GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — With a hop off his feet turning a double play and by driving a ball nearly over the fence, Indians three-time All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor moved closer to returning from a right calf strain.
Yet his status for opening day on March 28 at Minnesota remains uncertain.
Batting every inning in a modified intrasquad minor league game, Lindor made eight plate appearances, going 0-for-6 with two walks.
Eager to hit, Lindor swung on a 3-0 count during his sixth plate appearance, extending it to nine pitches and drawing a walk. Out of caution and because of his morning base running, he was replaced by a pinch runner.
On a 3-0 count on his next plate appearance, he ripped a ball to the right field fence where prospect Oscar Gonzalez made a leaping catch, preventing a home run.
Lindor was asked if he needs to appear in a Cactus League game to be ready for the season opener.
“I don’t think so. I can play in the minor leagues or B games to be ready,” he said.
“Baseball’s such a crazy sport that I can have five at-bats and feel great or have 60 at-bats and on opening day be completely lost. I am taking at-bats and they can see that I am all right. I can play; I don’t need that many at-bats.”
Lindor and the Indians could have to deal with cold weather next week in Minneapolis.
“It’s going to be cold, but I am sure with calf sleeves, heaters (my calf will be warm),” he said.
“It is the beauty of spring training; it is always hot and then all of a sudden, you show up to 25-degree weather. That’s how it is.”
Lindor ran bases at full effort Wednesday morning.
“I go as fast as my leg allows me and see how it feels a couple hours later, and so far, it feels great,” he said shortly after receiving treatment, following his play in the minor league game.
His daily treatment lasts 60 to 90 minutes.
“That is going to be the new normal,” Lindor said.
Ultimately, his return to the major league level will take time.
“Of course, I want to play this game, that’s why I am here, I want to help my team win,” he said. “But that’s why they (trainers) are good at what they do. They can slow people down to make sure they don’t rush it.”
Lindor had a pinch runner take his place for each of his walks.
“I want to go as hard as I can and have them chase me and tag me like Little League.”
Lindor, who calls the minor leaguers, “the lions” because of their hunger to reach the big leagues, gained an appreciation for their determination when a base runner ran on Lindor when he was receiving a relay throw.
“They are going all-out and I’m trying to pace myself,” he said. “It reminded me not to take anything for granted, because at the end of the day, they want to be here (major leagues) and they are working as hard as they can to be up here.”
Shortstop Eric Stamets, who has played 21 Cactus League games filling in for Lindor, was removed from Wednesday’s game against the Angels in the third inning as a precaution after experiencing left hip tightness.
“I think he’s OK. It is more precautionary. It is like a hip flexor,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s already been examined. We were going to play him tomorrow. I don’t think we’re going to do that now, but I don’t think it is anything more than that (no other days off needed).”
In Scottsdale, where an Indians split squad was playing the Giants, second baseman Jason Kipnis was removed for precautionary reasons because of right calf tightness. Kipnis left after one at-bat and did not play defense.
“We’ll get a read; they’re looking at him now,” Francona said after the game.
Kipnis missed time last week for the same issue and was hampered by hip flexor tightness at the beginning of March.
OPENING DAY STARTER
Francona said he’s still not ready to announce the opening day starter.
“I think we’ll wait and get through (Corey) Kluber’s start; I think that makes the most sense,” Francona said of the two-time Cy Young winner who pitches against the Cubs on Friday.
Kluber, who has made four consecutive opening day starts, would have five days’ rest between his Friday start and opening day.
Since the Indians have a day off on March 27, Trevor Bauer would have the traditional four days’ rest if he is given the nod to start on opening day.
RHP Alex Wilson, INF Ryan Flaherty, RHP Justin Grimm were each informed that they will not make the 25-man roster.
“These guys have outs,” Francona said, noting that they will talk to their agents and discuss possibilities with other teams, knowing that the Indians would love to have them back at the minor-league level.
Later on Wednesday, Flaherty opted out of a minor-league deal and is a free agent.
RHP A.J. Cole was sent to the minor-league side.
Francona indicated that the relievers are likely to be called up during the season.
“You don’t keep seven or eight guys the whole year; it is just not possible,” he said. “Just try to remind, especially the veteran guys, if it is a kick in the stomach (being sent down), we know that. But don’t let that derail you from what you’re doing because that doesn’t help anybody.”
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