Indians home opener will be family affair
Terry Francona's father, Tito, will throw ceremonial first pitch
TORONTO -- One of the benefits to taking the managerial job with the Indians for Terry Francona has been sharing the experience with his father. Tito Francona first suited up for Cleveland as a player in 1959, which is the year that his son was born.
More than five decades later, Francona and his dad will share a special moment before the Indians' 4:05 p.m. CT home opener against the Yankees on April 8.
As part of the pregame festivities for the 20th home opener in Progressive Field history, Tito Francona will throw a ceremonial first pitch to his son. The fathers of Indians players Nick Swisher (Steve), Michael Brantley (Mickey) and Zach McAllister (Steve), as well as bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr.'s dad, Sandy Alomar Sr., will also take part in the first-pitch ceremony.
"I haven't thought about that much yet," Terry Francona said. "We've been so caught up. Opening Day is like half-panic, half-chaotic, there's a lot of halves. More than 100 percent. You're just trying to get into the grind, getting comfortable with everything. So I haven't had a chance to think about it much.
"I hope he has enough left to get it to me. Kidding aside, my dad being a part of this is really special for me."
The father-son moments are part of this season's home opener's "Traditions" theme. The Indians will also have videos and presentations aimed at honoring the long, storied history of the American League franchise. Gates will open at 2 p.m. CT, and the ballclub is encouraging fans to get to their seats by 3:25 p.m. in order to enjoy the festivities.
The Indians also plan on honoring all branches of the Unites States military, with members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard on hand to present the colors. The traditional oversized American flag will be unveiled by employees of Progressive Insurance, which is the presenting partner for the opening series.
During the game, the Indians will celebrate John Adams' 40th year as the team's unofficial drummer and recognize the accomplishments of Tribe great Carlos Baerga, who will be inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame on June 22.
Bullpen roles still to be defined
TORONTO -- The Indians know and like what they have at the back of their bullpen between closer Chris Perez and setup men Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith. It is the rest of the relief corps that will take time to sort out in the early portion of this season.
"What we have is a collection of guys that have pretty good arms," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "There's not one guy in our bullpen that we need to stay away from. Everybody has a strength that they do, and we'll try to use that."
Besides the late-inning trio, Cleveland's Opening Day bullpen will include right-handers Cody Allen, Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw and lefties Rich Hill and Nick Hagadone. Francona mentioned Hill as a candidate for high-leverage situations against left-handed hitters, and said the rest of the arms will likely be mixed and matched based on in-game developments.
What the Indians are trying to accomplish is improving the performance of their middle-relief group. Last season, Perez, Pestano and Smith combined for a 3.01 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched), but the rest of the 'pen posted a 4.56 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP, which gave the Tribe the American League's 13th-ranked bullpen ERA (3.99) as a whole.
The Indians are currently carrying eight relievers, but will likely revert to a traditional seven-man bullpen when left-handed starter Scott Kazmir is added to the active roster to serve as the team's fifth starter on Saturday. The relievers who have Minor League options -- including Allen, Shaw and Hagadone -- are most vulnerable for a trip back to Triple-A.
"That'll be a hard one, because I like the idea of going with eight," Francona said. "Every manager probably feels that way. We don't have a typical long [reliever], and that's by choice. We have guys that we feel all have strengths."
Cleveland is confident that the combination of Perez, Pestano and Smith will once again provide a solid anchor for the staff. Last season, when the Indians lost 94 games, the club went 52-8 in games in which it held a lead after six innings, and posted a 24-12 record in one-run contests.
"In one-run games, they still had one of the best records in baseball," Francona said. "That says a lot about them. There's a lot of times where, if you get to a bullpen before you want to, you struggle. I'm hoping that's not the case here."
• The Indians held a players-only meeting before breaking camp in Arizona on Saturday. First baseman Nick Swisher ran it by Francona ahead of time. Francona, who could not recall any of his previous teams holding a similar meeting in Spring Training, liked that the players took charge.
"As long as they're not planning a coup, I think it's great," Francona quipped. "We're so new, I think it's good. The more communication, the better. I've got no problem with it. They're all trying to do the right thing. That's what the idea was."
• Right-hander Carlos Carrasco is technically on the Opening Day roster, but will not pitch for the team. Carrasco is serving a six-game suspension handed down by Major League Baseball for his part in a July 2011 incident with Kansas City's Billy Butler. Carrasco missed the rest of the 2011 and '12 seasons without serving the suspension due to a right elbow injury. He will be sent to Triple-A Columbus once his suspension is off the books.
• Veteran Jason Giambi, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain, and Kazmir, scheduled to be added to the roster on Saturday to work as the Tribe's fifth starter, both traveled with the Indians to Toronto for their season-opening series with the Blue Jays. Giambi is eligible to be activated on April 9.
Quote to note
"We respect what they can do. I hope we don't see it. I know they're very excited about what they've done, and it should be. I hope it all starts coming together three days from now."
-- Indians manager Terry Francona, on the Blue Jays