Battle for remaining starting slots heats up
Throughout spring training, CNNSI.com will feature regular dispatches from Sports Illustrated staffers assigned to scout camps in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues.
By Mark Bechtel, Sports Illustrated
TEAM: Cleveland Indians
SITE: Winter Haven, Fla.
WEATHER: 85 and sunny
PLAYER I SAW WHOM I REALLY LIKED: Russell Branyan. The man is an unapologetic slugger, something you don't often see in baseball anymore. Remember when every team had a cleanup hitter who banged 30 homers, hit .260, struck out 150 times and called it a good season? These days, the hitters are too well-rounded -- all the sluggers hit .320. Impressive? Yes. Exciting? Not always. Branyan is a throwback, a Dave Kingman, a Mike Schmidt, a Gorman Thomas. The lanky lefty third baseman swings from his shoes, and if he makes contact, look out. In the Indians' spring opener Thursday, Branyan hit a towering home run to center that travelled about 420 feet vertically and close to that horizontally. He homered again Friday, and Saturday he went 0-for-2 and struck out with the bases loaded. The whiff was great, though. He was facing Tigers southpaw Sean Runyan, who throws from the side. Instead of bailing out, Branyan took windmill swings on three consecutive pitches. So what if he missed them all? If he gets to play a full season he might strike out 200 times, but he'll be fun to watch.
I also really liked John McDonald. Barring injury, he's never going to crack the Indians' lineup. He's a middle infielder, and Omar Vizquel and Roberto Alomar have a lock on their spots. McDonald isn't fancy. He's just a scrappy fielder with a decent stick who could play everyday in the bigs if he didn't have a couple of Gold Glovers ahead of him.
AROUND THE HORN
Steve Karsay made his first start of the spring Saturday. The 29-year-old New Yorker has one of the best arms in the AL. He can approach 96 mph with his fastball and he's got a mean splitter. All this after having had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 1995. Now that he's back in the rotation, he has started throwing his changeup more often.
Karsay was a promising prospect with the A's until his elbow troubles worsened, and the Tribe got him for the cut-rate price of Mike Fetters in `97. They moved him to the pen, and Karsay responded by becoming one of the best setup men around. He closed the first half of last year, before the Indians traded for Bob Wickman, and now Cleveland hopes Karsay can become their No. 4 starter. Dr. James Andrews, who has operated on Karsay four times, gave his blessing to the move, advising him to limit himself to between 100 and 110 pitches per game. It shouldn't be a problem for Karsay. He threw the fewest pitches per inning (12) among Cleveland hurlers last year, and the rock-solid Tribe bullpen means he'll only have to worry about getting in six innings every time out.
Working out of the windup for the first time in a couple of years, Karsay had a solid first inning before struggling in the second. He had trouble getting his curve over, and the Tigers started teeing off on him. Karsay ended up throwing 43 pitches in two innings, but he did notch three K's -- all looking.
Sports Illustrated staff writer Mark Bechtel will check in periodically with
reports from his tour of spring camps.