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Chang is the latest Tribe rookie with an opportunity

By JOE NOGA • Aug 30, 2019 at 9:30 AM

CLEVELAND — Yu Chang became the seventh rookie to make his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians in 2019 when he appeared in two games against Baltimore back in late June.

But the 2013 international signee from Taiwan went 0 for 4 with a pair of strikeouts against the Orioles and promptly returned to Triple-A as Jose Ramirez was reinstated from MLB’s paternity list.

When Ramirez suffered what is likely a season-ending broken wrist in the first inning on Aug. 24 against Kansas City, Chang was removed from the Clippers’ game against Toledo and recalled to the big leagues the following day. Now the 24-year-old infielder has a chance to up the timetable on his future role with the Indians based on how he performs in Ramirez’s place during the final month of the season.

Bobby Bradley, Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, Josh Smith, Oscar Mercado and Eric Stamets have each gotten a taste of the majors as rookies. Plesac, Mercado and Civale positioning themselves as key contributors for Cleveland’s playoff run this season. Chang would like to follow suit and plant himself firmly in the conversation for a role with the big league club next year.

“That’s the hope,” Chang said after going 2 for 3 on Sunday in his Progressive Field debut.

Chang walked and scored in the third inning on Kevin Plawecki’s two-run homer and collected his first career hit with a single off Royals starter Erik Skoglund in the fourth.

But the signature moment of his home debut came leading off the seventh, when he crushed a fastball from Scott Barlow 393 feet to the top of the wall in center field for a stand-up triple. Chang became the first Cleveland hitter to record a triple within his first three career games since Turner Ward in 1990.

Indians manager Terry Francona’s message to Chang when he arrived Sunday was to be himself. “Sometimes guys come up and they try to be something they’re not, and then they’re not what they are,” Francona mused.

Francona will use Chang and utility infielder Mike Freeman at third, but said playing time will be based on productivity rather than a straight platoon. After an off day on Monday, Freeman got the start on Tuesday in Detroit and had a hit and an RBI.

Chang started in Wednesday’s 4-2 win over the Tigers, but finished 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. In Thursday afternoon’s series finale at Comerica Park, Freeman shifted to second base to give Jason Kipnis an off day and Chang started at third. He was 2 for 4 to give him four hits in three games since the promotion.

In Triple-A, Chang played regularly at second, short and third for Columbus, rotating after three games at each position upon returning to the club following a finger injury that cost him a month and a half in May.

“We can’t just every day lament the fact that Josey’s hurt,” Francona said. “That’s not going to help us win games. Everybody has to chip in anyway. When we win, thats the way we win.”

Prior to his call-up, Chang had started to swing the bat well for the Clippers. He totaled nine homers and 39 RBIs in 68 games with a .748 OPS this season against Triple-A pitchers.

Chang homered twice with four RBIs against Toledo on Friday. Francona indicated that a challenge for Chang will be to find consistency at the major league level.

“He’d been real streaky,” Francona said. “When he gets in a good streak, it’s been really good. And then it’s been the other way, too.”

Chang garnered attention during the 2018 Arizona Fall League where he hit .337 with four doubles, four homers and 17 RBIs in 23 games for the Glendale Desert Dogs. He is rated the Indians’ No. 11 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline.

Starting pitcher Shane Bieber, who knows Chang as well as anybody in the Tribe’s clubhouse having played parts of the 2017 and 2018 seasons with him in Akron and Columbus, expects Chang to remain steady, no matter what the remainder of the season throws his way.

“He’s pretty mellow and just does his thing and he doesn’t put too much pressure on himself to begin with,” Bieber said. “He came up and produced right away and he just played like himself. He played Chang baseball and did really well.”

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