Prince news doesn't sway confident Tribe
Rising young club eager to battle for AL Central supremacy
CLEVELAND -- Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin was in his car driving, unaware that the landscape of the American League Central had suddenly been altered on Tuesday afternoon. It appears that slugger Prince Fielder is bringing his bat to the Motor City.
"The Tigers got him?" said a stunned Tomlin.
Indeed, Cleveland's primary nemesis has reportedly reeled in Fielder for $214 million over a nine-year contract. The Indians already figured Detroit would enter the 2012 season as the division favorite, but any doubt over the sureness of such a prediction has now been seemingly swept away.
No matter. A moment after learning the news, Tomlin shrugged off his initial shock.
"I'll be happy to pitch to him for nine years," said the pitcher.
That seemed to be the general reaction by the Indians' cast of confident youngsters. Cleveland finished as the runner-up to Detroit in the AL Central last season, but the club enjoys a good challenge. Adding Fielder to an already-potent Tigers offense -- albeit one without Victor Martinez, who could miss 2012 with a torn ACL in his left knee -- certainly presents precisely that.
"It was surprising," Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano said. "I think the whole entire baseball community is pretty surprised about it. If you were watching it closely, it looked like the Nationals were close to getting him. It sounded like the Mariners were in talks, too.
"I think the whole Victor Martinez situation really kind of forced their hand to try to make a move. I was surprised. But at the same time, we've got to take care of our own business on the field."
When reached via e-mail, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti respectfully declined comment until the Fielder signing was officially announced by the Tigers.
A year ago, the Indians paced the AL Central out of the gates but stumbled to an 80-win finish in light of a high volume of injury woes. Heading into this Spring Training, the Indians are healthy and hoping to take another step forward, which would mean closing the gap between themselves and the Tigers.
Where is Cleveland's confidence level after learning the news about Fielder?
"I believe it's exactly where it was yesterday," Pestano said. "If we're talking about how the news about Prince today affects our club, I don't think we have any less of a shot. We've got a lot of great pieces that, when healthy, have produced in the past, and will again."
Pestano, of course, referred to the likes of Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Michael Brantley and Travis Hafner, who all missed significant time due to health woes during the 2012 season. With the onset of Spring Training less than a month away, those hitters are healthy and will be important pieced within the Tribe's lineup.
Cleveland has had its share off offensive issues over the past few seasons -- that is why the club has been trying to add an impact bat this winter -- but the players believe the current group can bounce back as a whole.
"We saw what Grady can do when he's healthy," reliever Joe Smith said. "When he came out, he came out on all cylinders firing. Hafner, with the way he was hitting the ball last year when he was healthy, and the way our young guys stepped up -- Brantley and Carlos Santana -- with those guys banging, we've got some guys that can hit, too.
"I know we're going to put up runs. We're just going to have to bear down, especially against the Tigers. We know that they're probably the favorites in the division. If we want to win it, we've got to beat them. We've just got to go out there and blow it out, and let's see what happens."
Shortly after the news about Fielder began to spread, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis put his confidence on display on his Twitter account.
"The bigger they are, the harder they fall," wrote Kipnis under the handle @TheJK_Kid.
Kipnis then added, "#alcentral its still #TRIBENation."
Tomlin was quick to point out that if the Indians meet their goal of reaching the postseason, they would likely see hitters of Fielder's caliber. In that sense, Tomlin said that facing Fielder and the Tigers throughout the season would act as preparation for the stage on which Cleveland eventually wants to play.
"For us, in order to be the best, you've got to beat the best," Tomlin said. "If we end up playing in the playoffs, we'll be facing guys like him more times than not. ... I'm looking forward to facing guys like that. In the same sense, you've got to go out there and attack guys the same way you'd attack them, whether he's in the lineup or not.
"I feel like a good pitch gets a good hitter out most of the time, anyway."
And Tomlin still feels like the Indians can compete for the division crown.
"Things can happen," Tomlin said. "For us, if we all stay healthy and the pieces are in place, I feel like we have a really good team. I feel like we should feel confident in that and feel confident in the team that we have."
That is not to say the Tribe thinks it will be easy.
Far from it, in fact.
"It's going to be tough," Smith said. "We were kind of the underdogs anyway. We have a bunch of young guys that kind of would like to find out how good we are. It's going to be a good challenge for us.
"We're going to play them tough. We're not going to back down -- that's for sure."