Nine questions, none extremely brilliant, that Anthony Castrovince agreed to answer. If you guessed one of them would center on the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series, you win a cookie.
VG: We see the 0.00 ERA, we hear all the good things about his health, we read about his dominance in spring training, but coming from someone who's watched him in person, just how good does Kerry Wood look?
AC: He’s honestly looked great from his first bullpen session on. The coaches thought he actually looked too good too early and were going to try to rein him in before he had a little lower back issue that put him on the shelf for a few days. I really think that if this guy stays healthy (big “if,” I know), his stuff is so good and so overpowering that I’m not sure Indians fans accustomed to antacids will know what to do with themselves in the ninth inning.
VG: On the other end of the spectrum, Travis Hafner: It must be pretty hard to look at him now, even with all the caveats coming from the club about his "regaining his timing" and "working hard" and whatever, and reasonably expect him to be any sort of a force in the lineup, right?
AC: I have no idea what to expect, and neither do the Indians. You can forgive him for his timing being off for much of this spring. The guy only played in 57 games last year. Watching his at-bats, he has done a better job getting into hitter’s counts than he did last season, so that’s encouraging. But I think there are still some fundamental flaws in his swing that are a product not just of the missed time but the way his body naturally compensated for his shoulder pain. He’s trying re-learn his old swing, in a sense, and it’s going to be a process.
VG: Dovetailing on that, if he struggles, how soon do you think Wedge would consider moving him down in the lineup?
AC: Generally speaking, Wedge is a patient man in such matters, and you could certainly make the argument that he’s patient to a fault. I actually think some of his reasoning with having Hafner in the middle revolves around Shin-Soo Choo. At the moment, Choo has also had some issues with timing as a result of the time he missed while playing in the World Baseball Classic, so Wedge doesn’t want him in a prominent spot at the outset of the season. Wedge likes to balance his left-handed and right-handed hitters, so if you move both Hafner and Choo down, you lose that balance. Still, if it’s my team, Pronk’s batting sixth and no higher right now.
VG: Second year slumps. Asdrubal went through one. Kelly Shoppach and Shin Soo Choo will both be appearing in their second year of extensive playing time. Can they put up similar numbers and avoid the sophomore slump?
AC: I think Shoppach is what he is — a big-swinger who’s going to hit his share of home runs and strike out a ton. In that regard, I don’t think he’ll be affected much. Choo will definitely come down to earth a little. He was one of the top three hitters in the league in the second half last season, and that’s not likely to be repeated. But I can vouch for the fact that nobody in that clubhouse works harder or is more dedicated than Choo. When he’s been healthy, he’s been productive at every level of his professional career (you couldn’t say that about Cabrera). I think Choo’s going to be a legitimate threat.
VG: I think April 27 is very generous in the Masa optioned/released pool.
AC: What can I say? I’m a generous guy. But yeah, for a while there, it was looking like March 27 was a pretty good guess.
VG: Slots 3-5 in the rotation are obviously sketchy, even though I think Anthony Reyes is going to have a great year. The point is: Whether through precaution in the face of potential arm problems (Reyes, Pavano), or talent, the bullpen looks to be mighty busy when those three guys are on the mound. How important is it for Cliff and Fausto to go out and provide quality innings to save the bullpen and do you think either is up to that challenge?
AC: Hold your arms out to each side, as far as you can possibly reach.
Yeah, about that important.
I’m worried about the burden the back end of the rotation is going to place on what should be a good bullpen. The whole season hinges on those 3-5 spots, and it’s a sketchy group.
VG: How much do you think Clevelanders will love Joe Smith and DeRosa by the end of the year?
AC: These guys are right up your alley, if you’re a Cleveland fan. They work hard, they’re gamers and they’ve got very likeable personalities, from what I can tell over the last two months. DeRosa, especially, will be a crowd-pleaser. A lot of fans never warmed to Casey Blake — too caught up in his average with runners in scoring position to appreciate all the good he brought to this team — but I don’t think they’ll take long to warm to his replacement. Cubs fans are still downright inconsolable over that trade.
VG: Garko/Shoppach/Martinez.... and I suppose you could throw Hafner in the mix as well... how do you see this trio/quartet shaking out as the season progresses?
AC: My opinion could be skewed because I’m admittedly a Ryan Garko fan and he’s such a good guy, but he really worked hard this offseason, and I see him bouncing back this year and still getting somewhat consistent starts. I’m shocked to report that he handled the outfield corners well enough this spring that he wouldn’t be a liability out there, so I’m sure that will open the door to more opportunities for him and slightly lessen the complication at first base. The Martinez/ Shoppach thing will be based off the starting pitching as much as anything else. Initially, Martinez will be paired with Carmona, while Shoppach will pair with Lee and Pavano. The other two pitcher-catcher pairings don’t seem to be determined at this point.
VG: Win-Loss prediction...?
AC: I actually just wrote a mailbag column in which I point out that any time I did one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books as a kid, I would always wind up with the scenario that kills the protagonist. So please, by all means, don’t put too much stock (or money) in my guesswork. But I’m calling it at 88-74, which is probably good enough for second place in this division.