CLEVELAND -- Johnny Damon did not have the benefit of Spring Training, but the veteran outfielder has now reached the amount of at-bats players typically receive during the preseason. That is one reason the Indians feel Damon's performance is starting to improve.
Heading into Saturday's game against the Marlins, Damon had reached base in eight of his past 13 plate appearances for Cleveland. The Indians believe that is a clear indication that the outfielder is beginning to get a better feel for things in the batter's box.
"We've seen signs," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "Over the last three games, he's got some walks. To us, that was a sign that he's seeing the ball better. He was getting himself out with pitches that were off the plate away and off the plate inside. The last few games, he's gotten better at-bats. We feel that he's almost there."
That could be because the 38-year-old Damon entered Friday with 54 regular-season at-bats under his belt. Combined with his brief stint in extended Spring Training -- prior to joining Cleveland on May 1 -- Damon has piled up roughly 70 at-bats since signing a one-year contract with the Tribe.
A team's regular players tend to receive between 50-70 at-bats in Spring Training.
"He's around the amount of at-bats guys get in Spring Training to get ready," Acta said.
Damon entered Saturday hitting just .167 (9-for-54) through 15 games for the Indians, be he had drawn six walks over his last three games. In Friday's 3-2 loss to Miami, Damon went 0-for-1 with three walks for Cleveland.
"It's been a process for Johnny to get re-acclimated to Major League pitching," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "I think we've seen over the last week or so the quality of his at-bats continue to improve. His command of the strike zone has continued to improve. His swing mechanics are getting better, and he's looking more comfortable in the batter's box.
"So I think we'll begin to see some results more consistent with how Johnny has performed in the past."
Santana puts defense on display vs. Marlins
CLEVELAND -- Indians catcher Carlos Santana chatted with his friend Emilio Bonifacio prior to Friday night's game against the Marlins. Santana issued a warning to the Miami outfielder about trying to steal a base on him.
"I talked to him early before the game," Santana said on Saturday. "I said, 'Don't run. I'm prepared for you.'"
Bonifacio, who entered Friday's action perfect in his first 20 stolen base attempts on the season, decided to test Santana's arm anyway. In the fifth inning of the Tribe's 3-2 loss to the Marlins, Bonifacio sprinted for second base and Santana came up firing, becoming the first catcher to throw the center fielder out this year.
Santana also threw out Omar Infante and Bryan Petersen in the game, marking the first time in the catcher's career that he nabbed three would-be basestealers in one contest. Over the past 15 seasons, only catchers Einar Diaz (July 18, 2001) and Eduardo Perez (May 27, 2002) have accomplished that feat for the Indians.
The Marlins had not been caught stealing three times in one game since 2006.
"Outstanding performance, especially against a team like that," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He has that potential. He has the ability to shut down the running game. [Bench coach and former catcher Sandy Alomar Jr.] deserves a lot of credit for the job he's done with him."
Coming off a left knee injury two offseasons ago, Santana was limited in how much work he could do with Alomar in Spring Training. This past spring, however, the catcher teamed with Alomar on becoming quicker with his footwork and release. Entering Saturday, Santana had thrown out 8-of-25 (32 percent) of baserunners this season.
Santana was tied for the American League lead for the most runners thrown out.
"I feel a lot better. I'm excited," Santana said. "Sandy has helped me a lot. He talks to me every inning. If I'm doing something wrong, he'll see it and tell me about my defense. That's great."
And Bonifacio might hesitate next time he tries to run on his friend.
"We had a bet," Acta said. "I told [Bonifacio] he wasn't going to leave Cleveland without getting thrown out. And, we threw him out."
Radinsky thinks Masterson will improve
CLEVELAND -- The way Indians pitching coach Scott Radinsky sees things, there is no cause for concern when it comes to the inconsistency of sinker-baller Justin Masterson. Radinsky believes the starter has simply endured a rough start to the season.
"Sometimes there's no explanation," Radinsky said on Saturday. "These guys are not machines. They're not perfect. They do have some bumps. I think, overall, we'll look at it at the end of the year and say whether it was good or bad.
"He's shown no signs of panic and I've certainly had no signs of concern or panic."
Radinsky was encouraged by the outing Masterson turned in on Friday, when he held the Marlins to two runs on six hits over seven innings. The big right-hander mixed in five strikeouts against three walks in the 111-pitch performance.
On the year, Masterson has gone 1-3 with a 5.04 ERA in nine outings, during which he has compiled 38 strikeouts and 29 walks in 55 1/3 innings. Last season, Masterson went 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA in 34 appearances, earning the Opening Day nod for Cleveland this year.
Masterson's strikeout rate has remained relatively similar to last season (6.2 per nine innings in 2012 compared to 6.6 in 2011) and he has given up hits at an identical rate (8.8 per nine innings for both seasons). The biggest difference has been in Masterson's walk rate, which has jumped to 4.7 per nine innings from 2.7 a year ago.
Radinsky said one issue has been commanding the sinker against left-handed hitters.
"They have serious run and movement to them," Radinsky said of Masterson's sinkers. "If you stack a left-handed lineup against him, and he's trying to hit the outer half, I can see it running off and running off."
Radinsky believes Masterson will continue to show progress as the summer wears on.
"He's in a good spot," Radinsky said. "It's one pitch, one out, one inning -- whatever it is -- away from just all of a sudden you put together 15 strong outings. That's reality, and he's got the stuff to do it, certainly."
Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. will be away from the team for Saturday and Sunday's games against the Marlins in order to attend the graduation of his daughter, Leanna, from San Diego State University. Former Tribe bench coach Tim Tolman -- who is still in the organization -- will fill Alomar's duties in his absence.
Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan (back tightness) remained out of the starting lineup on Saturday for the sixth game in a row. Hannahan took part in pregame fielding drills and did some hitting in the indoor batting cage. With an off-day looming on Monday, there is a chance Cleveland holds Hannahan out of the lineup until Tuesday.
Indians right-hander Josh Tomlin (on the 15-day disabled list with a right wrist injury) played catch up to 90 feet on Saturday. Tomlin remains on target to throw off a mound by early next week. Lefty Rafael Perez, on the 15-day DL with a left lat injury, will likely throw one more bullpen session before advancing to a simulated game.
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti noted that the organization is trying Minor League pitching prospect Scott Barnes as a reliever to see if he could be an option for the Major League bullpen. Barnes, who went 8-4 with a 3.45 ERA in 18 starts last season between Double-A and Triple-A, has a 4.44 ERA in eight games (three starts) for Triple-A Columbus this season. Barnes has 27 strikeouts against 11 walks in 24 1/3 innings.
Quote to note
"They've got the best pitching coach in the game -- my brother-in-law."
--Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, on Indians pitching coach Scott Radinsky