Francona on spring progress of Marcum, Axford

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- In advance of a two-game weekend exhibition series against the Padres beginning Friday at the University of San Diego, the Indians made five house-cleaning moves Thursday morning for players who will not be traveling with the team to California.

Infielder Justin Sellers was optioned to Triple-A Columbus, while pitchers Shaun Marcum and Matt Capps and catchers Matt Treanor and Luke Carlin were reassigned to Minor League camp.

Marcum (thoracic outlet syndrome), Capps (right shoulder) and Treanor (left hamstring) will continue to rehab their injuries when the season begins, but Indians manager Terry Francona believes they all could end up contributing to the club this season under certain circumstances.

"Everybody has a little different scenario," Francona said. "The one big thing is it's all based on their health and their rate of coming back."

Marcum, who initially signed with the club in December to compete for a rotation spot this spring, has begun pitching in Minor League games, but the veteran right-hander still needs to build up his arm strength.

"I think he's doing a pretty good job of getting ready to pitch," Francona said. "He's not a power guy, he never has been, but he managed to find a way to get through the American League East [while with the Blue Jays]. We just have to get him some repetition, get him built up and see where he goes."

Sellers, acquired from the Dodgers on March 2, hit .450 (9-for-20) with four walks, three doubles and three RBIs for the Indians this spring.

Tribe confident in closer Axford to come out strong

John Axford on joining the Indians

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The way Indians manager Terry Francona sees it, gauging the readiness of a closer for the season based on his Spring Training is a near impossible task.

"You can send him out late in a game and make him face a team from Chattanooga, which doesn't really help," Francona said. "Or you can bring him in in the fourth inning against better hitters, but it's still the fourth inning. A lot of those guys pitch on adrenaline, so you do the best you can."

Although there's no real way to simulate a high-leverage end-of-game situation because of the often mechanical nature of Cactus League play, Francona is confident new Indians closer John Axford is more than prepared to handle ninth-inning duties come Opening Day on Monday.

"Oh yeah he is," Francona said. "When the bell rings, and hopefully we'll have a lot of opportunities, he's going to pitch well. We're looking forward to getting him on a roll."

Signed by the Indians in December following a stellar run with the Cardinals over the final month of the season and into the playoffs, Axford appeared in seven Cactus League games this spring, accumulating a 1.29 ERA over seven innings while striking out eight batters.

The Indians blew 22 saves last year, eighth most in baseball, so the club is relying on Axford to be a dependable asset at the back end of the bullpen.

Quote to note

"It has changed a bit over the years, but I think now what I look forward to is, as silly as it may sound, getting into the grind of the season. Just getting a lot of the firsts out of the way, where you're not answering the questions about the guy who got off to the 1-for-20 start or the guy who's 10-for-20, 'Do you think he's going to hit .500 this year?' When you get into the thick of the season, that's when you find out what kind of team you are."
-- Francona

Smoke signals

Michael Brantley (manager's discretion) and Mike Aviles (lower back soreness) were scratched from the Indians' lineup Thursday against the D-backs. In their places, Matt Carson got the start in left field, while Nyjer Morgan slid in at center.

Michael Bourn (strained left hamstring) has begun running the bases along with participating in other baseball activities. Placed on the disabled list Monday retroactive to March 21, Bourn will miss at least the first four games of the season, with April 5 representing the earliest possible return date.

"He's getting pretty active," Francona said. "He's out there today doing everything with our team except playing the game."

• Francona hasn't decided on his Opening Day lineup yet, but he does anticipate shuffling players around throughout the club's first series against the A's in Oakland.

"The one thing I think you'll probably see in that opening series is just about everybody will play," Francona said. "Some of that is the A's going right, left, right [Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez] and their potential bullpen, so I wouldn't be surprised if everyone plays, and that's probably a good thing."

• All of the Indians regulars will play Friday night against the Padres at the University of San Diego, said Francona. The team will then come back the following morning for batting practice before the manager plans to play his starters "quickly" then "get some of the other guys in."

• Asked if Brantley would play center field on Opening Day in place of Bourn, Francona said he is more likely to start him there against the lefty Kazmir for the second game, "That's probably more of the plan." 

That would leave either Morgan or Aviles in line to get the nod in center for the season opener.