03/25/12 8:30 PM ET
LaRoche quietly having a good spring
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
"He's been good, man," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He's been taking advantage of his opportunity."
The opportunity in question is a chance to work his way into the Opening Day mix as a utility infielder off the Tribe's bench. LaRoche has big league experience, hits right-handed and can handle multiple infield positions. That fits the description of the kind of player Cleveland wants in reserve this season.
Much of the spring attention has focused on Jason Donald and Jose Lopez, who appear to be leading the charge for two of the three available bench spots. Donald appears to be a shoo-in for a roster spot, but Lopez and LaRoche -- both in camp as non-roster invitees -- have turned in similarly strong performances this spring.
"A lot has been made of the two guys that are competing there," Acta said of Donald and Lopez. "But [LaRoche] is getting his opportunity to play and every time he goes out there he gets it done. He's done a nice job for us."
Entering Sunday, the 28-year-old LaRoche -- capable of manning first, second and third base -- has hit .389 (7-for-18) with two doubles and four RBIs through 11 Cactus League games. Lopez, who plays the same positions and also hits from the right side, has posted a .394 (13-for-33) average with two homers, three doubles and seven RBIs through 15 games.
LaRoche, who was signed to a Minor League contract in December, hit .247 in 40 games with Oakland last season.
"There's a lot of things I need to work on," LaRoche said. "I've been playing quite a bit, but it seems like I haven't been getting a lot of action [in the field]. So it's just getting comfortable seeing the ball off the bat and getting better reads on the ball.
"And then, obviously, at the plate there's a lot I've got to work on with my approach, and seeing it better, and just trying to put together better at-bats.'
During Saturday's game against the Dodgers, LaRoche exited in the sixth inning after being struck in the side of the head by infielder Mark Ellis's knee while attempting to break up a double play. LaRoche was feeling much better on Sunday.
"Right in my jaw -- underneath my ear," LaRoche said. "I was just trying to break it up, and I ended up trying to break it up with my face. I'm all right, though. No concussion or anything.
Gomez makes his case for rotation
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians are nearing decision time for the final spot in their rotation. Right-hander Jeanmar Gomez appears to have emerged as the leading candidate for the job, but manager Manny Acta has been careful not to tip his hand.
"He's done a tremendous job for himself," Acta said. "So it's up to us to make a decision."
Gomez saw his impressive spring scoreless streak come to a close on Sunday afternoon. But the pitcher worked through some jams and walked away with a solid effort in the Indians' 6-2 Cactus League loss to the Cubs. He turned in five innings for Cleveland and limited Chicago to three runs.
The Cubs tallied three times off Gomez in the third inning, snapping a run of 13 straight scoreless innings for the right-hander. Still, the starting candidate -- up against Kevin Slowey and David Huff for the staff's fifth spot -- has fashioned a 1.69 ERA over 16 innings this spring, scattering 11 hits along the way.
Seven of those hits came on Sunday, when Gomez also had three walks and three strikeouts. Overall, he logged 80 pitches, including 47 strikes, and registered first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 26 batters he faced. The three walks were the only times that Gomez faced any three-ball counts on the afternoon.
"I feel good because I worked with men on base, and I worked fine," Gomez said. "Right now, I'm trying not to think about that [competition]. ... I'm just trying to think about tomorrow."
While Gomez faced the Cubs, Slowey pitched in a Minor League game, allowing three runs on five hits over six innings. The right-hander mixed in three strikeouts and walked none in his 81-pitch effort. Slowey will likely start one way or another -- either with the Tribe or at Triple-A -- but Acta has mentioned Gomez and Huff as relief candidates, as well.
Asked if Gomez had pitched well enough to make the roster in some capacity -- as either a starter or reliever -- Acta said it was still too early to make such a pronouncement.
"We have more decisions to make before we get to that point," Acta said. "I'm not going to pencil him in [or] out of the rotation ... just yet, but he certainly has made his case. That's all I can tell you."
Pestano focusing on pitching to lefties
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians setup man Vinnie Pestano is coming off an outstanding rookie campaign, but the pitcher is a bit of a perfectionist. This spring, he has focused on improving on his performance against left-handed hitters.
"Things are going all right," Pestano said on Sunday morning. "It's coming along. "I'm really working hard on trying to neutralize lefties more this year. I've been throwing a lot of sliders in counts I might normally use my fastball, especially against lefties."
So far this spring, Pestano has fashioned a 1.08 ERA in 8 1/3 innings across eight Cactus League appearances. Along the way, the righty has piled up 11 strikeouts against five walks, with a .200 opponents' batting average. Pestano has surrendered six hits, but none have come from left-handed hitters.
Last season, when Pestano posted a 2.32 ERA in 67 relief outings for the Tribe, he had a .184 opponents' batting average overall. That included a .115 (15-for-130) mark against right-handed hitters and .280 (26-for-93) against lefties. Left-handed hitters collected nine extra-base hits against him, compared to only four by righties.
Pestano said the key for him will be to pay attention to how left-handed hitters are swinging against him from at-bat to at-bat. In certain situations, he might need to send a slider breaking down toward the back foot of a lefty. In other counts, it might make more sense for Pestano to throw a "backdoor" slider, which begins wide of the zone before breaking over the outside corner.
"It depends on how they're reacting to my pitches," said Pestano. "I've got a few more outings to work on it before the season starts."
Pestano is scheduled to pitch on back-to-back days for the first time this spring on Monday and Tuesday. He is slated to work in a Cactus League contest against the Brewers on Monday, and then he will move to the more controlled environment of a Minor League game on Tuesday at the Indians' complex.
Quote to note
"I guess as long as I'm still in big league camp, there's still a chance for anything. All I can do is go out there and play when they put me in the lineup." -- Indians infielder Andy LaRoche, who is competing for a bench job
Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan, who has not played in a game since March 15 due to tightness in his upper back, remained out of the lineup on Sunday. Hannahan said the team was simply being cautious and noted that he could probably play through the injury if it were the regular season. He might be back in the lineup on Monday or Tuesday.
Asdrubal Cabrera was back in the lineup as the Indians' shortstop for Sunday afternoon's game against the Cubs, after staying out of the field for the previous three games. Cabrera, who worked as a designated hitter on Saturday following two days off, was dealing with a sore right shoulder.
Indians closer Chris Perez, who is working his way back from a strained left oblique, is scheduled to pitch in a Minor League game on Monday. Perez threw seven pitches in a one-inning Minor League outing on Saturday. The closer might be cleared to make his Cactus League debut for the Tribe on Wednesday.
Indians center fielder Michael Brantley remained sidelined from game action on Sunday due to a right hamstring injury. He was, however, able to run and take part in Sunday's workout. Brantley might be cleared to resume playing in a game setting within the next few days.