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Indians' Swisher adjusts his sights

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- When the Cleveland Indians used a large chunk of their upcoming TV money haul to sign free-agent first baseman Nick Swisher last offseason, they were no doubt hoping for a better return than the career-low 63 RBI Swisher contributed.

After signing a four-year, $56 million contract, Swisher admitted he put too much pressure on himself to be the man in Cleveland. Add a nagging left shoulder injury and the result was an underwhelming .246 batting average in 145 games.

The statistics weren't what either party expected but the outcome was better than either could have imagined, as Swisher's charismatic and veteran leadership helped propel the Indians on a 10-game winning streak that put them into the postseason, albeit for just one wild-card playoff game.

"As much as you talk about it, as much as you try not to, he tried too hard," manager Terry Francona said during the offseason. "He got a big contract, he's coming home and he wanted to carry the team on his shoulders. It all (came) from a good place, but he tried to do too much."

Sensing as much, Francona moved Swisher out of the cleanup spot and up higher in the lineup during the second half of the season.

"He's hitting cleanup and trying to hit five-run home runs and it got him into a little bit of a bind," Francona said. "That's why when he started hitting second -- he's such a good on-base guy -- he shortened up (his swing). And his September was so good, it actually got him pretty close to his career average (.255)."

As Swisher heads into his second year with the Indians and 11th season in the major leagues, his sights are adjusted to stay within himself.

"This year, I walked into the locker room and I know everybody," Swisher said Saturday, a day after reporting to the Indians' spring training complex. "I feel like I'm home again, so I feel less pressure. I also feel great now. That shoulder thing is something I never really dealt with before. I'm one of those guys who takes a lot of pride being out on the field, and I'll be damned if it was something that was going to keep me off it."

That's why Swisher refused to go on the 15-day disabled list, acquiescing only for a week of rest without officially being sidelined. During the brief downtime, Swisher received the first of two cortisone shots.

"That one, in like June or July, was like, 'where does it hurt? Let's hit it and see how it goes,'‚ÄČ" Swisher said. "Then once we got the second one done, August and September were great months for me. I felt a little more comfortable, more like myself."

But Swisher knows the team's late run last season garnered the kind of attention that will make matching and surpassing it tough.

"We have a mark on our back right now," he said. "Nobody even knew who we were last year. Now, it'll be doubly hard."

That's why Swisher was thrilled to see so many teammates had already reported to camp by the time he arrived Friday, a day before the deadline for position players.

"A lot of guys were here early, and that's great," he said. "We have such a young team, that's what you do ... it's a good sign."

And if channeled properly, Swisher believes last year's season can be a springboard to better things this year.

"We had like the world's greatest losing streak and the world's greatest winning streak," he said. "But the losing streaks, they make you stronger. And with as inexperienced as we were last year, what we did was amazing.

"Now, we've had a little taste of that. And everyone knows that once you get a little taste of success, you want a lot more. For us, we had a nice taste of what it could be like -- and that's something we want to bring back this year."

(c)2014 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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