GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The competition for the lone vacancy in the Indians' rotation officially began on Saturday afternoon, when fans rolled in to Goodyear Ballpark under a cloudless sky and lefty David Huff took the mound for the first time this spring.
Huff is one of four pitchers vying for the available fifth spot, and his number was called for Cleveland's Cactus League opener, which saw the Tribe and the Reds play to a 6-6 tie. For his part, Huff spun a pair of scoreless innings and walked away content with what he was able to accomplish.
"I felt good. I felt really good," said Huff, while still catching his breath after some post-start running. "My big thing was trying to throw into hitters, and I executed it. I was throwing it in there for strikes and I was throwing it in there for balls. I made the hitters really uncomfortable."
Huff is hoping to do the same when the Indians break camp and head home for the April 5 season opener against the Blue Jays. There are still four weeks remaining in Spring Training, however, and four arms jockeying for position. The other three candidates include Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez and Zach McAllister.
As for Huff, Indians manager Manny Acta liked what he saw the first time out.
"He battled," Acta said. "Even when he had a little bit of traffic, he was able to fight back. Especially after they started the game with a double right off the bat, he was able to get the next guy with a good pitch inside."
The leadoff double rocketed off the bat of Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips, who used an off-balance swing to rope a changeup into left field. Huff escaped the first inning unscathed with a strikeout and a double play, but the pitcher was left baffled by Phillips' two-base knock.
"I was just like, 'How did he hit that?'" Huff said with a laugh. "He was out on his front foot and he was in the other batter's box. It was a good pitch. I just think he saw it coming because I slowed up. I didn't maintain that fastball arm speed."
Overall, the 27-year-old Huff maintained consistent mechanics and was solid with his command, firing 25 of his 35 pitches for strikes. He stuck mainly with his fastball and cutter, shelving the curveball after missing high in the zone on a couple of attempts. Huff gave up three hits, but he found a way to limit the damage.
Huff went 2-6 with a 4.09 ERA in 11 games for the Indians last season, but he was 9-3 with a 3.87 ERA in 18 turns with Triple-A Columbus. The lefty made a handful of mechanical tweaks last season and said he has reached a point where he is no longer thinking about those chances while on the hill.
Huff is also trying to keep his mind off the battle for the fifth spot.
"You can't think about that when you go out there," he said. "You've got to think about facing the hitter that's in the box and you've got to think about that pitch that you need to execute."
Indians in favor of new playoff format
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians players had plenty of questions and concerns on their minds when Michael Weiner, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, held a closed-door meeting with the ballclub on Saturday morning.
Two of the topics addressed included the expanding of the postseason field from eight teams to 10 this season and Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun's successful appeal of a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.
Cleveland's players collectively appear to be in favor of the new playoff format. Under the new rules, beginning this season, there will be two Wild Card winners in each league. Those two teams would engage in a one-game playoff before advancing to the four-team scenario used to this point in the Wild Card era.
"It'll raise the competitiveness and stimulate some more interest down the stretch," Indians reliever Frank Herrmann said. "The guys are saying they're excited. You get another chance. It's going to be tough this year with the West and the East being what it is, but it gives you that hope that it's not over until it's over."
Outfielder Shelley Duncan agreed.
"I'm excited about it," he said. "It really gives you a reward for winning your division, which I think is important. I'm a big old-school baseball fan. I liked the East and the West and two first-place teams playing each other. So this gives more reward to the division-winning teams. I like that."
Asked if he had any issues with the one-game playoff format, Duncan smirked.
"If you don't like it," Duncan said, "play better."
Last week, Duncan was among those who voiced concerns over Braun winning an appeal of a 50-game ban. Braun tested positive for synthetic testosterone in October, but his suspension was overturned by an arbitration panel. The process of submitting the urine sample was called into question and contributed to the decision.
After the meeting with Weiner, Duncan said some of his concerns were addressed.
"It sounds like we have a good program that everyone has trust in," Duncan said. "It's just both sides have learned from that whole thing. They'll make sure they don't repeat the same mistakes -- whatever mistakes they were."
Indians sign 15 players to one-year deals
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians announced on Saturday that they have signed 15 players to one-year contracts for the upcoming season. The deadline to sign pre-arbitration players on the 40-man roster is March 11.
The following players have signed: pitchers Carlos Carrasco, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Tony Sipp and Josh Tomlin; outfielders Michael Brantley, Aaron Cunningham, Thomas Neal and Nick Weglarz; infielders Jason Donald, Matt LaPorta and Cord Phelps; and catcher Carlos Santana.
Cleveland has 12 players on the roster who remain unsigned.
Quote to note
"I don't think any team is going into the season shooting for the Wild Card, but if it's there? Woo hoo. Playoffs." -- Indians manager Manny Acta, on the expanded playoffs
Right-hander Frank Herrmann, who is competing for a spot in Cleveland's bullpen, allowed four runs in his only inning of work during Saturday's game against the Reds. Manager Manny Acta did not sound concerned, quickly noting that "it's only the first day."
Indians outfielder Aaron Cunningham took part in Saturday's workout, but he did not play in the contest against the Reds. Acta noted earlier this week that Cunningham has been dealing with a sore left hand.
Closer Chris Perez (left oblique strain) and left-hander Rafael Perez (left shoulder soreness) remain sidelined for the Indians. Chris Perez is hopeful that he will be able to resume throwing some time next week. Rafael Perez should be able to work his way back on a mound soon.
Acta praised his lineup's situational hitting early on in Saturday's game against the Reds. Carlos Santana drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the first inning. In the second, Jason Kipnis singled, moved to second on a sac bunt from Ryan Spilborghs and scored from second on a base hit from Lonnie Chisenhall.