When Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona pinch-hit Elliott Johnson for Lonnie Chisenhall against the Oakland Athletics, Francona sent a message that one of them has just a few days to make their case to stay in the big leagues.
Everyone knows the story with third basemen Chisenhall. The former first-round pick lost his job late last year because of poor run production, and he fought for a spot on the bench this spring. The injuries to Michael Bourn and Jason Giambi, which landed both players on the 15-day disabled list to start the year, ultimately led to a postponement of the final decision on Chisenhall.
The Indians have some value left in Chisenhall because of his age. With both Bourn and Giambi eligible to return from the DL on Saturday, GM Chris Antonetti could be actively looking for a trade partner now.
After sitting for the first two games of the season, Chisenhall got the start at third because Carlos Santana caught in place of Yan Gomes, who caught the first game of the doubleheader. Going 1-for-2 at the plate, Chisenhall was ho-hum except for missing the throw from the outfielder Nyjer Morgan in the fourth with Nick Punto advancing from second.
It was a critical play because the Indians had just tied the game 2-2 in the top of the inning and Chisenhall made his error just as Oakland had taken another one-run lead. A second run there would put the Tribe in a two-run hole again.
When it came time for Chisenhall’s next turn at the plate with the Indians down 3-2 and Oakland’s lefty Drew Pomeranz still on in relief, the switch-hitting Johnson pinch hit for Chisenhall with Mike Aviles on first and one out. Johnson is this team’s version of MacGyver because he can play nearly any position in the field and the Indians love versatility, which is the the main reason he made the Opening Day roster.
Now, Chisenhall does have a hard time hitting lefties, and it was a typical move by Francona. However, while it could be seen as a simple lefty vs. righty matchup move, I think it was a sign that Johnson has a beat on the backup third base position.