5/18/2014 7:45 P.M. ET
Francona juggles Tribe's batting order
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- Terry Francona is certainly in tune with the modern notion that lineup alignments are a bit overrated, and he's careful not to treat this Indians club like, as he put it, "a fantasy team, bouncing guys around."
But really, something had to give here. And it gave on Sunday morning, when Francona dropped Nick Swisher from his customary No. 2 spot to No. 6 and Carlos Santana from cleanup to No. 7 for the series finale against the A's.
"We want to have a lot of respect for where guys hit and why they're hitting where they're hitting," Francona said. "I think I got to a point where, maybe, instead of being patient, I was being stubborn."
Francona doesn't know how long he'll keep those two key guys in lower-profile spots. But for one day, at least, he had Mike Aviles in the two-hole and Ryan Raburn batting fourth.
With Yan Gomes and Asdrubal Cabrera both given a Sunday breather, Raburn, who filled the designated-hitter slot, was given a rare opportunity against a right-handed starter (Jesse Chavez), in addition to taking on the cleanup role. That was primarily about maintaining a left-right balance so that the A's, who have three relievers in their bullpen, would not have a matchup advantage late.
Obviously, though, the moves with Santana and Swisher were the most eye-catching, and their early offensive issues have been glaring, too. Swisher entered Sunday with a .203/.303/.323 slash line. His .246 batting average on balls in play was an indication that he had hit into his share of bad luck (or good shifts). But the bottom line was nonetheless unfulfilling.
"When you're on the other side, you hate him because he's dirty, grinds out at-bats, and that's what made him the type of player that we wanted," Francona said. "He's trying to get back to that. It's not as easy as it sometimes may appear or seems."
Santana's struggles have been even more vexing, because the Indians thought removing him from everyday catching duties would only augment his offense. Instead, he entered Sunday saddled with a .156 average and .293 slugging percentage. The biggest issue has been a line-drive rate of 11.2 percent that drastically paled in comparison to his 2013 rate (21.8).
He said he understood the move.
"I don't feel pressure," Santana said. "Right now, this is a bad moment for me. I'll keep playing hard and see what happens."
While the moves didn't pay off in Cleveland's 13-3 loss to Oakland on Sunday, Francona hopes the dividends pay off soon. He doesn't view them as punishment so much as the fulfillment of his obligation to put the team in the best position to generate runs.
"This is not a lineup that is going to be in place for the rest of the year," Francona said. "But the hope is that it can help, maybe, jump-start us a little bit and make it a little easier for the guys who are struggling a little bit. When they get going, they're going to be guys who really help us. In the meantime, we've got to piece it together a little bit better."
Defensive woes a factor in Indians' slow start
CLEVELAND -- For the coaches committed to getting the most out of this Indians club, defensive erosion remains the most puzzling element of the less-than-inspiring start to the 2014 season.
The Tribe entered Sunday with a Major League-leading 43 errors, nearly half as many as they made in all of 2013 (98). The Indians have already allowed 26 unearned runs after giving up 51 in '13.
This has, naturally, led to some extra work before batting practice. But the Indians are careful not to overdo it on that front.
"We have to weigh the fact that we're playing every day, so we can't go over the top," infield coach Mike Sarbaugh said. "We've done extra, at times. But a lot of it is just the mental part of it, making sure we're ready from pitch to pitch. Physically, we can do the job. It's just making sure we're staying in the moment and not thinking about the past."
As manager Terry Francona said, not even extra work would account for the kind of blunder that happened on Saturday night, when Jesus Aguilar simply dropped the ball on a would-be double play. It opened the door to a three-run, two-out outburst from the A's.
"We're at a point where the way we're playing, there's not a lot of wiggle room," said Francona, "and when you make errors or [allow] extra opportunities, it's been very costly."
The Indians entered the series finale with the A's ranked 26th out of the 30 MLB teams in Baseball Prospectus' defensive-efficiency rankings.
The Indians committed two additional errors during Sunday's 13-3 loss to Oakland.
Kipnis making progress in recovery
CLEVELAND -- The pain has subsided for Jason Kipnis. Now, the focus is on getting his strength back.
Kipnis has been on the disabled list since May 2 with a strained right oblique he suffered on April 29 in Anaheim. Given his current progress, he could be ready to go out on a Minor League rehab assignment next weekend, assuming his progression this week goes as planned.
"I don't want to rush it and take 100 swings," Kipnis said. "It's like a hamstring. If you push it too fast, you're going to [have a setback]."
Kipnis was batting .234 with three homers and 12 RBIs in 26 games before the injury.
• Aguilar is likely not long for the Major League roster, given Jason Giambi's pending return (likely on Tuesday) from the disabled list. In his limited look, Aguilar has shown flashes of plate discipline that would play well at this level, even while searching for his first hit.
"With guys like Aggy, with big strong, long levers, it's a little hard for them, not quite playing every day and not [being] in your comfort zone," Francona said. "To get a read on what kind of player Aggy is going to be [off this stint] would be impossible. I would hope while he's here, he whacks a couple homers. But regardless of how he does, it won't be an indication of what kind of player he can be."
• Francona said he initially planned to give Asdrubal Cabrera the day off last Sunday at Tampa Bay, but Cabrera was simply too hot at the plate to sit. He finally got him a needed breather on Sunday.
"Our guys are pretty good about being honest about where they feel physically, which helps me a ton," Francona said.
• Sunday's series finale with the A's was the Indians' 19th day game in 43 games this season. That was the second-most day games in the American League. The Tribe went 7-11 in the first 18 day games, after posting a 34-20 record in day games in 2013.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.