OAKLAND -- The Indians have entered uncharted waters by asking Carlos Santana to work as a backup catcher, third baseman and cleanup hitter to start this season. Under the circumstances, depth behind the plate is important right now for Cleveland.
Manager Terry Francona confirmed Monday that the club signed longtime backup catcher George Kottaras to a Minor League contract to help in that regard. Kottaras will head to Triple-A Columbus, but he is in a position to help Cleveland at some point.
"I don't know that we'd ever comment on potentially seeing a guy come up," said Francona, who managed Kottaras with the Red Sox in 2008-09. "That doesn't make any sense, but I have some history with George. He has kind of a potent left-handed bat and he's got some veteran experience. He's great in the clubhouse.
"Having George's experience was something we thought could help us. We wouldn't sign George to keep him in Triple-A all year. We don't know what's going to happen here, but, and he knows it, we didn't sign him to help Columbus win."
Kottaras has played in 295 games for four teams -- Boston, Milwaukee, Oakland and Kansas City -- in six Major League seasons, serving mostly in a reserve role. He has posted a .214/.324/.406 slash line in his big league career, but hit just .180/.349/.370 with five homers and 12 RBIs in 46 games for the Royals last season.
Francona also confirmed that right-handed reliever Mark Lowe has signed a Minor League contract with Cleveland and will join the Columbus roster, too. The 30-year-old Lowe has a 4.17 ERA in 264 games between stints with the Mariners, Rangers and Angels. This spring, Lowe allowed just one earned run with 12 strikeouts and one walk in 10 1/3 Grapefruit League innings with the Rays.
"He didn't make Tampa's team, but he had a really good spring," Francona said. "He looks healthy. He's a pretty good reliever. So, we'll let him go down there and pitch and you know we're going to need depth. We don't know who it'll be, but it's nice to have another arm."
New rules converge in reviewed play at plate
OAKLAND -- Major League Baseball made changes to its instant-replay system and instituted new rules covering home-plate collisions for this season. Both aspects of the game came together on a single play in the Indians' 2-0 win over the A's on Monday night.
In the sixth inning, Michael Brantley was called out at home plate after sliding into the legs of Oakland catcher John Jaso. To make sure he got the ruling correct, home-plate umpire and crew chief Mike Winters made the decision to contact the Replay Operations Center in New York.
Winters' initial out call was confirmed after multiple angles were reviewed.
"With the new rule," Winters told a pool reporter, "I just wanted to confirm what I saw on the field that the catcher did not block the plate unnecessarily. ... He was in fair territory. He gave the runner plenty of plate to go to, and so I just wanted to be sure."
With runners on first and third base and one out, Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera lined a pitch up the middle, where it struck A's pitcher Sonny Gray. Brantley attempted to score from third on the play, during which Gray retrieved the ball and quickly relayed it to Jaso.
Brantley slid into Jaso, the catcher held firmly onto the ball and Winters immediately called Cleveland's left fielder out on the play.
Brantley held his arms up in confusion, because he felt Jaso had blocked home plate before having the baseball in hand. Under the new rules covering collisions at the plate, a catcher must give the runner a path to the dish prior to having possession of the ball.
"I did not have a lane," Brantley said. "As you could see, I slid into both of his legs with my shins. It's a tough call. There's a gray area in there, but at the same time, hopefully next time we'll get that call."
Indians manager Terry Francona headed to the field and discussed the play with Winters, but it was not Francona who officially requested the replay. Winters had to call for the review himself, because managers can only challenge a safe or out call. Only the umpire can decide whether to examine if a catcher was blocking the plate in accordance with the new rules.
"I just wanted to check and see if Jaso had blocked the plate early," Francona said. "I just asked him if he'd look, because I thought maybe he got there a little too early. He said he'd check, and they did. Once they check, I have no idea what they're saying. I just appreciated him checking."
Naturally, the new replay and home-plate rules came together on the first game of the season.
"Right? The first day out. Opening Day. Shocker," Brantley said with a laugh. "That's fun, though. Hey, it's something new. It's exciting. Hopefully, next time, it'll go our way."
Morgan thrilled with chance to lead off for Tribe
OAKLAND -- Nyjer Morgan arrived to Spring Training as a long shot to open the season on the big league roster with the Indians. On Monday, the outgoing center fielder was in the leadoff spot for the Tribe's Opening Day lineup against the A's.
Morgan was honored to have the chance to begin Cleveland's 2014 campaign.
"It means a lot," Morgan said. "A lot of hard work put me here. The hard work doesn't stop. I have the opportunity to go out there and make something happen for the boys. I'm just going to stay within my game and do whatever I can to help this organization."
Morgan, 33, signed a Minor League contract with Cleveland in January and came into camp as a non-roster invitee during the spring. An injury to starting center fielder Michael Bourn, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a left hamstring issue, cleared Morgan's path to the Opening Day roster as a reserve outfielder.
Indians manager Terry Francona weighed a variety of options for the lineup's leadoff spot, but settled on Morgan due to his blend of speed and on-base ability. Francona said the fact that Bourn is progressing well, and might not be shelved for too long, also played a role in the decision to go with Morgan.
"Nyjer showed us some of the things he can do," Francona said. "And in a short span, he can do some things offensively that maybe can sway a game in our favor. And, it doesn't upset the rest of the lineup. If I thought Bourny was going to be a month or something, then maybe you start mixing and matching."
Morgan spent last season with Yokohama in Japan, where he posted a .294/.434/.795 slash line in 108 games. In six Major League seasons with the Pirates, Nationals and Brewers, Morgan hit .280 with a .341 on-base percentage and .364 slugging percentage in 583 games.
Morgan said he likes the look of Cleveland's lineup.
"There's a lot of firepower in there," he said. "From top to bottom, everybody is the right piece of the puzzle to help keep everything in motion from last year. As long as we can all just do our little part to make this team successful, I think we're going to have a lot of success."
As for his role going forward with the Tribe, Morgan said he is not getting too caught up in the details.
"I just plan on just showing up every day with a smile on my face," Morgan said. "I'm just so happy to be here and I'll be ready to go any time my name is called."
Bourn on track for speedy return from DL
OAKLAND -- The Indians are not expecting center fielder Michael Bourn to need much more time to recover from his left hamstring injury.
On Monday, manager Terry Francona indicated that Bourn could make a swift return to the lineup once he is eligible for activation from the 15-day disabled list. According to Francona, Bourn was scheduled to fly from Arizona to Cleveland on Monday to prepare for a Minor League rehab assignment.
Francona said Bourn might suit up for Triple-A Columbus, which is scheduled to open its season Thursday.
"We're going to talk to Bourny when we get back," Francona said. "I just know, when look at the reports and I see him doing well, I feel good, because that means he'll be back. Whether he's back on the day or a day late, that's not the end of the world."
Bourn is eligible to come off the DL on Saturday.
He injured his left hamstring while running the bases in a Cactus League game against the Giants on March 16. Francona said the center fielder went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles in a Minor League game Sunday and he was able to chase down a fly ball in the outfield.
"From all the reports," Francona said, "he did really well."
Bourn, 31, signed a four-year contract worth $48 million with the Indians prior to last season, when he hit .263 with six home runs, 21 doubles, six triples, 50 RBIs, 23 stolen bases and 75 runs in 130 games. Bourn underwent surgery on his left hamstring on Oct. 15, but the team has indicated that the current injury is unrelated to that issue.
Quote to note
"This is where I want to be. This is the organization I want to be with, honestly. It made it pretty easy. It's an extremely humbling exprience that they want to keep me here for a long time and they're betting on me. I'm ready to take over and I'm extremely excited about it."
-- Catcher Yan Gomes, on signing a six-year extension with the Indians
• Catcher Yan Gomes' new six-year pact will keep him in an Indians uniform through at least 2019 and potentially through the 2021 season. Cleveland currently has 16 players who are contractually under control through the 2016 campaign.
"A lot of those guys are guys that chose to be here," assistant general manager Mike Chernoff said. "So whether it's [manager Terry Francona], or a guy like Yan, or some of the players last year who signed here, they all want to be here. It's an environment, a culture that people want to be a part of."
• Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera opened each of the past three seasons as the second hitter in the Tribe's lineup. That role belongs to Nick Swisher to open this year. For the Opening Day lineup against the A's, Francona put the switch-hitting Cabrera in the seventh spot of the order.
"Mostly because of balance," Francona said of batting Cabrera seventh. "I hit him first a lot this spring, just because I wanted him to get that extra at-bat. We could've hit him sixth. We could've hit him fifth. I love [Michael] Brantley hitting fifth and I like our balance."
• Francona went with utility man Ryan Raburn at designated hitter Monday. Last year, Raburn hit .272 with 16 home runs, 55 RBIs and a .901 OPS in 87 games (243 at-bats) for the Indians.
"He had the highest OPS of our team last year," Francona said. "People look at him as a role player. I don't know that that necessarily has to be the case. He's got some thump in that bat."
• Inclement weather forced the Indians indoors for Monday's pregame workout. As a result, Jason Giambi (on the 15-day disabled list due to a broken rib) was unable to advance to batting practice on the field. Giambi, who is eligible to be activated Saturday, said he continues to feel good in his recovery.