Indians returning home to ballpark makeover
CLEVELAND (AP) The Indians won't believe what they've done with the place.
Progressive Field, the team's downtown Cleveland home since 1994, underwent a massive remodeling during the winter, and despite brutally cold weather and snow that slowed construction, the upgrades have been completed in time for Friday's opener against the Detroit Tigers.
Featuring a two-story corner bar, open social terraces in right field where fans can hang out and reconfigured bullpens stacked side-by-side behind the center-field wall, the renovations have given the ballpark a fresh look, which the Indians hope will bring back fans. Cleveland ranked 29th out of 30 MLB teams in total attendance last season.
Borrowing part of the famous line from actor Kevin Costner's character in the film ''Field of Dreams,'' the Indians are hoping if you re-build it, they will come.
''I've seen pictures,'' Indians manager Terry Francona said of the makeover, which has reduced the ballpark's capacity by six thousand to 37,630. ''It looks pretty cool. We're all looking forward to getting home and getting situated.''
After opening the season with three games in Houston, the Indians will dive right into their AL Central schedule with three against Detroit and two against the Chicago White Sox, two teams expected to contend in one of baseball's deepest divisions.
Zach McAllister, who went to spring training penciled in to be a reliever this season, will start Cleveland's home opener, a day regarded as a national holiday by Indians fans.
McAllister won a starting job with a strong spring and because of injuries to Gavin Floyd and Josh Tomlin, who both have undergone surgeries, and Danny Salazar's demotion to the minors. McAllister made 15 starts in 2014 before a back issue landed him on the disabled list. He was moved to the bullpen and McAllister flourished in his role as a middle-innings reliever, posting a 2.77 ERA in seven appearances and throwing 7 2-3 scoreless innings to end the year.
Still, he was dissatisfied and came to training camp determined to build off his late-season momentum.
''I wasn't happy with the year I had,'' McAllister said. ''I think a lot of guys in general who had that type of year would be on a mission to be ready to go and win a job and prove that you deserve to be on the team and be a successful part of this team. That was my goal.
''I knew what I was capable of doing and last year. I didn't really succeed, but I was able to learn a lot and really grow from it.''
One of the Indians' first orders of business when they get home is to have the team's medical staff get an assessment on All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley's stiff back. Brantley was scratched from the lineup on Wednesday and rested Thursday as the club is being cautious with its best player.
''It just kind of keeps acting up on him,'' Francona said of Brantley, who was slowed by lower back pain during spring training. ''Hopefully, the more information we can get, the better feel we have, and then we'll get him back out there playing.''
Brantley is coming off a breakout season in which he batted .327, hit 20 homers, drove in 97 runs and finished third in AL MVP voting.
The Tigers have big issues of their own.
On Tuesday, the club placed ace Justin Verlander and closer Joe Nathan on the 15-day disabled list. The move with Verlander was mostly expected since he's been dealing with a strained right triceps for several weeks. Nathan, on the other hand, picked up a save in Monday's opener and neither he nor the Tigers had hinted at any problems.
The Tigers are hoping rest will do the trick for Nathan, who had a rough first year in Detroit, blowing seven saves and finishing with a 4.81 ERA.
''We just left spring training, so we're in a position where Brad and the staff, and everybody's got a real pulse of all of our guys,'' general manager Dave Dombrowski said. ''Hardy was real close to making our club as it was. We're in a situation where, going into Cleveland, they've got a lot of left-handed hitters.''