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02/27/10 5:32 PM EST
Sizemore to slide to No. 2 spot in order
Cabrera to lead off as Indians try to create more runs
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- New Tribe manager Manny Acta believes having a guy like Grady Sizemore in the leadoff spot of a lineup is a luxury. A luxury, Acta reasoned, that the Indians can't afford right now. Acta has decided to place Sizemore, a three-time All-Star and a Silver Slugger winner in 2008, in the No. 2 slot of his lineup, with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera taking over the leadoff slot. Part of the reasoning behind the move is the absence of a middle-of-the-order presence like Victor Martinez, who was dealt to the Red Sox last year. "We need to lengthen our lineup," Acta explained Saturday. Acta has had this move in mind since he took over the job in October. But he waited until he could talk to Sizemore in person to make it official. "You don't just send messages through the press," Acta said. "We owed him a lot of respect." Sizemore was told of the move last week and had a few days to think about it. Ultimately, he had no trouble signing off on it. "It's fine," Sizemore said. "I've always said I don't really care where I hit in the lineup. Manny wanted my opinion on it, and I said it's fine. I just want to do what's best for the team. This is what he believes and what we feel is going to be what's best." Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo and designated hitter Travis Hafner will follow Cabrera and Sizemore in Acta's lineup. The rest is not confirmed, though it's probably safe to assume newly acquired first baseman Russell Branyan and third baseman Jhonny Peralta will be somewhere in the middle. While the Sizemore move generated a bit of a buzz in an otherwise quiet camp, it is hardly without precedent. Acta's predecessor, Eric Wedge, tried Sizemore in the No. 2 spot for about five weeks total last season -- the two weeks before Sizemore went on the disabled list with a bum elbow in early June and the last few weeks before the All-Star break. Cabrera moved up to No. 1 before injuring his shoulder, at which point Jamey Carroll took over the primary leadoff duties for a spell. After the break, Sizemore was back at leadoff. Also, in August of '07, Wedge briefly had Sizemore batting third, with Kenny Lofton in the leadoff spot, but that experiment was abandoned quickly. Sizemore said the latest alteration to his spot in the order won't affect his approach at the plate. "I'm not going to change my approach in any way," he said. "[Manny] doesn't want me to. It's just what he thinks is going to help us offensively to score more runs." Because of Sizemore's power potential (he hit a career-high 33 homers in 2008), fans have long been clamoring for him to move down in the order, where he'd have more RBI situations.It had been assumed that left fielder Michael Brantley, who took over the leadoff spot when Sizemore's 2009 season was cut short in September by elbow and abdominal surgery, would or could be Sizemore's heir apparent at No. 1 this season. But Acta made it clear over the winter that he would protect the rookie Brantley early in his career with a less-prominent spot in the order, and Brantley might begin the 2010 season at Triple-A Columbus, anyway. Acta's move is a simple matter of flipping Sizemore, who was one of the game's most productive leadoff hitters before injuries got in the way last season, and Cabrera, who thrived in the No. 2 spot in 2007 and again last season. "Both guys," Acta said, "should be concentrating on getting on base and getting things going for us and doing their thing." Cabrera and Sizemore have both been full participants in the Tribe's workouts after having surgery last fall. Cabrera had arthroscopic surgery performed on his right elbow in October. Sizemore has made 3,181 plate appearances as a leadoff man, batting .277 with a .369 on-base percentage, a .489 slugging percentage, 115 homers, 170 doubles, 34 triples, 354 RBIs and 121 stolen bases. In 138 plate appearances as a No. 2 hitter, Sizemore has hit .252 with a .346 on-base percentage, a .521 slugging percentage, seven homers, five doubles, three triples, 23 RBIs and three stolen bases. Cabrera has started 32 games in the leadoff spot in his career, making 145 plate appearances. In that position, he's batted .301 with a .340 on-base percentage, .459 slugging percentage, two homers, 15 doubles, no triples, 19 RBIs and four stolen bases. As a No. 2 hitter, Cabrera has logged 463 plate appearances, batting .290 with a .336 on-base percentage, .408 slugging percentage, four homers, 27 doubles, five triples, 50 RBIs and seven stolen bases. Batting in the No. 2 spot should conceivably allow Sizemore to take greater advantage of his power. "It will give me a chance to have guys on base more often," Sizemore said. "If you're leading off a game, you know there's going to be nobody in front of you. If you get those early homers or those early balls in the gap [as a No. 2 hitter], you have a chance to score more runs." The Indians ranked second in the AL Central and eighth in the league in runs scored last season with 773. It was an inconsistent unit. The injury issues that affected Sizemore, Cabrera and Hafner and the trades of Martinez and Mark DeRosa didn't help matters. Acta's lineup will be heavy on left-handed hitters and figures to feature two young players, left fielder Matt LaPorta and second baseman Luis Valbuena, who are still finding themselves at this level. But Acta counts the offense as this team's strength. "This is a lineup capable of scoring runs," he said. "It goes out of that mold of a so-called American League lineup. We do have some guys who can run, some guys who can pop balls out of the ballpark, some guys with high on-base percentage in the middle of it. I think we're going to score a lot of runs."
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Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.