Indians’ probable lineup to feature Jose Ramirez in No. 2 spot, Carlos Santana at cleanup

Ryan Lewis
rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com
The Indians' Jose Ramirez loses his helmet as he approaches third base during the third inning of an exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday.

CLEVELAND — The Indians’ lineup continues to take shape, and the way things appear to be heading, opposing teams won’t be winning the platoon advantage through the first four spots.

Indians manager Terry Francona on Monday reiterated he’s leaning toward batting the four switch-hitters in the lineup in the 1-4 spots. In the team’s recent exhibition games against the Pittsburgh Pirates, including an 11-7 victory Monday night at Progressive Field, Cesar Hernandez batted leadoff, with Jose Ramirez in the No. 2 spot, Francisco Lindor batting third and Carlos Santana in the cleanup spot.

Hernandez and Lindor batting first and third, respectively, was hinted at by Francona a few days ago. That left Ramirez and Santana, whom Francona added on Monday could almost be interchangeable pieces.

“I toyed around between [Ramirez] and Santana,” Francona said on a Zoom call. “To me, they were interchangeable spots. Josey runs a little better. Carlos is more comfortable hitting cleanup, as far as hitting second or fourth. That was really all it was. Those two things.”

One of the biggest questions facing Francona has been whether to bat the switch-hitters back-to-back-to-back-to-back or split them up. That comes down to this question: Do you want to try to knock the starter out of the game as early as possible or set yourself up, potentially, better with the bullpen in the later innings, taking advantage of the three-batter minimum rule?

At least to start the season, Francona is leaning toward the former. This option also helps get the lineup’s best hitters as many at-bats as possible in a shortened, 60-game season.

“The idea is to beat the starter,” Francona said. “That’s probably our four best guys taking everything into consideration, whether it’s speed, on-base, power. It probably situates us the best way to win a game. If we ever feel differently, we can certainly change it.”

The Indians are curious to see how Hernandez handles being moved back to the top of the lineup. He posted back-to-back seasons with an on-base percentage above .370 hitting near the top of the order with the Philadelphia Phillies before being moved down the lineup, where he had to change his approach to be more of a run-producer with the pitcher coming up to bat not long after him. Hernandez opened the game with a 12-pitch at-bat that ended with a single on Monday night.

“I told him that was the best at-bat I’ve seen all year, to this point,” Francona said. “That was phenomenal. That at-bat in the first directly leads to us getting runs.”

Franmil Reyes figures to often hit fifth after the switch-hitters. The sixth spot, as it did Monday, could go to a right-field platoon between Tyler Naquin and Jordan Luplow. Francona also said he wouldn’t “necessarily” break up Reyes and Domingo Santana in the lineup so, if both are in the same order, Santana and the Naquin-Luplow platoon could handle the 6-7 spots.

Oscar Mercado could also be a candidate to hit seventh, which he did Saturday night. That leaves catcher Roberto Perez and whomever is left among the outfield/DH group. On Saturday, with right-hander Trevor Williams on the mound, the No. 9 spot went to Bradley Zimmer, who has had a tremendous summer camp after a swing change and, thus far, has remained healthy. With a lefty on the mound, Santana and Luplow could replace Naquin and Zimmer.

It’ll be easier for the Indians to carry enough outfielders to have every available piece to the lineup because of the 30-man roster teams have to start the season and because Delino DeShields is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day after being delayed with a positive COVID-19 test prior to summer camp.

Luplow, meanwhile, returned midway through Monday’s exhibition with the Pirates after missing several days with a sore back. In his first at-bat, facing a right-hander, he launched a solo home run to left field.

“Yeah, there were a couple days it was tough to get out of bed, just reaching down to pick something up off the floor, just little things throughout the day,” Luplow said on a Zoom call. “The training staff stayed with me and they showed me confidence that we were gonna get through it. They put me on a program and so far, so good. I have all my trust in them.”

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read more about the Indians at www.beaconjournal.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.

Indians manager Terry Francona, left, chats with umpires during a pitching change during the seventh inning of an exhibition game Monday in Cleveland.