CLEVELAND -- Shelley Duncan heads into this season free from the label that has followed him throughout his career. After years of being defined as a bench player, the Indians are giving Duncan a chance to prove he can hold his own as their starting left fielder.
"He has a great opportunity," Indians manager Manny Acta said before Thursday's season opener against the Blue Jays. "We know that he can provide some power and some leadership for us. This is going to be a new venue for him, being able to do it on an everyday basis.
"It's a great opportunity for him and hopefully he takes advantage of it."
Duncan was excited to finally have that chance.
"It's pretty cool," Duncan said on Thursday. "I'm really just looking forward to today. I'm pretty excited, first of all. I'm playing on Opening Day. I'm nervous right now, but when the game starts, I'll probably just get locked in and not be nervous anymore."
Cleveland handed the keys to left field to Duncan following a Spring Training in which the club's outfield candidates struggled as a whole. The 32-year-old Duncan hit just .161 (9-for-56), but he did flash solid power potential with six home runs, 19 RBIs and 27 total bases. That run production helped him earn the Opening Day opportunity in left field.
As camp wound down, the Indians remained reluctant to announce that Duncan was going to begin the season as the starter in left. Cleveland's hesitation to give him the good news stemmed from its ongoing search for external alternatives. While the front office searched for possible fits, Acta thought it best to wait before anointing Duncan an everyday outfielder.
"I didn't want to have a talk and then end up with a new guy the next day," Acta said. "I think everybody was fully aware of that. It's not about Shelley. It's about trying to improve our club. We're never going to stop doing that regardless of what position it is.
"You have to give credit to our front office -- they never stop. We have reasons for it. We struggled with those guys in camp. They didn't make it any easier on us."
Duncan has spent part of five seasons in the big leagues with the Yankees and Indians, working mainly as a backup option for first base, left field and designated hitter. Last year, Duncan hit .260 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs in 76 games for Cleveland, but he finished with a flourish. In September, Duncan batted .265 with seven homers, seven doubles and 23 RBIs in 26 games.
"I went through a period where I had success," Duncan said. "I got confidence and that's the most important thing you can have."
Kipnis thrilled to make first Opening Day start
CLEVELAND -- Standing at his locker inside the Indians' clubhouse at Progressive Field on Thursday morning, second baseman Jason Kipnis grinned at the thought of hearing his name announced on Opening Day. It is a moment he has been waiting for his entire baseball life.
"That's going to be a rush," Kipnis said. "That's going to be a thrill for me, and it's going to be something that I'm really just going to bathe in the moment and enjoy it as much as I can. As soon as that's over, it's game time, time to lock in and start this off."
That last sentiment seems to be the collective mind-set for a Cleveland club that believes it can contend for the American League Central crown this season. For Kipnis, that type of mentality is all he has known in his brief time on the big league stage. The young second baseman arrived after the Tribe's rebuilding.
Kipnis is viewed as a key ingredient to the club's chances for contention.
"The team is ready to compete," Kipnis said. "That's what it is. We're going to need some stuff to go our way this year a little bit, kind of stay healthy this time. But it's not so much a rebuilding year anymore, or we have young guys or excuses anymore. It's time to compete."
A year ago, the 25-year-old Kipnis hit .272 with seven home runs, nine doubles, 19 RBIs and 24 runs scored in his 36-game stay with the Indians. A second-round pick by the Tribe in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Kipnis opens this season as Cleveland's full-time starter at second base.
That will begin with his name being announced in front of a packed house on Thursday.
"I'm excited. Nervous. All of the above," Kipnis said. "I'm looking forward to it. I got my feet wet a little bit last year, but now I'm excited to see what it's like to get back on the field and experience my first Opening Day with the whole city into it, the whole crowd there. it should be a little fun."
Acta delivers simple pregame speech to club
CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Manny Acta headed into the team's clubhouse during Wednesday's workout and did his annual rallying of the troops. The manager smirked when asked about the speech he delivered to his players.
"Not a speech," Acta said on Thursday. "I had a team meeting."
Acta said his message to Cleveland's players was simple.
"That whatever happened last year, it's in the past," Acta said. "That we need to continue to play good baseball and be consistent throughout the whole season and make sure that you work hard and prepare yourself. Hold your teammates accountable. Things like that. Nothing out of the ordinary. This group has been together for a while now. They know what we expect and what this city expects. Go get 'em."
Acta said there is a heightened level of confidence in the clubhouse heading into this season, adding it is a natural result of the steps the team has taken forward over the past few years.
"I think it comes with the experience," Acta said. "These guys, the so-called young guys, have now been up here for three years. They feel more like they belong up here. That being said, they know this game can be very humbling, so they have to go out there and give everything they got and prepare themselves.
"Talent alone is not going to win it. We know that we have to do a lot of things right still to be on top."
Quote to note
"We're a lot of pieces to a puzzle that fit pretty good. Our team is not full of huge names that the country is going to be all jacked about. But, what we are is a bunch of guys that fit really well that will play together and for each other. That's how you win ballgames." --Indians outfielder Shelley Duncan
Indians manager Manny Acta said he did not have an update about Ubaldo Jimenez's appeal process with Major League Baseball. Jimenez was suspended five games and fined an undisclosed amount by MLB for hitting Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki with a pitch during a Spring Training game on Sunday. Jimenez is currently scheduled to start against Toronto on Saturday.
The Indians have embraced the use of social media and the team is hoping that Cleveland will have the chance to host the Social Media Tourism Symposium on Nov. 7-9. Votes are being cast at www.postitivelycleveland.com/vote until 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday to determine whether the conference will be held in Cleveland or Knoxville, Tenn.
Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner made his 10th consecutive start on Opening Day on Thursday. In Cleveland franchise history, only eight other players have started on Opening Day in at least 10 straight seasons. The list includes Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Earl Averill, Jim Hegan, Lou Boudreau, Omar Vizquel, Bill Bradley and Joe Sewell.
The Indians and Blue Jays have now met just twice on Opening Day in baseball history. The clubs also opened the 1987 season with a series in Toronto, where the Blue Jays picked up a 7-3 victory. Toronto lefty Jimmy Key defeated Tom Candiotti in that opener.
Minor League outfielder Thomas Neal, who was designated for assignment by the Indians on Wednesday, cleared waivers on Thursday. Cleveland sent Neal -- acquired in the trade that sent infielder Orlando Cabrera to the Giants last July --outright to Triple-A Columbus.