Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano are the backbone of the Tribe bullpen. Joe Smith is right there with them. There is no denying that the success of these three relievers will have a huge impact on which was the 2013 season will go for the Cleveland Indians. Each is at the top of their game and have the personalities to match. They are the core of the “Bullpen Mafia.”
Today, CP and Vinnie leave Goodyear to join the Team USA squad in the World Baseball Classic. Smith is still nursing an oblique injury and is about two weeks behind the rest of the pitchers. There is an opportunity that has arisen. The question is, who will step up and make manager Terry Francona take notice?
Tito was quoted as saying that CP, Vinnie, And Smith are the only locks at this point for the pen. That leaves four spots open with a lot of arms in the mix. Depending on how Francona and pitching coach Mickey Calloway want to go, there could be one or two lefties in that opening day mix.
Gone is old standby Tony Sipp, who was the mainstay lefty over the past four seasons. Who will take his place? Hard-throwing (and punching) Nick Hagadone is believed to have a leg up as the late inning lefty. There was his six-week run early last season where Nick was close to unhittable. It was tantalizing. His next month where he lost his control and was lit up like a Christmas tree was worrisome. Which guy will the Indians get in 2013? Reports out of Goodyear say that he has looked great. If he falters this spring, the next man up will be Scott Barnes. The former starter finished the season with nine straight scoreless appearances with the big club and could easily leap Hagadone as the top lefty. Looking at the two, Hagadone is the harder thrower and has more long term potential as a late inning guy, but Barnes has that delivery that is tough to track as a hitter. It wouldn’t shock me one bit if both made the team. Another Southpaw name to keep an eye on his Rich Hill, a non-roster invitee who was with Boston parts of the last three seasons. A converted starter, Hill posted a 1.83 ERA in 25 appearances last season. He was once a top prospect in the Cubs system.
Two right-handed relievers who came over from Arizona, Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers, are both coming off of decent seasons. Shaw is being groomed as a potential long-term replacement for Smith, who is a free-agent after this season and could be a hot commodity on the open market. Albers (2.39 ERA/1.13 WHIP in ’12) is more of a middle relief guy, but he is a veteran who pitched well for both Boston and Arizona in 2012.
The guy I really like is Cody Allen. A 23rd round pick in 2011, Allen has rocketed up the Indians prospect list, making his major league debut last season, something nobody could have possibly expected. He is another hard-thrower who dominated at every minor league level. He has options and could be put in Columbus to start, pitching the eighth inning to get ready for Cleveland, the way the Indians started Hagadone in 2012.
Then you have old standby Frank Herrmann, who has spent the last two seasons riding that I-71 shuttle between Columbus and Cleveland. Don’t forget two years ago, The Herrmannator was one of the most consistent relievers in Manny Acta’s pen. He is what he is – a middle relief filler guy. But he throws strikes and has major league experience. The real intriguing guy, if he gets healthy, is Matt Capps. Capps has been a successful closer in Pittsburgh and Minnesota, but has battled arm problems over the last year. If he can find himself and get healthy, Capps would be a great option for Francona. He certainly has the track record. I’ve never been a huge fan of his – he is more of a nibbler than a guy who strikes people out – but he has had plenty of success as a late inning reliever. Here he would be pitching in the sixth and seventh.
The Indians could also give lefty David Huff a crack as the long man, should they decide to keep one. Huff is what he is – a 4A starting pitcher – but he is out of options and since he is left-handed, the Tribe may need to give him a shot out of the pen to keep him around. He certainly is not going to win the fifth starter job over Scott Kazmir, Daisuke Matsuzaka, or Carlos Carrasco.
With Perez and Pestano now away from the club for a couple of weeks, it would behoove any and all of these guys to step up their games.