CLEVELAND (AP) — The Indians entered camp in Arizona with questions at positions all over the diamond. On Friday, most of them got answered.
And, one of them was pretty puzzling.
With opening day less than a week away, manager Terry Francona got some needed clarity on his roster by announcing that Jake Bauers will open the season at first base despite being outperformed at the plate this spring by Bobby Bradley.
Francona also said outfielder Ben Gamel, who came to camp on a minor league deal, had also made the club’s opening-day roster along with veteran left-hander Oliver Pérez and utility infielder Yu Chang.
Bradley was optioned to Triple-A Columbus along outfielder Bradley Zimmer and reliever Kyle Nelson. Relievers Anthony Gose and Blake Parker were informed they would not be with the club when it breaks camp next week.
Francona said the Indians had a “lot of conversations” about their choice at first base, which basically came down to the 25-year-old Bauers, who spent last season at the team’s alternate site, being out of minor league options.
“The biggest thing is if Jake doesn’t make the club, it’s irreversible,” Francona said. “Bobby came in and did a really good job, and we wanted to be careful that we didn’t just say, ‘Hey Bobby, go work on this, go work on that,’ because he did his share.
“We just felt like the reversible and irreversible decisions, Jake’s done enough, we need to see him play.”
Bauers is the better defensive player, but Bradley, who dropped 35 pounds during the offseason, has power and that’s something Cleveland’s lineup needs badly.
The 24-year-old Bradley was one of the Indians’ top hitters in camp, batting .303 in 13 games and leading the team with five doubles and 11 RBIs.
Francona said Bradley handled the decision as well as could be expected.
“He took it like a pro,” Francona said. “We’ve talked about the maturation process with his body and in his baseball play, but we saw it also when he got some news he didn’t want to hear. And we appreciate that. This isn’t the last we’ve seen of Bobby.”
Bauers had better give the Indians some offensive production or Bradley could called up sooner than later.
The 28-year-old Gamel’s ability to play all three outfield positions gave him an edge. Plus, the Indians were impressed with his willingness to do whatever was asked after not being promised anything.
“He sort of seemed to lean into everything,” Francona said. “He didn’t back away from anything or feel like he was getting the lesser part of a deal. He’ll compete like crazy. He won’t back down from anything.”
Gamel said making the roster was a relief.
“This is the first breath I’ve taken in about a month,” Gamel, who spent the past two seasons with Milwaukee, said on a Zoom call.
Zimmer’s career has been slowed by injuries the past two seasons, and the Indians haven’t given up on the 28-year-old, who has shown so much promise.
“There’s a really good center fielder in there,” Francona said. “We feel like there’s still some things offensively where there’s some inconsistency, or he’s gonna need to be more consistent to be successful. And we tried to explain that to him.”
Pérez, who will turn 40 in August, has been a mainstay in Cleveland’s bullpen the past few years and that comfort is why the Indians picked him over Gose, a hard throwing former major league outfielder with Toronto and Detroit.
Gose overpowered hitters this spring but is out of options, and the 30-year-old will have to accept his outright assignment to stay with the club. That’s what the Indians are banking on.
“We think his future is very bright,” Francona said.
Chang has been one of the camp’s biggest surprises. The 25-year-old can play all over the infield, and Francona has been impressed with his swing.
“I don’t know all the ways that Chang will get at-bats, but he looked like one of better hitters this spring,” Francona said. “He’s worked really hard and I just know when I see him at the plate, he always looks dangerous to me.
“That’s a good feeling.”