CLEVELAND -- Lonnie Chisenhall was one of the Indians' hottest hitters throughout Spring Training. Once the calendar flipped to April, the young third baseman cooled off considerably in the batter's box.
Indians manager Terry Francona said hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo believe they have spotted the problem, and Chisenhall has been working hard to correct the issue.
"All spring he was thinking left-center," Francona explained. "Not necessarily wanting to hit the ball there, but being lined up so he could cover the plate. And he did it extremely well. I think as he continued into the season, his batting stance started to close off more and more and more, and I don't think he realized it.
"Ty's trying to get him back more to even. Now, setting his sights on left-center is great. I just think it all of a sudden became a little more physical also, and he got himself into a position where, for him to get to the ball and square it up, he had to get more out front than he normally does.
"He actually got himself into some positions where it didn't look like he had a real quick bat. And he has as quick a bat as anybody you're ever going to see."
Entering Thursday's game with the Red Sox, Chisenhall was hitting .200 (8-for-40) with one home run, six RBIs and 13 strikeouts in 11 games for the Indians. That is a drastic drop-off from his showing in Spring Training, when Chisenhall hit at a .400 clip with four homers and 12 RBIs in 24 Cactus League games.
Francona has also been trying to find the appropriate games to give the left-handed-hitting Chisenhall a day off against left-handed starters. So far this season, Chisenhall has been in the lineup against lefties Felix Doubront (Tuesday), Jose Quintana (Friday), David Price (April 7) and Mark Buehrle (April 4), but out of the lineup for lefties Jon Lester (Thursday), Chris Sale (Saturday), Andy Pettitte (April 9) and Matt Moore (April 5).
Francona said there has not been an exact science behind when to start or sit Chisenhall.
"That's a hard one," Francona said. "Like when we faced Price, Price is as good a lefty as there is in the league. But, at the time we had two guys [Mike Aviles and Ryab Raburn] that could play -- two righties -- and he had sat the one before [against Moore]. I thought, 'OK, he might run into a fastball here, which he did [with a home run off Price].
"I'm just trying to balance his development, and us winning. I'm trying to balance that. If that was a convoluted answer, it's because I spend a lot of time thinking about it."
A grizzled vet at 42, Giambi not feeling his age
CLEVELAND -- Jason Giambi remembers his rookie season with Oakland like it was yesterday. He laughs at the memory of being called a kid by the likes of Mark McGwire and Terry Steinbach, and Giambi still rolls his eyes recalling one bit of advice they gave him back then.
"They would always say, 'Hey, enjoy it. It's going to go by fast,'" Giambi said on Thursday. "I'm like, 'Ah, what do those guys know?' And here I am. I'm that guy."
That was 19 seasons ago. Now, Giambi is 42 years old and starting to hear age-related records.
During Wednesday's 6-3 loss to the Red Sox, Giambi launched a solo home run in the sixth inning, marking his first long ball in a Cleveland uniform. It also made him the third-oldest Indians player to belt a home run, dating back to 1916. Giambi trails only Sam Rice (44 years old, 1934) and Dave Winfield (43, 1995) in that respect.
"It makes me laugh," Giambi said. "I don't think of myself that old. I know I am, but I don't think of myself like that."
Giambi's home run came as the second shot in a series of back-to-back bombs with Nick Swisher. Giambi spent the first eight games of this season on the 15-day disabled list, but has had a lot of loud outs -- to go along with Wednesday's home run -- in his first eight at-bats with Cleveland.
Giambi, who is serving as a part-time designated hitter and pinch-hitter this year, has been pleased with how he has felt early on with his swing.
"I've been excited where my swing has been for missing that time at the beginning of the year," Giambi said. "I was kind of a little bit surprised. When I got in there that first game [Sunday], I didn't quite know where I'd be. I took out of there a lot of confidence with where my swing was at.
"I was excited about [the home run]. It's nice to get a little results and get the first one out of the way."
Giambi has kept the first home run ball with each of the teams he has played on, and he was able to have the ball from Wednesday retrieved so he can add it to his trophy case. The homer was the 430th shot of Giambi's career, putting him 43rd on baseball's all-time list, ahead of Mike Piazza (427) and behind Cal Ripken Jr. (431).
"The guys you start to pass now are pretty impressive," Giambi said.
Francona likes Santana's approach against shift
CLEVELAND -- Carlos Santana took a look at Boston's extreme defensive shift in the sixth inning and the Indians catcher decided he would try to slap a pitch down the third-base line. On the first pitch from Alfredo Aceves, Santana took an awkward stride and ultimately checked his swing.
Watching from the dugout, Indians manager Terry Francona was reminded of one of his dad Tito's former teammates with the Tribe.
"Vic Davalillo," said a smirking Francona, referring to the diminutive outfielder who suited up for Cleveland from 1963-68. "I think [Santana's slap attempt] caught everybody by surprise. If he would've hit that, I don't know where it would've gone. Yeah, that was interesting."
Francona actually liked Santana's idea, considering the situation.
The Indians were trailing the Red Sox, 5-0, and Santana was leading off the sixth with sluggers Nick Swisher, Jason Giambi and Mark Reynolds set to follow him in the order. The catcher got out of his typical approach -- at least on the first pitch -- and wound up drawing a walk. Swisher and Giambi followed with back-to-back home runs.
"The idea is good," Francona said of trying to beat the shift. "When you're down, when you can't tie the game with one swing, getting on base is the most important thing. I've talked to [Giambi] about that a lot. He told me, 'Yeah, I've bunted before. I'm not too proud.' When you can't tie it up, I love it."
Francona paused, and then smiled.
"Now, again," he added, "I'm not sure about the footwork."
Quote to note
Quote to note "You have to be strong enough to fight through it. As a hitter, you're going to look up and see your batting average where you're not comfortable, and you've got to be strong enough to still walk up tot he plate with your chest out, knowing that you're a good hitter. I try to remind guys that all the time."
--Indians manager Terry Francona, on slumps being magnified early in a season
• The Indians entered this season expecting to have stolen bases as a big part of their offensive game. Heading into Thursday, Cleveland ranked 11th in the American League with only four stolen bases. Part of the issue has been injuries to Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis, who combined for 73 swipes in the 2012 campaign.
"Some of or games have been lopsided," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "The other thing that I don't think people realize is, when you have team speed, people have to respect that. I think our guys have gotten some pitches to hit in situations, because of our speed. It's not going to show up in a box score, if a pitcher maybe felt inclined to slide step and left a fastball up and somebody hit it. Things like that.
"Our speed -- over the course of a year -- our speed will show up. Teams know we can run and there's been a lot of pitchers that have done a very good job."
• Indians first baseman Nick Swisher went 2-for-4 with a home run in Wednesday's 6-3 loss to the Red Sox, raising his career average to .318 (50-for-157) in 43 games at Progressive Field. Swisher's average in Cleveland ranks third among active players (with at least 40 games). Only Derek Jeter (.359) and Ichiro Suzuki (.332) have better marks at the Tribe's home ballpark.
• Kipnis, who has been sidelined since Saturday with soreness in his left elbow, took part in pregame batting practice on Thursday. Francona said that, barring a setback, the team is hopeful Kipnis will be able to return to the lineup for Friday's road game against the Astros.
• Bourn (on the 15-day disabled list with a right index finger injury) will travel with the team for its upcoming weekend series in Houston. Bourn is able to do lower-body strength and conditioning, and resumed hand exercises on Thursday, according to Francona.