Baseball / Sports

Indians offer new twist this spring in battle at third base

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Lonnie Chisenhall spent the past three seasons trying to lock up the Cleveland Indians' third-base job.

Now, he's at spring training with the same goal for a fourth consecutive year. This time, however, the familiar storyline features a new twist: Chisenhall is battling converted catcher Carlos Santana for the right to man third base for the Indians in 2014.

"It's really no different than the last three years," the soft-spoken Chisenhall said with a shrug. "I'm always going up against somebody for the job. This time because it's Carlos, maybe people are just paying more attention. But it's really no different to me."

Despite downplaying what has become one of the main head-to-head battles of camp with Santana, who lost his catching role to Yan Gomes last year, then spent winter ball sharpening his third-base skills in an effort to keep from becoming a full-time designated hitter, Chisenhall is well aware his future at third base could hinge on the outcome.

"I know what I have to do," the left-handed hitter said, "and it really doesn't have anything to do with Carlos. I can only worry about myself and what I'm doing."

What the 6-foot-2, 190-pound first-round pick in the 2008 draft needs to do to succeed actually has little to do with third base. Chisenhall needs to hit -- especially against the left-handed pitchers that have proven to be his big-league kryptonite.

Chisenhall's inability to do so in 2013 resulted in the worst season of his professional career. His batting average slipped to an all-time worst .225 overall with 11 home runs, 36 RBI and a .270 on-base percentage. His struggles out of the gate resulted in a demotion to the minors for two months, beginning in May.

But when Chisenhall went to Triple-A Columbus, it appeared he'd quickly turned the corner. He hit .390 with eight doubles, two triples, six homers and 26 RBI in 27 games for the Clippers, including a .310 average against left-handed pitchers.

Rejuvenated, he was recalled to Cleveland. But the hot streak promptly fizzled again as he hit at a .231 clip the rest of the season, including a frigid stretch of .145 in August.

"People say I can't hit left-handers all the time," Chisenhall, 25, said. "But I don't think there's been a big enough sample size to really prove that. But do I need to hit better (overall) than I did last season? Absolutely."

In 80 career games against left-handers, Chisenhall owns a .194 batting average. In 194 games against righties, his career average is .256.

Chisenhall has never played winter ball in the offseason like so many other players do, especially those looking to work on a part of their game. He also said he didn't necessarily put an emphasis on improving his offense against lefties in the offseason.

"We went home to North Carolina to spend family time as a family," Chisenhall said, referring to himself, his seven-months pregnant wife Meredith and the couple's 2-year old son, Cutter. "After such a long time away during the season, I can't justify being gone another couple months in the winter. Nor would it be fair to ask my wife to bring the kids to the Dominican (Republic) for two months," he said.

Chisenhall has a minor-league option remaining, a safety net of sorts for the Indians if Santana were to win the third-base role out of camp.

"We've told them both they have to win the job out of spring training," Tribe manager Terry Francona said. "Nothing is going to be handed to them."

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

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