After a very promising spring training, countless experts and fans alike anticipated a breakout season from Cleveland Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. Chisenhall, who was entering his third season with the Tribe, earned the starting spot at the hot corner after dominating opposing pitchers in spring training. After two injury-riddled and inconsistent seasons, it seemed that Indians fans were finally going to see the former first-round pick start living up to the potential promised by his ultra-smooth swinging stroke. And then the regular season began.
During the month of April, Chisenhall hit .222, as the Indians stumbled to a mediocre 11-13 start. As the team started to heat up in early May, however, Chisenhall’s swoon continued. After 22 at-bats in May, he had only connected on four hits while producing zero RBI. As his offensive struggles persisted, his already-poor defense began to suffer along with it. It has yet to be determined whether or not Chisenhall’s outrageous-looking mustache had anything to do with his poor performance on the field (it had to be said). Regardless, he was sent down to Triple-A Columbus on May 13th.
Since the demotion, Mark Reynolds has been the primary replacement at third base for the Tribe. Reynolds, who had mostly been
slotted at DH during the early portion of the season, was on a major hot streak at the time of the move (as was most of the ball club). As the month rolled along, Reynolds saw his hot streak quickly turn into an ice-cold streak that has now stretched into the month of June. So far this month, Reynolds has just five hits in 37 at-bats. In a similar fashion to Chisenhall’s earlier slump, Reynolds has seen his defense suffer as a likely result of his offensive struggles. No mustache is to blame for this June swoon, though, and given Reynolds’ track record, it would be easy to dismiss this season’s on again/off again performance as just Mark being Mark. As Lonnie Chisenhall remains in Columbus, however, Indians fans are left wondering whether Mark Reynolds’ poor performance could be somewhat alleviated by simply moving him back into his previous everyday role of DH.
While Reynolds and the Indians have fizzled in recent weeks, Chisenhall has been busy replicating his spring training numbers in Columbus. Through 23 games, the 24 year-old Chisenhall has a .402 batting average to go along with six home runs and 24 RBI. These stellar numbers have not gone unnoticed, as manager Terry Francona has been tracking Chisenhall’s progress with the Clippers. So what’s stopping Francona from bringing Chisenhall back up? Defense. Though he has been impressive on offense, Chisenhall has continued to struggle defensively at third base. He has already committed eight errors during his short stint in the minors this season.
There’s no telling whether Chisenhall would be able to continue his current torrid pace at the plate if he were to be brought back up to the big leagues during the next few weeks, though seeing him succeed with the Clippers is encouraging, nonetheless. Sending Chisenhall back up could allow Mark Reynolds to make the move back to DH and possibly pull him out of his current funk. Given Reynolds’ importance during the Indians’ hot streak in May, getting him back on track is obviously one of Terry Francona’s top priorities. However, as long as Chisenhall continues to struggle defensively, the wait for Chisenhall’s return to the hot corner and Reynolds’ return to success at the plate may continue for much longer than any of us would like.