CLE@DET: Francona discusses solid win over Tigers

CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona is not big on speeches, but he knows there are times when his voice needs to be heard in the clubhouse.

Following Saturday's 5-0 loss to the Blue Jays, marking the seventh defeat in nine games for Cleveland, Francona called a team meeting. The manager wanted not only to reinforce his belief in the team, but to remind the club about the way it needs to go about its business.

"I know our guys well enough where you don't have to talk to them every day," Francona said on Sunday. "I just felt like I want to help. I care about them a lot, and I really like this team a lot, and I just felt like maybe half reassuring and kind of explaining. [It was about], 'Remember who we are and how we go about things.'

"You get tested a little bit -- that's part of it -- and we've been tested before. [The message was] just to continue to fight through things together. It's easy for me to believe in this group."

While he would not want his team looking back too often on last season, Francona said there are lessons to be drawn from last year's 92-win run to the playoffs. Cleveland began the season with a 5-10 record, endured a number of prolonged losing streaks, but weathered those storms and enjoyed an impressive push through September.

"You can't always be, 'Last year, last year,'" Francona said. "But whatever you learned from it and take from it is good. From my own point of view, because I know these guys a lot better, it's easier for me to believe in them, because I know what they're about. That helps.

"Nobody likes coming to the ballpark and having to look at your record when it's not what you want it to be. That's just plain and simple. Saying that, I don't want them dragging in here. It's a new day. We need to make it be a better day. And then also, not look too far in the future.

"Just take care of today. If you do that enough, man, it always seems to work out."

Santana working through rough stretch

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CLEVELAND -- Slumps tend to be magnified at the start of the season. The way Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo sees things, Carlos Santana's current rough stretch has as much to do with a longer swing as it does with fighting the paltry numbers listed on the scoreboard.

Entering Sunday's game against Toronto, the switch-hitting Santana was batting .153 (9-for-59) with one home run, two doubles and three RBIs in 17 games. The catcher launched a two-run homer on Friday, but headed into the finale of the series with the Blue Jays mired in a 2-for-38 funk.

"It just seems like he's trying to do too much," Van Burkleo said on Sunday. "He went into that spell where he wasn't getting hits, and those 0-fers kind of pile up, and it kind of manifests. I think mentally, he's just trying to do too much, trying to get it all back in one swing. So we're just trying to get him focused on that one-on-one combat in the game.

"The focus needs to be on competing and not focused on the results so much. It happens at the beginning of the year, because you don't have a base. If he has 300 at-bats right now, he drops eight points instead of getting into the .100s. I think when guys start off slow, I think mentally it seems to last longer, because the numbers look so ugly.

"If he gets four or five hits, then all of a sudden the average climbs, the confidence gets there and the focus is more on competing and not so much on, 'I've got to get a hit to get out of this.'"

Despite his struggles to collect hits, Santana still entered Sunday with a .333 on-base percentage and 16 walks (second in the American League). The third baseman and backup catcher was also averaging an AL-best 4.83 pitches per plate appearance.

"That's what's great about Carlos," Van Burkleo said. "Even when he's not hitting, he's still productive. He's staying in the strike zone, and if they don't throw them strikes, he's going to end up taking his walks. That's great to have as a hitter, because you can always contribute, even when you're not feeling that great swinging it."

Francona being patient with top of lineup

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CLEVELAND -- No one needs to tell Indians manager Terry Francona that the top of his lineup is struggling. Prior to Sunday's game against the Blue Jays, Francona admitted that the temptation to switch up the batting order definitely exists.

Francona just does not believe that now is the time to shuffle the lineup.

"Yeah, I think it's tempting," Francona said. "I don't not change it because I'm not paying attention. I just think that when you believe in guys that you've got to kind of be patient. I know sometimes maybe I am, to a fault. I don't want to be. I just think it's the best way to get the most out of our guys."

Heading into Sunday's game, leadoff man Michael Bourn was hitting .077 (in just three games due to a season-opening stay on the disabled list), Nick Swisher was batting .174 in the two-spot, Jason Kipnis had a .241 average as the third hitter, and Carlos Santana was sporting a .153 mark as the cleanup hitter.

The last thing Francona said he would do is re-order his lineup without first speaking to the individuals involved in the changes. That said, the Tribe manager expects each of the batters in question to return to their usual level of performance soon enough.

"If I was going to move somebody, I always tell them," Francona said. "But again, the top of our order that's struggling right now, they're going to hit. I know they're going to hit. They know they're going to hit. So you just need to be patient and hope that when they get hot, they're not just singles."

Francona has often referenced what happened at the start of last season with Kipnis. The All-Star second baseman had a .189 average through May 1, and the manager fielded questions about moving Kipnis lower in the lineup. Kipnis then hit .340 over the next 57 games and had a .301 batting average by the beginning of July.

"You build your batting order when Spring Training ends the best way you think possible," Francona said. "If you start flip-flopping, you're potentially putting guys that you thought you'd hit maybe down towards the bottom in bigger spots, and they're probably going to struggle a little bit. Guys that hit in the middle, they get pitched differently, and you think they can handle it. There's reasons you keep them there."

Quote to note

"I really don't. If anything, knowing that feeling, you want it back so desperately, because there's nothing like that feeling of jumping on the field and accomplishing something. But, during a baseball season, there's a lot of grinding that needs to be done. Some times the game is easier than others."
-- Francona, asked if he believes his club is feeling pressure to live up to last season's run to the postseason

Smoke signals

• Francona, who managed the Red Sox from 2004-11, expects the city of Boston and his former team will enjoy a memorable Patriots' Day on Monday. One year following the bombings at the Boston Marathon, the Red Sox will host the Orioles in their annual holiday game at 11:05 p.m. ET at Fenway Park.

"I would imagine it'll be electric," Francona said on Sunday. "All the good that comes with Boston will probably come pouring out tomorrow for obvious reasons. It's a city and a region that is collectively showing their strength out of something that was disastrous. What's going to happen is a lot of good is going to come of that, because of something kind of tragic."

• Nationals manager Matt Williams pulled outfielder Bryce Harper from Saturday's game against the Cardinals for a perceived lack of hustle. Speaking in general terms, Francona said he has never done that to a player as a Major League manager, but he understands why other managers have taken that approach.

"I think I did in the Minor Leagues," Francona said. "Everybody's different. The goal is, when guys make mistakes -- whether it's that or anything -- is to not have them do it again. So I think there's certainly different ways you can accomplish that."

• Brianna Alomar, the daughter of former Indians catcher and current first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr., sang both the Canadian and American national anthems prior to Friday's game at Progressive Field. It was her first time singing the anthem in front of her dad in Cleveland.

"She was great," Sandy Alomar said. "To be honest with you, I was really nervous."

• Francona said on Saturday that nothing has changed in terms of the plan for veteran Jason Giambi. Cleveland is expected to activate Giambi (broken rib) from the 15-day disabled list prior to Monday's game against Kansas City. The corresponding move is not known at this point.