Indians feel Chisenhall is ready for center field

Outfielder gets his first start at new position in finale against Royals

Indians feel Chisenhall is ready for center field

CLEVELAND -- The Indians intended to give Lonnie Chisenhall a test run as a center fielder during Spring Training, but his health troubles got in the way of the plans. During his Minor League injury rehab assignment last month, he patrolled center twice for Triple-A Columbus.

On Sunday afternoon, Cleveland took things a step further, giving Chisenhall the start in center field in a 5-4 win over the Royals. After outfielder Tyler Naquin was optioned to Triple-A on Saturday, manager Terry Francona noted that Chisenhall would get a look at the position, but it was a bit of a surprise that the move came so soon.

"Everybody knew he was going to be out there," Francona said before Sunday's rubber game. "He's a good outfielder. Repetition is the one thing he needs. I'm not sure in May how else to give it to him except to play him. You know what? If he doesn't make a play you can put it on me, but I think he's going to be just fine."

Bench coach Brad Mills, who doubles as the Indians' outfield instructor, feels the same way.

Mills said that Chisenhall has always taken fly balls in center as part of his pregame routine, ever since transitioning from third base to right field last season. Chisenhall has displayed above-average defense in right field and both Francona and Mills believe the outfielder's athletic instincts in the corner will translate in center, too.

"He's taken to right field so quickly," Mills said. "He's been out there messing around with [center] and so forth, and his jumps and everything look really good. ... There's probably going to be a few learning-curve things as we move forward, but he has done very well."

Entering Sunday's game, Chisenhall had logged 443 1/3 innings in the outfield, posting a 28.9 UZR/150 with 13 Defensive Runs Saved. That includes an American League-leading 11 out of right field last season, when he moved to the position in the second half.

Francona sent Chisenhall to center field in the ninth inning of Saturday's 7-0 loss to the Royals and he received his first test. With one out, Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar sent a fly ball to center, where Chisenhall glided a handful of steps to his left to make the routine catch.

"He's so comfortable in the outfield, that I think he actually enjoys it," Francona said. "In a game where we're getting beat up [on Saturday], you watched him go out there and he had a little energy, and he enjoyed the heck out of it. I think his reactions are so good that seeing the ball like you can in center field, I think he'll be very good."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.