CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Indians were an hour from game time on Sunday afternoon at Target Field when Chris Antonetti found Sandy Alomar in the visiting locker room. He asked Alomar if he could manage the Indians because Terry Francona had returned to the team hotel because of stomach pain.
Chris came to me and told me Tito wasnt feeling well and did I mind taking over the team like I did in spring training a couple of intrasquad games, said Alomar before Mondays game in Cincinnati. He felt comfortable asking me if I wanted to manage. I said All right, whatever you need. Im here for whatever they need. Like I said, this is a collaborative effort. Ive got a lot of help from the other guys and Im fine with it.
The Indians lost Sunday 3-1 before opening a two-game series against the Reds at Great American Ball Park. Alomar will manage the series as Francona gets treated at Cleveland Clinic for a gastrointestinal problem that has bothered him since spring training.
Alomar talked to Francona on Sunday night about Mondays lineup.
Thats something we discussed last night to try and bring more athleticism to the lineup with Greg Allen, said Alomar. Get Greg an opportunity to go out there and hit at the bottom of the lineup, also Daniel Johnson and put him in the lineup, give him an opportunity.
Allen was batting ninth and Johnson sixth in Mondays lineup.
Francona wanted to keep the top five hitters — Cesar Hernandez, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Franmil Reyes in their spots.
After that (he said) you can mix-and-match for situations, said Alomar. Right now we went with Daniel Johnson and Greg Allen to give them an opportunity.
Alomar served as the Indians interim manager after Manny Acta was fired late in the 2012 season. The Indians hired Francona as manager before the 2013 season and Alomar has been a member of his coaching staff since.
I didnt even know Tito was in this condition, said Alomar. I know in spring training, it was a rough period of time for him over a few days, but I didnt know during the season he was going through this, because those are private conversations between Chris and Tito. I know Tito has been through some rough times in the past, but hes gonna get himself checked and hopefully hes here in a few days.
Alomar said managing the games without Francona and bench coach Brad Mills is collaborative effort.
Im not just calling my own shots 100%, said Alomar. Youve got Mike Sarbaugh, hes got a lot of experience managing in the minor leagues and also is an outstanding infield coach, third base coach. I have a great deal of respect for Sarby. You have Carl Willis, a veteran pitching coach, and Ruben Niebla and Brian Sweeney.
We have a collaborative effort. Mike Barnett really helps a lot because hes in contact with Tito all the time. Our hitting coaches, Ty Van Burkleo and Victor Rodriguez .. our efforts are all collaborative.
The hitters are collaborative as well, but theyre going in the wrong direction. The Indians arrived in Cincinnati hitting .193, the lowest team batting average in the AL. Theyve scored 26 runs in 10 games. The last three hitters in the lineup are hitting a combined .097 (9-for-93).
Heres what theyre hitting position-by-position: catchers .097, first base .188, second base .297, third base .294, shortstop .158, left field .086, center field .161, right field .160 and DH .275.
The condensed schedule is what magnifies the whole thing, said Alomar. I cant remember the last time that our team had a great start offensively. We have struggled. Last year was a big struggle offensively and then slowly we got out of it. But last year, we had a 162-game schedule, so its a little bit different.
I feel like we have enough talent to get out of it. What we dont want is our pitching to feel the pressure. I feel like our pitchers need to understand that they have to keep executing and keep pounding the zone one pitch at a time, not worrying about what the score is. . .At the end of the day, its a short schedule, 60 games, and right now were in a rough spell, but I believe the guys are gonna get out.
As poorly as the Indians have hit, their pitching has been at the other end of the spectrum. They lead the AL with a 2.35 ERA. The rotation leads the AL with a 2.57 ERA with 86 strikeouts in 63 innings.
From what Ive seen, its that they dont leave any stone unturned when it comes to mechanics, limitations of the pitchers and making the pitcher feel special within their repertoire, said Alomar on the Indians ability to develop pitchers. They dont try to clone people or make Mike Clevinger like Shane Bieber or Bieber like Zach Plesac. They just try to find the best way they can to get the best of you individually, the best version of each pitcher.
They are pretty good on biomechanics. They work a lot as a group, and all the information they bring, its all legit. Theyve done a good job and they keep developing pitching. Its unbelievable.
In closing: The Reds changed their lineup twice before Mondays game. They brought Joey Votto (coronavirus) off the injured list and inserted him at first base. An hour or so later they scratched outfielder Nick Senzel because of an injured ring finger. . .Outfielders Tyler Naquin (right big toe) and Delino DeShields (coronaviurs) were scheduled to play a sim game Monday at Classic Park in Eastlake, the Indians alternative training site, but the game was rained out. . .Catcher Roberto Perez (right shoulder) will get his shoulder re-examined on Tuesday.
A variety of Cleveland Indians face masks available online today. (Fanatics.com)
New Indians face masks for sale:Heres where you can buy Cleveland Indians-themed face coverings for coronavirus protection, including a single mask ($14.99) and a 3-pack ($24.99). All MLB proceeds donated to charity.
More Indians coverage
Cleveland Indians will navigate series in Cincinnati without manager Terry Francona
Can the Indians turn around their sleepy offense? Terry Pluto guests on Mondays More Sports & Les Levine
Is the Cleveland Indians offense cut out for a 60-game sprint? (podcast)
Cleveland Indians expand cardboard cutout fans at Progressive Field: Heres how you can buy one
Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds series preview, pitching matchups