Francona: Rotation must be 'team strength' to contend

Indians have five candidates for fifth spot in rotation anchored by Kluber

Francona: Rotation must be 'team strength' to contend

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians have been gaining some national recognition of late as a possible sleeper team in the American League. One of the reasons prognosticators like the Tribe is the potential that exists within Cleveland's rotation.

Indians manager Terry Francona feels the starting staff will be essential for contention.

"I think it needs to be a team strength if we want to be the type of team, the contender, that we aspire to be," Francona said Thursday. "We have some guys that are learning how to pitch at a pretty high level early in their career, and in our industry, not just with the Indians, that's really valued."

As things currently stand, AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber will be the leader of a starting staff that has right-handers Gavin Floyd, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer as virtual locks for jobs. Righties Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin, along with lefties T.J. House and Bruce Chen, make up the competition for the last spot.

Kluber on winning Cy Young Award

Here are some more notes and quotes from Thursday:

• Francona operated with an eight-man bullpen for much of the 2013 and '14 seasons with the Tribe. It remains to be seen whether the manager will carry eight relievers come Opening Day, but having versatile utility man Mike Aviles on the bench gives Cleveland the flexibility to have an extra arm.

"I'm not dead-set -- I know everybody thinks I am -- on the eight-man bullpen," Francona said. "I'd actually like to have nine. I think it just depends on how your team is built. The majority of the time last year, I felt like that was our best chance of winning.

"Having that extra guy, man, is so big. You get in those games where it's a little bit of a gray area and you can stay away from some of your guys and use somebody else. It really helps."

• Utility man Ryan Raburn, who underwent left knee surgery in September, is nearly fully recovered, and he reported to Spring Training slimmer than last season. Raburn said he worked with a personal trainer for the first time over the winter and dropped 12 percent body fat in the process.

"I'm so proud of him," Francona said. "He ought to be proud of himself. He did a heck of a job. He's a veteran guy that kind of got ready the way he got ready, and then this year he didn't have a choice. Man, he looks great. I was so proud of him."

Raburn's solo dinger

• Only a handful of players have not already arrived to the Indians' Arizona complex for the start of Spring Training. Francona has been impressed with the turnout to date, and he said the setting and resources at the team's spring headquarters play a role in the recent trend of early arrivals.

"I think it's the facility and the weather," Francona said. "Getting outside and into this atmosphere really helps. I think guys probably realize that. Especially for the northern guys, man, when you get outside, it's different. So to kind of get out for a week or so [before camp begins], it really helps."

• Pitchers and catchers went through physicals throughout Thursday, and Francona said nothing unexpected came up. ("Nobody came running to me," quipped the manager.) Between physicals, players also met individually with Francona and general manager Chris Antonetti to go over goals for this spring and the season ahead.

• Outfield prospect Tyler Naquin saw his season with Double-A Akron end prematurely last summer when he had his left hand broken by a pitch on June 27. The 23-year-old Naquin had surgery one week after the injury, but he said he is feeling great and is unrestricted this spring.

• Indians pitchers and catchers will have their first official workout on Friday. Position players are required to report to Arizona by Sunday, and they will then undergo physicals on Monday. Cleveland's first full-squad workout will then follow on Tuesday.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.