SAN DIEGO -- During his days managing the Red Sox, Terry Francona thought Jason Varitek approached catching in the best way possible. The top priority was leading a pitching staff; any offensive contributions were merely a bonus for the team.
"I was probably around the guy that was the best at that," Francona said. "He knew, if we were shaking hands, he did his job."
Francona continues to impart that lesson to Indians catcher Yan Gomes.
Throughout last season, when Gomes emerged as Cleveland's starter behind the plate, and heading into this year, the catcher has focused on leading the Tribe's pitchers. Moments of frustration in the batter's box will creep into play at times, but Gomes has embraced the idea that his offense is secondary.
"Tito has mentioned it," Gomes said, referring to Francona. "It's kind of ingrained in my head now. If I get a base hit, that's extra stuff. I just have to get the pitchers through it."
Last season, Gomes hit .294 with 11 home runs, 38 RBIs and an .826 OPS in 88 games for the Indians, playing a key role in their run to the American League's top Wild Card spot. Heading into Saturday's game against the Padres at the University of San Diego, the catcher was hitting .255 during Spring Training.
But prior to going 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs in Friday's 16-4 victory over the Padres, Gomes had been mired in a 1-for-17 slump. Francona sent Gomes to the Minor League side on Wednesday in Arizona in an effort to regain his offensive rhythm. Gomes said he had roughly 10 plate appearances while bouncing between Triple-A and Double-A.
"I was just trying to get a little, in a sense, confidence back," Gomes said. "I was just trying to take some more relaxed at-bats over there and get some work done and get some aggressiveness back a little bit."
Gomes said he was getting comfortable with the concept that hitting was not his top priority, though.
"I think it's gone pretty well," Gomes said. "When they go tell a young guy, 'We don't care what you hit,' it is kind of tough. But I feel like I'm making a constant effort of doing it, and I think it's gone pretty well."
Francona said Gomes had undoubtedly made strides in that area.
"For a player with his amount of experience, I think he's way ahead of the curve," Francona said. "I think his maturity is off the charts. The one nice thing with Gomes is, when you have to remind him, he's mad at himself. And, when we remind him, it's not because he's coming up short. It's that we want him to be that good."
Exhibition series is homecoming for Wolters
SAN DIEGO -- Tony Wolters did not expect to be joining the Indians during their trip to San Diego for two exhibition games this weekend. It was a welcome surprise when the catching prospect was informed that he would get the chance to head home.
"I'm having fun doing this," said Wolters, who is from nearby Vista, Calif. "I'm just honored for them to invite me."
Wolters, a standout at Rancho Buena Vista High School and rated the Indians' No. 9 prospect by MLB.com, was originally committed to play for University of San Diego, where the Indians played the Padres on Friday and Saturday. That plan changed when Cleveland selected the former infielder in the third round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.
As a high schooler, Wolters had the chance to play a tournament at USD's Fowler Park. During Friday's 16-4 win over the Padres, the 21-year-old catcher had two at-bats with an estimated 30 family and friends in the stands. Wolters said even more planned on attending Saturday's exhibition.
"I love seeing my family; I got to see my dogs last night, too," Wolters said with a laugh before Saturday's 9-8 loss in which he went 2-for-2 with an RBI. "They're the best. In the offseason I'm here too. I'm about 30 minutes north."
In 279 career Minor League games, Wolters has posted a .272/.350/.376 slash line in Cleveland's system. Last year, he began the transition to catching from the middle infield while at Class A Advanced Carolina.
Indians manager Terry Francona said the team invited both Wolters and Minor League first baseman Jerrud Sabourin to join the big league team on this trip because of their roots in the San Diego area.
"That's what we did it," Francona said. "There's no reason not to let the human side come into it. It's great for the kid, and his family probably thinks it's awesome, too."
Wolters was grateful for the experience.
"Being in the dugout with the guys, the chemisty everyone has, it's just really cool," Wolters said. "Being around everyone, it makes me just realize that I can't wait [to reach the Majors]. I just want to keep working and get here as soon as possible. That's the plan."
Indians add Lowe to Minor League bullpen
SAN DIEGO -- The Indians added experience to their bullpen depth on Saturday, reaching an agreement with free-agent reliever Mark Lowe on a Minor League contract. The club had not officially announced the deal immediately following Saturday's 9-8 exhibition loss to the Padres.
Lowe was released by Tampa Bay on Wednesday after being informed that he would not be part of the Rays' Opening Day relief corps. The right-hander is expected to report to Triple-A Columbus once the contract with Cleveland is officially completed.
Lowe said Wednesday that he had no hard feelings over Tampa Bay's decision.
"I have a lot of respect for this organization," Lowe said. "The reasons they brought me in here and the way that they treated me, they're a class act."
In parts of eight seasons in the Majors, the 30-year-old Lowe has a 4.17 ERA in 264 games over stints with the Mariners, the Rangers and the Angels. Lowe had a 9.26 ERA in 11 appearances for Los Angeles last season, but he posted a 3.63 ERA with 70 strikeouts against 32 walks in 84 1/3 innings with Texas from 2011-12.
This spring, Lowe allowed just one earned run with 12 strikeouts and one walk in 10 1/3 Grapefruit League innings.
"I've never had a spring go this well," Lowe said Wednesday. "I was throwing a lot of strikes. I had good stuff. And I was using both sides of the plate with all of my pitches. That usually doesn't happen with me during Spring Training, so I came in and did what I had to do."
Cleveland's Opening Day bullpen includes closer John Axford, setup men Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw, lefties Marc Rzepczynski and Josh Outman and right-handers Vinnie Pestano, Blake Wood and Scott Atchison.
Quote to note
"It was kind of like a video game. The ball was flying, the infield was fast and the radar gun was juiced."
--Indians reliever Blake Wood, who had a pitch clocked at 102 mph during Friday's 16-4 win over the Padres at the University of San Diego's Fowler Park
• Francona said one of the most important lessons from the 2013 season was that the current team has the ability to bounce back from bad slumps. During the '11 and '12 seasons, second-half collapses derailed Cleveland's hopes of contending. The Tribe avoided a repeat last year, winning 21 games in September and reaching the postseason.
"You try to take what happened last year and make it an advantage," Francona said. "Take the experience, take the positives and build. The one thing I think will help is, when we get punched in the stomach, which we will, we'll know down deep that we are good enough to come back.
"It's not just the younger guys. It's everybody. At the beginning of last year, I remember looking out and thinking like, boy, you could see a lot of, 'Oh, here we go again.' We were trying to fight that, because that's not how we felt."
• Francona said he thought Indians outfielder David Murphy was showing clear signs of breaking out of his spring slump. Entering Saturday, Murphy had gone 4-for-9 with two doubles in his past three games, following a .163 (7-for-43) skid at the plate. Francona said Murphy benefited from getting 10 plate appearances in Minor League games on Tuesday.
"It really helped him," Francona said. "He's getting hot at the right time. You can see when he swings now his legs are under him, he's kind of committed to his swing and the ball's coming off his bat different."
• Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis made it known earlier this spring that he would prefer not to discuss a contract extension during the regular season. General manager Chris Antonetti declined comment Saturday when asked if there had been any progress on that front. Kipnis has also been consistent in not commenting on negotiations.
• The Indians are expected to place center fielder Michael Bourn (left hamstring strain) and designated hitter Jason Giambi (fractured rib in right side) on the 15-day disabled list on Sunday. Bourn remains in Arizona, where he is continuing to work through a running program. Giambi is scheduled to progress to regular batting practice on Monday in Oakland.
• Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who is scheduled to make his season debut against the Twins on April 5 in Cleveland, logged six innings in a Minor League game with Double-A Akron on Saturday. Carrasco finished with two runs allowed on five hits with four strikeouts and no walks.