Lonnie Chisenhall has gone from being on the bubble during spring training to the Indians’ most improved offensive player.
Chisenhall’s .358 batting average is second in the majors among players with at least 120 plate appearances. Quite a turnaround considering last year at this time he was in Columbus after hitting .213 and lost his job at third base.
"I think the way I’m approaching things this year is definitely helping out," Chisenhall said. "Last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself instead of letting my work and aggressive play speak for itself."
Even when Chisenhall was called back up in mid June last year, the highest his average got the rest of the season was .242. He finished batting .225.
When he came to spring training this year, Chisenhall wasn’t guaranteed a roster spot, especially with Carlos Santana moving to third. Even with the added pressure, Chisenhall seemed more relaxed as he hit .306 with three home runs and nine RBI. A talk with Terry Francona and general manager Chris Antonetti, where Chisenhall said he would take on any role possible, established a tone that has carried over into the first two months of the regular season.
Chisenhall said in the past he didn’t do a good job of communicating how he felt and that it was important this season to let them know what he was capable of.
"Batting average aside, his growth and maturity in the way he is attacking and playing the game may be the single most thing I am proud of at this point," Francona said. "He took a frustrating year last year and turned it into growing into a mature player that seems to enjoy what you challenge him with. To see him make those strides is encouraging and gratifying."
In the 32 games that Chisenhall has started, he has a hit in 22. He is sixth in the American League in batting average with runners on base (.356, 16 of 45), seventh in batting average with two strikes (.281, 18 of 64) and tied for 10th in doubles with 14. Chisenhall also has the Indians only pinch-hit home run this season.
Even more impressive is after batting .111 against left-handers last season, Chisenhall is 7 of 13 this year.
"I’m just taking what’s given to me," he said. "Last year, I felt like every time I was trying to hit a homer or do a lot of damage, too much where it wasn’t to my benefit. This year if I get a good pitch just take a single the other way or up the middle, get it to the next guy and he’ll take care of it."
Chisenhall has shown plenty of versatility this year. Besides starting at third in 17 games, he has been the designated hitter in 14 along with seeing some late-game action at first in four games. Francona also said he could see a case this season where Chisenhall plays some outfield.
"We’ve got a flexible lineup and 3-4 guys who can play everywhere. Just to add a few more positions to my arsenal later in games will help out," Chisenhall said.