CLEVELAND -- The Indians practiced patience with third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and shortstop Jose Ramirez, even as the players' respective slumps carried on through May and lingered into June. At some point, too much patience can hurt both the win column and development.
Cleveland felt it had reached that stage on Sunday, so the club optioned both Chisenhall and Ramirez to Triple-A Columbus in an effort to help the Major League team and get the infielders back on track. Come Tuesday, the Indians will promote third baseman Giovanny Urshela and utility man Zach Walters from Triple-A to fill the vacancies on the Tribe's roster.
In a conference call with reporters Monday morning, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said there is no "immediate science" for knowing the best time to make such a drastic transaction.
"There's no way to say, 'This day is better than that day,'" Antonetti said. "We just reached that point over the weekend. Obviously, it's something that we've been talking about over the last couple of weeks, but it got to the point over the weekend where we thought it was best both for the team and for them individually to make the moves now."
The Indians headed into Monday's off-day with a 27-29 record, situated six games behind the American League Central-leading Twins and three games off the pace for a Wild Card spot. While it is still too early to pay too much attention to the postseason picture, it is not too early to make evaluations and changes based on the first two-plus months.
The 26-year-old Chisenhall (.209 average and .585 OPS in 52 games) and the 22-year-old Ramirez (.180 average and .487 OPS in 46 games) were both part of the Tribe's Opening Day infield, but they have been unable to get things together offensively. Cleveland had already made a recent change at shortstop, giving veteran Mike Aviles the start in four of the past five games.
"The thing we reiterated is how much we believe in them," Antonetti said of the team's conversations with Chisenhall and Ramirez. "And that we know they're going to be good players and, in fact, we're counting on them to impact our team at some point later on this season."
For time being, it appears that the 34-year-old Aviles will continue to serve as the Indians' primary shortstop, while the 23-year-old Urshela steps in as the main third baseman. Walters, who has had stints with the Tribe both this season and last year, can handle both short and third, along with second base and the corner-outfield spots.
"Gio and Zach Walters, they'll come up and fill roles on the team," Antonetti said. "Exactly how the playing time will be broken up between shortstop and third base will be to be determined at some point."
Urshela is the Indians' No. 4 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com and will be making his Major League debut in his first appearance. He has long been regarded by scouts as a slick fielder, but he has also improved at the plate since the start of last season. In 21 games in Triple-A this year, Urshela is hitting .275 with three homers and nine RBIs. In 104 games in Triple-A last season, he knocked 13 homers.
A back issue plagued Urshela in Spring Training and early April, but Antonetti said the young third baseman is fine now.
Many Indians fans probably expected the demotion of Ramirez to trigger the Major League debut of Cleveland's top prospect, shortstop Francisco Lindor, but Antonetti said the timing still is not right. The 21-year-old Lindor was named the International League's Player of the Week on Monday, and he has batted .271 with 17 extra-base hits, 21 RBIs and 24 runs in 53 games in Triple-A.
Antonetti noted that Lindor has been dealing with some minor injuries, but the GM added that it wasn't a "driving factor" in the decision to keep him with the Clippers for now.
"[Lindor] was a consideration," Antonetti said. "We felt it was best again for the team and for the individuals involved to go with this series of moves. Francisco is continuing to develop. He's making progress in Columbus and, again, we're very confident he'll impact our Major League team at some point in the near future."