The defending American League Champion Cleveland Indians have a lot of unanswered questions heading into opening day.
WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says with less than two weeks until opening day, Manager Terry Francona is thinking, “Where’s my team?” Many of Francona's starting players are either struggling with injuries or playing in the World Baseball Classic.
World Baseball Classic woes
Pluto says nearly a dozen players committed to play in the WBC. It’s an international baseball tournament held every three years, similar to the World Cup of soccer. Among those competing: Star shortstop Francisco Lindor for Puerto Rico; catcher Roberto Perez for Colombia and star relief pitcher Andrew Miller for the U.S.
Pluto says it's a tough spot. Major League Baseball loves the classic because it’s a worldwide marketing tool. But, for managers like Terry Francona, the timing during Spring Training is terrible.
Pluto says the teams have no way to prevent players from going.
"The last thing they want to do is see their $9 million reliever hurt his arm in March."
Pluto says he thinks the MLB should suspend regular games in the middle of the season and hold the WBC in July.
Among players struggling with injuries is second baseman Jason Kipnis. He's out for four to five weeks with a sore shoulder. The team maintains there's no serious damage.
“The main thing you want to make sure is that this diagnosis is correct, and he’ll be back at the end of April. I know the back in their mind they’re worried.”
Left fielder Michael Brantley, coming back from shoulder surgery, played his first game in the Major Leagues the other day and got two hits. Pluto says he looked good in the outfield.
"Francona said he looked ‘amazingly normal.’ But Brantley says he’s cautiously optimistic because last spring he had a couple good games and then his shoulder flared up again."
Pluto says, for the Indians, a healthy Brantley is a game-changer.
Another positive for the Indians is a prospect named Yandy Diaz. “A kid who came from Cuba in 2014,” Pluto says. Pluto says he’s hitting well over .400 in spring training.
The problem is, Cleveland doesn't know where to play him. He says Diaz is a good hitter, so he would be best as a designated hitter – except Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion can fill that role.
Meanwhile, Pluto says the Indians blockbuster off-season signing, Encarnacion, looks good this spring.
So Pluto says he's hopeful the kinks are temporary.
"For Terry Francona, he’s concerned, but not worried. But this is not the spring training he wants to have heading into a season where he’s team is expected to go back to the World Series."