Francona enjoys pitchers' work in endurance test

Francona enjoys pitchers' work in endurance test

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona walked up to Minor League lefty Ryan Merritt, put his hands on the pitcher's shoulders and gave him a quick massage and pep talk. Merritt was Francona's horse in the conditioning race that took place on Friday morning.

At the end of the first official spring workout, all of Cleveland's pitchers took part in an endurance test on the agility field, where a series of electronic beeps and a recording of a voice counted down the time between a series of sprints. Pitchers were allowed to tap out when they became too tired, creating a competition that generated laughs and competitiveness.

"I had Merritt, just because he was young," Francona said. "And I told him if he quit, he was going down. I figured he'd probably give a pretty good effort."

The 23-year-old Merritt made it to the final three, along with Zach McAllister and Nick Hagadone. Merritt, who won the organization's Pitcher of the Year Award for his work with Class A Advanced Carolina last season, kept running until after 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber decided to stop. Hagadone then outlasted McAllister for the win.

That said, all Hagadone won was a "way to go" from Francona.

"I really liked it. I think the guys, you can see why we brag on our guys so much," Francona said. "They were laughing and having fun. ... I thought they did a really good job and we didn't have to pull any teeth to get it done. I really enjoyed that."

Here are some more notes and quotes from Friday:

• Major League Baseball announced some rule changes on Friday in an effort to improve the pace of games. One adjustment to the instant-replay system is that managers do not need to leave the dugout to challenge a call on the field. Francona already began that practice last season.

"That's kind of what I was doing anyway," Francona said. "I wasn't really big on going out on the field every time there was a close play. I felt like it was disrespectful to the umpires. At the same time, I didn't want to put our team at a disadvantage."

• Defense was an overall issue for the Indians last season, and it is an area the team wants to drastically improve this year. In these early workouts for only pitchers and catchers, Francona said the coaching staff is stressing the importance of attacking pitchers' fielding practice with a purpose. Bench coach Brad Mills also will increase the intensity of such workouts.

"There's certain things we certainly want to bring to their attention, and PFP is one of them," Francona said. "I think too often it can be something that fills time as they're going around. It's been in place forever. We'd like to not only do it correctly, and with a purpose and at a high standard, but we'll also have some drills that Millsy runs, like rapid PFP to try to push them a little bit, so we can slow the game down."

• Kluber, closer Cody Allen, and right-hander Gavin Floyd, along with setup men Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski and Scott Atchison, are among the pitchers scheduled to throw off the mound in bullpen sessions during Saturday morning's workout. Position players are scheduled to report on Sunday. Francona was happy to have camp officially in the swing of things.

"It always feels good," Francona said. "We've been out here for a while, but it's nice to get everybody together and it's nice to see them in uniform and doing organized drills. You get to start putting names with the newer guys and getting to see their personality and see how they react on the field. It's always fun."

Quote to note
"If you can't enjoy this right now, then you're really missing the boat. The weather is nice. We haven't lost a game, yet. Everybody's gas tank is more than half-full and going the right way. I try to tell every young player that came through our one-on-one meetings, 'Everybody wants to get to the big leagues, but don't lose sight of where you're at and how much fun it should be embracing your way to the big leagues.'"
-- Francona

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.