3/26/2014 9:41 P.M. ET
Axford teams with rival to battle cancer
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- John Axford has been passing out the shirts to his Indians teammates throughout the spring. One by one, players have begun wearing them in the clubhouse, showing support for an initiative started by Cardinals reliever Jason Motte.
The tops are navy blue with a large backward "K" in red. It is part of Motte's idea to broaden the reach of his strike out cancer program.
"Some of the hitters were like, 'Oh, sure, I'll 'K' backwards for cancer. No problem,'" Axford said with a laugh. "It might be a pitcher's type of motto, but at the same time it's a baseball motto. It is a really cool slogan."
The website 108stitches.com went live on March 17, with 108 Stitches showcasing the "Strike Out Cancer" tees in each team's colors. Each is promoted by a different player who agreed to join Motte in a partnership that will benefit multiple charities. Each participating player has chosen a charity that will benefit from the T-shirts sales, and for each shirt sold, $5 will go to the Jason Motte Foundation and $5 to a charity of that player's choice. A full list of recipient charities will be listed on the 108 Stitches website soon, along with a photo of each player rep in his team-colored shirt.
"At the end of the day, it's about reaching people," Motte said. "Baseball is great and everything, but there are other really important things going on out there that affect a lot of people. Wearing these T-shirts shows people that they're not alone. They're not sitting there doing chemo by themselves where no one cares. People do care, whether it's friends, family or baseball players.
"There are people who this has touched and this has affected. This is something we're trying to do to get the word out there and try to raise money to help."
Axford, who was a teammate of Motte's with the Cardinals last season, did not hesitate to help out.
"I didn't really know Jason before I got to St. Louis," Axford said. "We'd just give the friendly, I guess, closer hello to each other, and that'd really be about it. But I saw it on there and I always kind of wondered what it was. It wasn't until I got to St. Louis that I realized this is what he was doing it for.
"I remember him kind of bringing up the idea of trying to bring it to other people or do different things. He knew that I did 'Movember' every single year, which helps raise awareness for men's health and prostate cancer for the month of November.
"We were talking about that and, somehow in the offseason, it came to, 'Hey, would you want to do this? We could do it in Indians colors.' We're trying to get it all across MLB."
Roster set after Carrasco wins final rotation spot
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Inside the Indians' clubhouse on Wednesday morning, Josh Tomlin's locker was empty, and his nameplate was removed. It was a clear sign that Cleveland had made its final decision for the starting rotation.
Right-hander Carlos Carrasco was named the fifth starter for the Indians, and Tomlin was optioned to Triple-A Columbus, bringing an end to the battle for the lone vacancy on the staff. Opening Day starter Justin Masterson will be followed by Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar and Carrasco.
"I feel happy to make the team," Carrasco said. "[This season] is really important, because I'm coming from the Tommy John surgery two years ago. Last year, I didn't have a good year. I think this is going to be a big year for us and for me, too."
The 27-year-old Carrasco spent most of the 2011 season in Cleveland's rotation, but he missed all of '12 after needing reconstructive surgery on his right elbow. Last year, the righty posted a 6.75 ERA in 15 games, during which he bounced between starting and relief roles for the Tribe. Out of Minor League options this spring, Carrasco was given every chance to win a rotation job.
Carrasco went to work on retooling his delivery mechanics over the offseason and throughout the spring, focusing on raising his lead arm to create more deception. The righty also tried to use the same aggressive approach he featured as a reliever last year, and the Indians saw enough in Spring Training to take a chance on him to start the season.
"It was a really tough decision; I think both guys had good camps," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "I think what we tried to do is make a decision that was not solely focused just on the Opening Day roster, but what gave our team the best chance to win as many games as possible over the course of the season. Part of that is making sure we have enough options and enough depth."
Antonetti said Cleveland considered putting Tomlin in the bullpen but felt that was not fair to the pitcher and also hurt the team's depth. By pitching regularly at Triple-A, Tomlin can continue his comeback from August 2012 Tommy John surgery and be ready when Cleveland comes calling.
The Indians gave the final two bullpen jobs to right-handers Scott Atchison and Blake Wood.
"That's the way they decided to go," Tomlin said. "Ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, I'm going to do whatever is best for this organization and whatever I can to help this team win. If that means going to Triple-A, and getting my work in until it's my time, I'll just be ready to go out there and try to get outs."
Indians manager Terry Francona said Tomlin handled the news as well as the team could have hoped.
"I think we all understand why we made the decision," Francona said. "There's numerous reasons how we came to this conclusion, but it's still difficult when you respect the way a guy goes about it so much. With Carlos, we've been pretty open about the fact that we really want to see Carlos pitch."
Salazar tabbed to start Indians' home opener
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- When Danny Salazar most recently pitched in Cleveland, Progressive Field was packed with a sellout crowd for the American League Wild Card Game against the Rays in October. The young right-hander's next outing there will have a similar environment.
On Wednesday, the Indians revealed that Salazar would start the home opener on April 4 against the Twins.
"I'm very excited for it," Salazar said with a smile. "I wasn't expecting that, really. It took me by surprise."
The news caught Salazar off guard because the Indians had used an extremely conservative approach to his innings throughout Spring Training. There was speculation that the 24-year-old righty would begin the season in the fifth slot, allowing Cleveland to delay his season debut until April 8.
Such plans are always subject to change.
That was fine with Salazar.
"I just opened my Twitter, and everybody was saying congratulations," the pitcher said. "That's kind of cool. I liked it."
As of Wednesday, Salazar had logged just 5 1/3 innings in Cactus League play this spring. During the Tribe's exhibition game against the Padres on Saturday at the University of San Diego, Salazar is scheduled to work five innings. The righty said he had no issues with the way the Indians had built up his innings this spring.
"So far, I'm healthy and strong," said Salazar, who had a 3.12 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 52 innings (10 starts) for the Indians last year. "That's all that matters. I'm ready for the season. They told me in the beginning about the program for me. I agreed with it."
Atchison to carry reunion into regular season
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- On the final day of the season three years ago, Terry Francona had a feeling he would not be returning as the manager of the Red Sox. He ran into one of his relievers, Scott Atchison, in the tunnel at Camden Yards in Baltimore and had a simple message for the pitcher.
"We were really falling apart," Francona said of that 2011 season. "He was pitching his heart out and I just said, 'Hey, man, I don't think I'm going to be here, but wherever I am, there will be a day you can pitch for me again.'"
That day has arrived.
Now the manager of the Indians, Francona reunited with Atchison this spring, and their partnership will continue into the regular season. It was revealed on Wednesday morning that the 37-year-old Atchison would be a part of the Opening Day bullpen for Cleveland, which will carry eight relievers.
Atchison smiled when asked about that moment with Francona during their Red Sox days.
"I'm glad to be back with him," Atchison said. "He told me that that year, and I kind of wanted to walk in [this spring] and say, 'Hey, do you remember this?' Obviously, he does. I think that speaks volumes about him also. It's a great staff. It's a great group of guys in here. I'm excited to be a part of it."
Atchison and Blake Wood were given the last two spots in the bullpen, which also includes closer John Axford, setup men Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw, lefties Marc Rzepczynski and Josh Outman, and right-hander Vinnie Pestano.
This spring, Atchison posted a 2.25 ERA with eight strikeouts and a walk in eight Cactus League innings. The Indians liked what they saw from Atchison on the mound, but general manager Chris Antonetti said the club also valued Atchison's experience.
"If we didn't think he could do the job, he wouldn't be on the roster," Antonetti said. "I think the combination of all of those things -- the way he's pitched, we feel like he's capable of getting meaningful outs, his versatility, the fact that he can pitch in multiple roles and the fact that he has experience -- all of those things kind of came together and earned him a spot on the team."
Last season, Atchison posted a 4.37 ERA in 50 appearances for the Mets. In his big league career, he has a 3.64 ERA in 205 games among stints with the Mariners, the Giants, the Red Sox and the Mets.
"I know him better than most of the people here," Francona said. "But all the other coaches in a short period of time are already feeling [the same as I do]. He has the ability to pick up innings when you need them. He has the ability to get big outs if need them. He'll do everything."
Cleveland's gamble on Wood pays off
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona strolled across the infield on Monday to pull reliever Blake Wood from the game against the Reds. When he arrived to take the ball from Wood, Francona had a question for the pitcher.
"I said, 'Have you ever made the team on the mound?'" Francona said. "He was like, 'No.' I go, 'Well, you just did.'"
Wood received one of the final spots in the Opening Day bullpen.
That completed a long road back to the big leagues for Wood, who had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in May 2012. In November of that year, Cleveland claimed the injured right-hander off waivers from the Royals, rolling the dice on a reliever who was unlikely to be in the Major League picture until 2014.
As Opening Day approaches, Cleveland believes it was a great gamble.
Francona said general manager Chris Antonetti "and his guys deserve a lot of credit for that one. I think they felt like this could be a win for the Indians."
Through 11 Cactus League appearances this spring, the 28-year-old Wood has a 0.93 ERA with 11 strikeouts and six walks in 9 2/3 innings. Beyond the stat line, and the powerful fastball, the Indians were impressed with Wood's efforts to speed up his motion and control the running game.
Wood said his comeback improved his view on the game and the opportunity at hand.
"I think it's given me perspective on a lot of things," said Wood, who has a 4.25 ERA in 108 career Major League games. "[You know] how special it is just to be even be on a big league squad. Not that I ever took it for granted in the past, but just coming back from what I did, and being on an Opening Day roster, is definitely really fulfilling."
Wood is also grateful that the Indians took a chance on him.
"It's meant a lot," Wood said. "They were able to believe in me, when you don't really know what's going to happen when a guy is coming back from a major surgery. For them to do that and stick with me throughout this whole thing and give me a shot, I'm definitely really happy they did that."
Quote to note
"What we're really trying to do is have our guys show up and enjoy trying to do the right thing. That's really what it is, what it comes down to. We're going to get punched in the stomach. We're going to get beat up at times. We're going to hopefully do it together."
--Indians manager Terry Francona
• Antonetti has a policy of always being in the room with Francona -- and often another member of the coaching staff -- when talking to players about roles or delivering news of a promotion or demotion. The general manager says it is important for players to see that each decision is made as a group.
"We try to have a consistent organizational message," Antonetti said. "I think it's important that the players also know that there's a unified approach and it's a collective decision and that we're on the same page. I do think it's important."
• Antonetti said the team would base Carlos Santana's playing time first on when starting catcher Yan Gomes needed a day off. When Santana does not serve as the backup catcher, the cleanup hitter will have his playing time divided between third base and potentially designated hitter.
"We need to make sure we keep Yan fresh," Antonetti said. "[Santana] will play some third. How much remains to be seen and is based upon how different guys are doing in a variety of other things."
• Francona said Gomes (hitting .229 through 16 Cactus League games) went to the Minor League side on Wednesday to take at-bats. On Tuesday, outfielder David Murphy (.163 average through 14 Cactus League games) took the same approach and got 10 at-bats in Minor League games.
"Trying to get 10 at-bats in our games takes 10 hours," Francona said with a laugh. "You can't do it. It was a really good day for [Murphy]. He started out slow and got better. He was thrilled."
• With the Opening Day roster including three utility men who can play the outfield in Mike Aviles, Elliot Johnson and Ryan Raburn, Francona says he can avoid using first baseman Nick Swisher in right field this season. Swisher bounced between first and right last year.
"I wouldn't say you'd see that unless something drastically happened, like somebody got hurt," Francona said. "The good news is Swish was willing to do it last year. He'd probably do it again. We haven't even asked him, because we don't anticipate that happening. But you adjust when you need to."
• By telling veteran Jason Giambi (fractured rib) that he would begin the season on the Major League disabled list, the Indians avoided having to pay him a $100,000 retention bonus. While Giambi could have approved a trip to the Minor League DL, the Indians felt it was important to keep him with the big league club.
"He's a big part of what we do," Antonetti said, "so we wanted to make sure he was there."