2/19/2014 9:03 P.M. ET
Johnson eager to prove himself as utility man
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Elliot Johnson has been spotted at a different infield position each day during the first few full-squad workouts for the Indians. Cleveland manager Terry Francona loves that kind of versatility and it is one reason Johnson is in the mix for a bench job.
"He's going to play everywhere, including the outfield," Francona said Wednesday. "What's so nice about Elliot is he has the ability to pinch-run and, whoever he pinch-runs for, he can go into the game and play a very solid Major League defense. That's a very valuable commodity. He can be valuable."
The Indians signed the 29-year-old Johnson to a Minor League contract on Jan. 27 and extended him an invitation to attend Spring Training with the big league club. The switch-hitting utility man split last season with Kansas City and Atlanta and endured plenty of ups and downs in his 111 games in the Majors.
After being traded by the Rays to the Royals last winter, Johnson hit .179 in 79 games with Kansas City. The Braves claimed him off waivers in August and Johnson hit .261 in his new uniform. In September, when Johnson earned regular action at second base, he posted a .277 average and a .712 OPS in the season's final 23 games.
"I had a tough time with the Royals," Johnson said. "It wasn't anybody's fault other than my own. You hit the ball good and they catch it. Of course, I didn't hard it as I should have, as many times as I should have. I think if you look at the BABIP or whatever everybody looks at now, it was significantly lower than it should've been. So obviously I'm a candidate for a bounceback.
"I certainly played a whole lot better with the Braves and I think that was more indicative of what I can do. Maybe not necessarily everyday type of production, but I'm certainly a guy who can fill in at different positions and start here and there, and give a number of different guys a breather. That's why I'm here."
To Johnson's point, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .243 during his time with the Royals, indicating that he ran into some hard luck. Johnson, whose career BABIP sits at .288, posted a .320 mark after joining the Braves.
Johnson said he is looking forward to his new opportunity with Cleveland.
"I just get ready, bring my gloves out and wherever they tell me to go, I go," Johnson said. "Basically, my job here is just to gain [Francona's] trust, more or less, at all the positions, as much as I possibly can, and fill in the gaps. I know I can catch the ball. Over the course of Spring Training, he'll get to move me around and see what I can or can't do with his own eyes."
Swisher avoids shoulder surgery, says he's ready
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Nick Swisher battled an ailing left shoulder for most of last season, creating questions about whether surgery was going to be necessary. The Indians' energetic first baseman believes he found the cure for the issue over the winter.
"That surgery thing, that was definitely something that was like, 'Is this going to happen?'" said Swisher, who then cracked a grin. "But going home and being Mr. Mom, doing all the household duties, man, I just strengthened my shoulder. Just being a dad, man, it's been the greatest thing that's ever happened."
All kidding aside, Swisher, who welcomed a daughter into his family during last season, was relieved to avoid any kind of operation. Indians manager Terry Francona said he never worried about that possibility, but the first baseman's offensive struggles between May and August were, at least in part, due to the shoulder issue.
Swisher said a little rest, combined with the detailed strength and conditioning program that was implemented during last season, was all that he needed. While he fought the injury, Swisher did all he could to stay in the lineup for the Tribe.
"I'm a guy that always takes a lot of pride in being on the field," Swisher said. "If everything is intact, I'm going to be out there. I feel that I want to be out there fighting with my guys."
Out of necessity at times, Swisher bounced between right field and first base last season, but the switch-hitter enters this year solely as the first baseman. If Swisher mans the outfield at all this spring, Francona said it would only be in the latter stages of the spring game schedule.
In 145 games last season, Swisher posted a .246 average, .341 on-base percentage and .423 slugging percentage, which were his lowest marks in each category since 2008. He still led the Indians with 22 home runs and ended the year with 27 doubles and 63 RBIs.
"Regardless of the numbers, man," Swisher said, "I was so proud of what the organization accomplished. That's what it boils down to."
Allen satisfied with setup role
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cody Allen was ready to close for the Indians after the club cut ties with Chris Perez over the offseason. The young right-hander also prepared himself for the possibility that Cleveland might go in a different direction.
The Indians then signed John Axford to be their new closer and Allen accepted that he would return to the setup role he filled so well last season.
"I was [ready to close]," Allen said. "But I also know that [manaager Terry Francona] is going to put us in the best position to succeed -- individually and as a team. So, if that's me closing, or pitching the eighth, or the seventh -- whatever it is -- he's going to put me in a position to succeed and help the team win."
Francona said part of the reason Cleveland signed Axford was due to Allen's ability to be a kind of stopper for critical points prior to the ninth inning.
"There's no doubt Cody could handle being a closer," Francona said. "So could [Bryan] Shaw. But you can win and lose games before the ninth. [Allen would] come in with men on base. Your closer has the luxury of coming in and starting a clean inning."
In 77 games for Cleveland last season, the 25-year-old Allen fashioned a 2.43 ERA with 88 strikeouts and 26 walks in 70 1/3 innings. Allen's 88 strikeouts were the most by a Tribe reliever since 1999 (Paul Shuey, 103) and his 77 appearances were the second-highest single-season total in team history (Bobby Howry had 79 in 2005).
Allen held hitters to a .205 average with runners in scoring position, a .232 average with runners on base and a .154 average with the bases loaded.
"We talked over the offseason," said Allen, referring to Francona. "He explained things to me and I'm totally on board. There was no, 'Why are we doing this?' Or, 'I dont think we should do this.' I trust him. Whatever role I'm pitching in, it's because that's what's better for the team."
Francona likes Allen right where he is for now.
"Whenever we were in a bind, we went to Cody," Francona said. "Really, whether it was against a lefty or a righty, when the game was on the line, we went to Cody. I think that when you dole out bullpen roles, I don't think that necessarily has to be an inning. ... You want to leverage your best pitchers in the situations where there game is on the line."
Quote to note
"The best way to get ready for Spring Training is to go put your cleats on and stand in the street for three hours."
-- Indians veteran Jason Giambi
• By signing a one-year, $9.8 million contract with the Indians on Tuesday, starter Justin Masterson avoided the arbitration hearing scheduled for Thursday in St. Petersburg. Terry Francona had a good feeling that Masterson would not need to make the trip to Florida.
"I didnt think they were ever going," Francona said. "I'm glad they did [get it done]."
• In the first week of camp, the Indians have not run through any drills to simulate the potential ban on home-plate collisions. Francona said he expects to have more information on the possible rule change within the next few days. Once Major League Baseball makes the decision, Cleveland will train accordingly.
"We haven't done anything," Francona said. "It's Spring Training. We want our guys to play the game correctly -- always -- but we have six weeks to get things ironed out. We'll do that. We don't even know what [the decision] is. We need to wait until we see what it says."
• Indians center fielder Michael Bourn, who underwent surgery on his left hamstring shortly after last season ended, is unlimited in terms of activity in Spring Training. Even so, Francona indicated that he might take a cautious approach to Bourn's playing time in the early part of the Cactus League schedule.
• Indians closer Axford, along with setup men Allen and Shaw, are locks to make the bullpen, barring something unexpected. Francona said not to be surprised if those three pitchers are limited to roughly 10-12 innings apiece in Cactus League play as they prepare for the season.
• Francona noted that Cleveland does not currently have any "B" games on its schedule this spring, though that could change. During first live batting practice sessions, in which Tribe hitters will stand in against the pitchers, it is up to the batter whether to swing or track pitches.