Over the last three years, the Indians have constructed their bullpen in a certain way. You have the back-end, three-headed monster in Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez turning leads into wins. The names around them have changed, but the group as a whole has been solid since these three have steadied the ship.
The key to a good bullpen is having balance and several options. At least one of those pitchers is always a lefty matchup guy – a LOOGY (lefty one out guy) as many inside the game call it. The last two and a half seasons, the Indians key lefty was Tony Sipp, who came through the Indians system as a 45th round draft pick in 2004. Sipp definitely had his moments here and for the most part was solid. In four years in Cleveland, Sipp made 248 appearances and posted a 3.68 ERA.
It seemed as though Nick Hagadone was poised to take the late inning lefty role from Sipp last year, as he shot out of the gate looking dominant. Throught his first 14 appearances in 2012, Hagadone posted an ERA of 1.93 with 14 K’s in 14 innings. But then the wheels completely fell off of his wagon and he was demoted in early July. His ERA had ballooned to 6.39. Hagadone punched a wall after his last outing where he was tagged for two runs in two-thirds of an inning and broke his hand. That was the last we saw of him in 2012 The only Hagadone news was his grievance against the Indians for not paying him his Major League Salary while he was hurt, despite the fact that he was going to be demoted anyways.
Scott Barnes was in the mix last year as well. He made 16 appearances, nine of which came in the last month of 2012. In all nine, Barnes did not allow an earned run.
So with the expected return of the hard-throwing Hagadone and Barnes looking like a legitimate option for the 2013 pen, Indians GM Chris Antonetti had no qualms about adding Sipp into the big three-way deal that brought Trevor Bauer, Drew Stubbs, Bryan Shaw, and Matt Albers to Cleveland. For good measure, the Tribe gave former Cubs phenom Rich Hill a chance to make the team as the LOOGY on a minor league deal. A one-time starter, the 33-year old Hill missed parts of the last three seasons due to injury, but pitched well late in the season in Boston as a reliever. So the Tribe took a flier.
This spring in Goodyear, Hill impressed and made the roster as the late inning lefty. Hagadone made his first appearance in mid-April and again got off to a hot start. Thanks to circumstances out of his control (i.e. he had options and Hill and Matt Albers didn’t) Hags has been taking that I-71 shuttle back and forth to Columbus. After a solid April, it seemed like Nick was here to stay, but in May, his command failed him. He walked four in two and two-thirds (five appearances) and gave up six earned runs (20.25 ERA). He was sent back down to Columbus last Friday when Vinnie Pestano returned from the DL.
Hill started fast but hasn’t done his job of late. He was brought in last Friday to face lefty Raul Ibanez in a two-run game in the sixth against Seattle. He left a hanger right over the middle of the plate and Ibanez crushed it for a two-run bomb. He does have three holds, but has been just so-so in his role thus far (3.95 ERA in 17 appearances, 16 K’s/8 BB’s)
Barnes has been up twice this season, making three appearances.
Then there is David Huff. My feelings on the failed first round sandwich pick have been well documented. The Indians tried to turn him into a long reliever during the spring because he was clearly not going to be in the team’s future as a starter, and because he was out of options. He didn’t make the club and was designated for assignment. Any team could have claimed him on waivers for nothing and put him on their 40-man roster.
That’s a tough thing to have happen when you consider the fact that teams take shots on failed lefties seemingly every single day. So Huff took his demotion to AAA and worked out of the pen. With an open 40-man spot open and the need for an extra arm last week with the doubleheader with the Yankees on tap, the Tribe gave Huff one last shot. It wasn’t a good idea.
For some reason, manager Terry Francona used him in a two-run game against the Tigers Tuesday night. He gave up two runs on two hits, only getting one out and turning a bloop and a blast game against closer Jose Valverde to an easy finish for the Tigers. Last night, with Ubaldo Jimenez imploding early, Francona went back to Huff to eat some innings. Instead, he went just one inning, gave up four straight singles to open that frame, and was on the hook for three runs. After the game, it was reported that he was cleaning out his locker.
So where do the Indians go now for lefty help? The pen is tired thanks to the rain delay, Ubaldo’s four inning start, and Huff not doing his job. A new arm should be with them in Boston as they start a four-game series tonight. I believe it will be Barnes that gets another shot. Hagadone hasn’t been down for 10 days, so he isn’t eligible for a return yet.
Regardless of who comes up, the Indians need Hill and/or Barnes or Hagadone to step up their games to balance out the power of the righties in the pen. Cody Allen, Shaw, Smith, Pestano, and Perez are an extremely formidable group. The southpaws are currently the weakest link.