The Cleveland Indians have sent Oscar Mercado to the Minor Leagues to begin the season.

Mercado was optioned to the team's depth camp on Sunday after he struggled in exhibition play.

He entered spring training as the favorite to win the starting job in center field, but the 26-year-old has continued to have problems at the plate and the Indians want him to get some extra work with Triple-A Columbus.

"He needs some time and, when I say space I mean not major league games hanging over his head, to get him back to where he can help us," Terry Francona said. "We've seen it. He's seen it. He's felt it.

"Nobody's giving up on him, and we wanted to make sure he understood that."