Indians adjust roster as season opener nears
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Rajai Davis made it all the way back with the Cleveland Indians. Mike Napoli remains on the outside.
Davis, who hit perhaps the most memorable home run in club history during the 2016 World Series, was told Thursday by manager Terry Francona that he will be on Cleveland’s opening-day roster. The 37-year-old outfielder signed a minor league contract with the club last month.
With Michael Brantley and Brandon Guyer still not at 100 percent while recovering from surgeries, the Indians needed depth. Davis has filled a need and the Indians are thrilled to have him around.
“Raj looks like Raj,” Francona said. “He does an amazing job at age 37 getting to his full speed. … We had to play him quite a bit because we wanted to get a good look at him. It’s a pretty good test for a 37-year old in spring training. He bounced back really well. I think he has the freedom to be himself. That’s a good thing. We all feel that he has the chance to help us win.”
Davis cemented his name into Cleveland history two years ago in Game 7 of the Series when he connected for a game-tying, two-run homer with two outs in the eighth inning off Chicago closer Aroldis Chapman. The Cubs went on to beat the Indians in 10 innings for their first title since 1906.
As for Napoli, the Indians intend to release him and re-sign the 36-year-old to a minor league contract. Cleveland brought him into camp as a favor to a player Francona has long admired.
It’s possible Napoli could find a job with another team or accept an assignment to Triple-A Columbus.
“We’re working through all that,” Francona said. “It is unbelievable. We’ve been talking about him going to Triple-A. Nap’s first response was that he didn’t want to get in the way of somebody.”
With training camp winding down, the Indians made other roster moves, optioning outfielder Greg Allen and right-hander Ben Taylor to Triple-A Columbus. The club also reassigned right-hander Alexi Ogando to its minor league camp.
Francona also informed utility man Erik Gonzalez he’ll be on the opening-day roster because Giovanny Urshela, who was having a solid training camp, will start the season on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.
Brantley’s status will dictate what the Indians do with outfielders Tyler Naquin and Rob Refsnyder.
Brantley, who underwent right ankle surgery shortly after last season ended, homered in his first start of the spring on Wednesday night. The Indians are taking it slowly with the 30-year-old, who has been limited to 101 games over the past two seasons because of injuries.
Francona said the decisions on Naquin and Refsnyder will be based on Brantley’s timetable.
“It’s not how they hit this week,” he said. “It comes down to how many guys we take in the bullpen. We have to see how Brantley is. They just know they have to hang in there.”
One of the bullpen decisions to be made by Friday will center on left-hander Ryan Merritt. The 26-year-old can’t crack Cleveland’s rotation, so the club may add him to the bullpen rather than have him begin the season in Columbus.