CLEVELAND -- Lonnie Chisenhall understood that there would be an adjustment period as a center fielder. Before he headed out to the position on Thursday, one of his main concerns was line drives directly over his head. Of course, Chisenhall got two of them.
"That's how baseball is," Chisenhall said with a laugh on Sunday morning. "The ball will find you."
Chisenhall broke into the big leagues as a third baseman, but made a transition to right field with little issue two years ago. He was forced to learn that position quickly on the big league stage, and he knows it will be a similar situation this season with center. Right now, Chisenhall is using batting practice to get as many repetitions as possible to learn the ins and outs of reading balls from up the middle.
The Indians were confident that Chisenhall could slide from right to center for a few reasons.
Chisenhall's arm strength and quick release as an outfielder was one. In a limited sample this year, Chisenhall had an average exchange time of one second, per Statcast™. That was second to only Brandon Guyer (0.9 seconds) among Cleveland's outfielders, entering Sunday. Cleveland also felt Chisenhall's ability to get quick jumps could play well in center.
"He has ability to read the ball off the bat so well," said bench coach Brad Mills, who doubles as the Tribe's outfield instructor. "His jumps off the bat [are good]. He gets going, and that's why [we were confident he could handle center field]. We know he's got a good arm and he's got a quick release -- he's able to get it back in."
Chisenhall said moving laterally on fly balls is not much of an issue for him, but it will take time to get a feel for the line drives directly at him. Mills agreed that those are the toughest balls for a center fielder to read.
"If it's right at you," Mills said, "there's no doubt, that's the hardest one."
On Thursday, when Chisenhall was in center for the first time this season, White Sox outfielder Melky Cabrera sent a fly ball to deep center in the fourth inning. The fly ball had a catch probability of 82 percent (per Statcast™), but Chisenhall took a circuitous route, and the ball dropped in for a double. In the ninth inning, Leury Garcia hit a similar ball that also went for a two-base hit.
"I could've probably caught one of those. It's a matter of turning and going," Chisenhall said. "We've discussed taking the eyes off the ball for a second and making sure you get a good turn and a few good hard steps, and then picking the ball back up. It's only been two days or pre-work, so you try to do your best to simulate that.
"I did right field kind of on the fly, and it's going to be the same thing with center, where there's going to be things that you don't realize until after the fact. It's just a matter of getting those reps out there and through live-game experience."
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.