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Indians open spring training, make two curious additions

By Pat McManamon

Monday was a big day for the Cleveland Indians.

Pitchers and catchers reported.

Hoo hoo.

This season there is a little more spring in the Indians step, thanks to some sound offseason moves, starting with the addition of manager Terry Francona.

“It’s hard not to be excited,” Francona said in Goodyear in audio provided by the team. “There’s no guarantees when the season starts. I know that. And I know we’re not going to be picked to win. But I like what we did this winter. (And) I think we have the right mentality.”

Spring training is like that. Every team starts oh-and-oh and optimism abounds — no matter how bad the previous season was. Way back when in a former life I remember a former Braves pitcher named Rick Mahler — he always won on Opening Day — insisted that no matter what happened the previous season players “absolutely have to feel that way (upbeat)” when spring training starts.

It could go even father, into the romantic stuff. Rebirth, spring, flowers budding … all that kind of stuff.

The first day I ever covered spring training there was an elderly gentleman in the stands to watch pitchers and catchers do not much of anything. I sat down and talked to him.

“I come every year for the first day,” he said. “I love baseball. I think there would be fewer wars if everyone in the world played baseball.”

Clearly he was the Roy Hobbs of fan-dom.

Francona sounds as jacked as anyone, saying when he puts his uniform on for the first time “I’ll be as proud as anyone in this camp.”

He also talked about how this season represents a fresh start, for everyone, and even mentioned Ubaldo Jimenez, saying the negatives of last season “overwhelmed him a little bit.”

“Now you get a chance to start over,” Francona said. “The slate is clean, for everybody. Hopefully guys take that and run with it.”

The Indians added two new guys over the weekend who have a chance to take it and run with it, though one remains unofficial and can’t yet be discussed.

Cleveland signed Jason Giambi as a part-time DH, and Daisuke Matsuzaka to see if he is past Tommy John surgery and can compete for the starting rotation.

Matsuzaka, who shall henceforth be known as Dice-K, had his best seasons under Francona in Boston, but has dropped off the face of the ball map since.

He won 33 games in 2006 and ‘07, but has won just 17 since — and is coming back from the elbow surgery. He and Francona like and respect each other and it’s a ‘what do we have to lose’ move.

The Indians can’t address him until Tuesday because he has to pass a physical before signing.

Giambi is about 73 — OK, he’s really 42 — and has been around for so long he’s linked to the PED/steroid days of the Oakland A’s way back when. Which makes his addition curious.

“He could come in to compete to make the team,” GM Chris Antonetti said.

Which about sums it up.

The Indians do not have a clear-cut DH, and the thinking with Giambi is that he would be a part-time guy, hit three or four days a week and see what happens.

“If he’s healthy and swinging the bat like we hope, it’s a really good fit,” Francona said.

This would be quite something if it works, though. Giambi hasn’t played in more 87 games since 2009, and he hasn’t hit more than 13 home runs since 2008.

Jim Thome redux?

Both Antonetti and Francona described Giambi as a great leader, which was interesting given his past.

“(He’s) universally respected throughout the game, not only for his accomplishments on the field but for the teammate he is and the leader he’s evolved into,” Antonetti said.

Sound the herald trumpets.

Hey, it’s the first day of spring training. The Indians bring the pair in, see what happens and go from there. This isn’t like signing Johnny Damon a year ago and putting him in left field every day. It’s give-a-guy-a-chance and see how it goes.

“I love spring training,” Francona said. “The glass is supposed to be half full.”

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