other and get to know each other."
Last season, the pair of infielders had to learn to work with one another on the fly when Kipnis was promoted to the big leagues in July, when Cleveland was still in the division race. With that experience under their belts, combined with six weeks of Spring Training, they are confident that they will build a strong partnership.
That is critical for any club.
"That's very important," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "That's one of the reaons why they're paired up in some of those working groups. It will be important throughout spring that they spend time together on the field. That's always important.
"It's tough to ask a guy to come right in the middle of the season and get familiar with his partner when these guys have never played on the same club."
Kipnis, who entered the Indians organization as an outfielder, is entering only his second full season as a second baseman for the team. Cabrera -- known throughout baseball for his acrobatic style at shortstop -- noted that Kipnis is always asking him questions and appears to be a fast learner.
"He's a good guy to play with," Cabrera said. "I think if we pull everything together, we're going to be a good middle infield this year. ... He listens. He's a good guy. He tries to get better every day."
Kipnis added that Cabrera -- formerly a second baseman for the Tribe -- has been a great asset to have on the field.
"He's very helpful," Kipnis said. "I think we do a really good job of communicating with each other. We talk a lot. I ask him questions. He knows. Sometimes it just comes easier for him and he might not know how to explain it, but the way we communicate right now is going well for us.
"You've got to get used to each other's tendencies. We have a base now from last year to work off of -- a foundation. We'll just improve on it this year."
Indians' hearts with victims of school shooting
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Televisions inside the Indians' spring complex in Arizona have been tuned to the news coverage of Monday morning's tragic school shooting back home in Ohio, creating a strange and sorrowful scene across the country.
On Tuesday, Indians owner Larry Dolan reacted to the violence in Chardon, Ohio, which is located roughly 30 miles east of Cleveland.
"On behalf of the Cleveland Indians baseball organization," Dolan began in a statement released by the team, "and specifically the Dolan family, whose roots are deep in the Chardon community, we offer our deepest sympathy to all involved in this senseless tragedy.
"We pray that the strength necessary to endure all the pain will come to the survivors. We hope for all of you peace and tranquility in due time."
The shooting at Chardon High School has claimed three victims: Demetrius Hewlin, Russell King Jr. and Daniel Parmentor. According to reports, a fourth victim remains hospitalized, while a fifth has been released.
Indians manager Manny Acta is closer to revealing his starter for Opening Day on April 5 against the Blue Jays. Acta said on Tuesday that he will likely name his choice -- either sinkerballer Justin Masterson or right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez -- following Thursday's workout.
Right-handed setup man Vinnie Pestano said he is focusing on fine-tuning his slider this spring. Pestano said effectiveness with his slider can help his showing against left-handed hitters. Last season, lefties hit .280 with a .812 OPS against him. Pestano held right-handed hitters to a .115 average (.410 OPS).
Acta noted that left-hander David Huff is scheduled to start Saturday's Cactus League opener against the Reds. Huff is competing with right-handers Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez and Zach McAllister for the roation's fifth spot.
The Indians will hold the first of two intrasquad games during Wednesday's workout. Pitchers scheduled to appear during the abbreviated game include Jeremy Accardo, Nick Hagadone, Frank Herrmann, Chen-Chang Lee, Chris Seddon, Tyler Sturdevant, Robinson Tejeda and Josh Tomlin.
Barring injury, the Indians know their starting catcher will be Carlos Santana, with Lou Marson serving as the backup option behind the plate. What the team does not know right now is who will be third on the depth chart. "They'll make that decision for us," Acta said. Candidates in camp include Luke Carlin, Matt Pagnozzi and Michael Hernandez.
Quote to note: "Yes. Let the games begin. It gets a little monotonous, or repetitive, the last five days. You get the guys ready and then let's play the games. That's more fun." --Acta, asked if he's ready to be done with the early-spring workouts