GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Slowly and sensibly, Francisco Lindor is working his way back onto the field.
Surrounded by approximately 50 fans, more than a dozen minor leaguers, a few scouts, and various game operations and medical staffers, the Indians’ three-time All-Star shortstop played in a controlled Triple-A game Wednesday, a major step in his recovery from a right calf strain.
“The pitcher was nasty, great pitcher,” Lindor said about Dodgers right-hander Brock Stewart, who struck him out twice. “I’m blessed to be out there, happy to be out there.”
Lindor went 0-for-3 with the two strikeouts against Stewart on a practice field near Goodyear Ballpark, where his major league teammates played Milwaukee in a split-squad game.
Stewart got Lindor to swing and miss on a 3-2 pitch in his last at-bat with a cutting fastball. In his first at-bat, Lindor swung on a 3-0 count to get in his cuts, flying out in gusting winds to left.
“That felt good,” Lindor said. “I thought my swings were good. I controlled my approach and will build off that.”
Lindor worked the count full in his second at-bat, swinging and missing the last two pitches.
“I took it as Day 1 spring training,” he said. “Nobody goes 100 percent in spring training, unless you are trying to make the team. So, that’s how I went up there today. Took some good pitches, some I missed — a lot of them.”
Per the requirements of the medical staff, Lindor jogged to first base after making contact and while playing three innings in the field.
When asked if he could let it go and sprint, he said, “No, still not there yet.”
Lindor said his lack of full mobility was not a source of frustration.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be 100 percent, but you just go out there and play the game,” he said. “I am happy. I am blessed. Today’s a special day, so check the box.”
As for his next steps, Lindor will know more today.
Lindor, who reported no soreness or pain, did not have a ball hit to him at shortstop, but he did cover second on a steal attempt, putting the tag on a safe runner. He moved in or out or laterally with each pitch, hid his mouth with his glove to communicate coverages to second baseman Elvis Perez and showed spring in his step on a high pop that was caught by his teammate.
The Indians remain hopeful that Lindor will be ready for the club’s March 28 opener at Minnesota.
“With any sort of injury like that, there is no set date or set time table,” Indians general manager Mike Chernoff said. “We magnify the importance of opening day, and obviously, that’s on everyone’s mind, but that’s not what we’re concerned about. We’re concerned about making sure Frankie is completely healthy and in a really good spot to have a full season of performance, so we are taking it day to day.”
Lindor understands there’s more to play for than facing the Twins in two weeks.
“It is a special day, obviously being Opening Day,” he said. “But at the same time, I am more worried about the rest of the season and making it into the playoffs. That’s what we want; to make it into the postseason and win.”
One of baseball’s best all-around players, Lindor got hurt while working out in Florida early last month. He has been limited at spring training to batting practice and stationary fielding.
“He has been doing really well; he continues to progress in all of his activities,” Chernoff said. “He’s been out there a lot and we’ll continue to get him out there more. But we have to build him up volume-wise to where he can be at his position for the full nine innings. So, I don’t know how long that’s going to take, but I want to make sure he’s cleared all of those benchmarks before he’s in games.’”
Lindor hit .277 last season and set career-highs with 38 homers and 92 RBIs. He tied for the AL lead with 129 runs.
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