As much as we all worried about the Indians starting rotation heading into the 2013 campaign, I think we can all agree that the bullpen was the one spot where we felt the most confident. During the Spring, there were several candidates for only a few spots. A month into the season, Tribe manager Terry Francona has an embarrassment of riches and literally doesn’t have enough room for everyone.
Look at how things are breaking down starting from the back end down.
Chris Perez is the unquestioned closer. While “Pure Rage” has not had as many save opportunities as he would like, the man with the golden arm and mouth to boot has allowed just one earned run in his eight appearances. He is 3-4 in save chances and carries a WHIP of 0.88 with nine strikeouts. Vinnie Pestano mans the eighth inning and like Perez, has made eight appearances totaling eight innings of work. He has given up just two runs, has eight strikeouts, and a WHIP of 1.13. His four walks aren’t great, but so far, Vinnie has been Vinnie. The triumverate of late inning guys begins with Joe Smith. Smitty is once again performing like a champion. He hasn’t allowed a single run in his 10 outings, has 11 K’s in eight and a third innings of work, and hasn’t walked a single batter.
How’s that for a three-headed monster when you are ahead in close games?
But there is more.
Remember when the Tribe had their “relievers when they are winning” and “relievers when they are losing” the past couple of years? Sure, that still remains with the three-headed monster, but Francona can go in multiple directions if he wants to.
Bryan Shaw, a guy who is being groomed for a bigger job in the years to come, came over from Arizona with a reputation as a hard thrower with a killer slider. Thus far, he has lived up to his billing. With Smith a free agent after this season, 2014 could see Shaw assuming the key set up role. He has appeared in 10 games and has posted an ERA of 0.75 (1 run in 12 IP) with 15 punch-outs. Cody Allen, a 23rd round draft pick in the same class as Trevor Bauer and Francisco Lindor, has been no slouch himself. He has matched Shaw with 15 K’s in 12 innings pitched and has a solid 2.19 ERA.
As we sit today, the pen’s lone lefty has been Rich Hill, who signed a minor league deal this Spring. Hill was once a top starting pitching prospect for the Cubs and because of injuries has been remade into a late-inning lefty. Tito has used him against key left handed batters in the seventh and eighth innings and has watched as Hill has done the job. We have seen him eight times and his K per nine sits over 10. His four walks are concerning, but for the most part, Hill has done what he has been asked to do.
The shame of all of this depth is that someone had to be sent out when the Tribe needed a spot starter on Wednesday. The odd man out was lefty Nick Hagadone. On any other team, Hagadone is pitching in a set up role. The power throwing lefty looked a lot like the guy we saw last April and May last year, pre-implosion. We had dreams of Nick being the lefty version of Pestano. Those dreams are starting to become a reality. In his eight appearances, Hagadone has allowed just two earned runs and has eight K’s. During Ubaldo’s Monday evening masterpiece, Hagadone came in with runners on the corners and nobody out and didn’t allow a run to score. The only reason he isn’t with the big club right now is that he had options, and veteran Matt Albers (3.52 ERA/1.30 WHIP) doesn’t. Trust me though, he will be back as soon as possible.
As a whole, the Tribe’s bullpen has been filthy. Just take a look at the numbers, throwing out the two long relief appearances made by starters Corey Kluber and Brett Myers.
2-0/2.05 ERA/1.07 WHIP/71 IP/45 hits/16 ER/77 K’s/30 BB’s
That is extremely impressive.
This group will continue to be the team’s biggest strength. Now if the starting pitching can continue to pitch like they have over the past four games, we could be in for a real treat.
The three-game set with Minnesota starts tonight when Justin Masterson (4-2, 3.12 ERA) takes on Pedro Hernandez (1-0, 2.35 ERA). The weather should be great all weekend so come out and support this team!