ST. PETERSBURG -- Indians manager Manny Acta has never been a prisoner of conventional thinking when it comes to filling out his lineup card. Center fielder Michael Brantley could certainly attest to that.
On Monday, Brantley was back in the cleanup spot for Cleveland for the opener of a four-game road set against the Rays. It marked the fourth time this season that Acta penciled in the center fielder -- an occupant of seven different spots in the batting order this season -- as the fourth hitter for the Tribe.
"He's a guy who's not going to change his approach," Acta said. "I talked to him as a formality, and said, 'Be yourself.' It was just to let him know that, 'Hey, it might happen more often now. You have done it a few times. It might happen more often now, but I know you're not going to be trying to be hitting home runs because you're hitting cleanup.' He does a good job of staying within himself."
Monday's lineup included leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo, followed by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, second baseman Jason Kipnis and Brantley. Designated hitter Travis Hafner and catcher Carlos Santana -- often in the four or five hole for the Indians -- were hitting sixth and seventh, respectively.
"I believe that the best formula for scoring runs is to bunch up your best hitters together," Acta said. "Right now, those are our four best hitters [at the top of the lineup]. Ideally for us, Santana and Hafner should be hitting in the middle of our lineup, but they're not swinging the bat the way they're capable of right now, especially with runners in scoring position.
"I really like when Michael is hitting behind both of them, because they do get on base and Michael has been swinging the bat good. But we need to take advantage of the way he's swinging the bat right now."
Brantley has just four home runs -- atypical of a cleanup man -- but he entered Monday hitting .302 with 27 doubles (second in the American League) and 44 RBIs (second on the Indians). He ranked seventh in the AL in hits (101) and boasted a .306 average with runners in scoring position (.333 with RISP and two outs).
Santana (.219) and Hafner (.132) have struggled this season with runners in scoring position.
"There are a lot more ways to drive in runs than by hitting home runs," Acta said.
Starting pitcher key for who starts at third
ST. PETERSBURG -- Indians manager Manny Acta considers a variety of variables when deciding who will man third base on a daily basis. Lately, Acta has been using his starting pitching as a starting point.
On days when a sinkerballer such as Justin Masterson or Derek Lowe is on the hill, Acta will typically lean toward using the defensive-minded Jack Hannahan. Jose Lopez has been getting the nod more often when fly-ball pitchers such as Zach McAllister or Josh Tomlin are starting for the Indians.
"If I have Masterson or I have Lowe pitching," Acta explained, "then I value the defense more than what the guy can bring offensively. That's when it changes."
Acta said he has been using the same approach in handling the playing time at first base. Casey Kotchman often gets the nod on the days when Masterson or Lowe start, while catcher Carlos Santana might move to first for a handful of the other games.
For Monday's game against the Rays, Acta went with the right-handed-hitting Lopez with right-hander Alex Cobb on the mound for Tampa Bay and McAllister starting for the Tribe. Acta said another factor that played into his decision was Hannahan's recent slump. The lefty-hitting Hannahan was in a 1-for-17 skid entering Monday.
Over his past 23 games, dating back to May 12, Hannahan has hit just .136 (9-for-66), watching his season average drop to .236 from .305 in the process. Lopez, on the other hand, has hit at a .419 (13-for-31) clip over his past 10 games.
"It's a combination today," Acta said prior to Monday's game. "Lopez is out there because, not only is McAllister pitching, but we're looking for some offense, and Jack's been scuffling a little bit of late."
Indians release former first-rounder Crowe
ST. PETERSBURG -- In the midst of a turbulent season within the Indians' system, former first-round pick Trevor Crowe is getting a fresh start.
On Monday, Cleveland announced that it had released Crowe, allowing him to pursue an opportunity with another organization. Shortly after news spread of his release, the outfielder posted a message on his Twitter account: @tcrowe4.
"Could not be more thankful for my [seven] years in the Indians organization," Crowe wrote. "They gave me a great opportunity and always treated me with respect. I will be pulling for them this year. From the front office, to the players, coaches, and especially the fans, they deserve a winner."
The Indians made Crowe the 14th overall selection in the first round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, and gave him his first taste of the big leagues in 2009. Over 205 games with Cleveland from '09-11, the switch-hitting Crowe posted a .245 average with three homers and 55 RBIs.
His best season came in 2010, when Crowe hit .251 with 24 doubles, three triples, two homers, 20 stolen bases, 36 RBIs and 48 runs scored in 122 games. Crowe missed the bulk of the 2011 season after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder.
This past offseason, the Indians removed Crowe from the 40-man roster and gave him a late invitation to attend Spring Training with the big league club. Shortly before Opening Day, Crowe was rumored to be part of the proposed deal with the Angels that would have brought Bobby Abreu to Cleveland.
Those trade talks fell apart, and Crowe spent 42 games between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus before his release. In those contests, the outfielder hit .259 with a .343 on-base percentage, three home runs and 13 RBIs.
Quote to note
"Last year, he led the league in strike throwing, and this year, he's not even in the Top 10. He had the lowest amount of walks per nine innings last year. That will hurt anybody."
-- Indians manager Manny Acta, on why starter Josh Tomlin has struggled this season
Entering Monday, Indians first baseman Casey Kotchman has hit .294 with five home runs and 15 RBIs over his past 25 games, dating back to June 15. Over that stretch, Kotchman had raised his season average to .238 from .212.
Indians outfielder Shelley Duncan has hit .406 (13-for-32) with five home runs and 12 RBIs in his last 11 games entering Monday. In his previous 39 games, Duncan hit .154 (16-for-104) with two homers and six RBIs for the Indians.
The Indians headed into Monday's action in third place (a half-game behind second-place Detroit) in the American League Central. Cleveland had been in first or second place for 56 consecutive days prior to Sunday's loss in Toronto.