Early Season Injury Could Have Long Term Effects To Bullpen
By Mike Brandyberry
It is way too early in the Indians’ season to panic, but now might be a good time to start to have some concern about the Tribe’s season. A team cursed by injuries in 2011 seems to have forgotten to turn the page on the calendar.
Friday it was announced that Grady Sizemore has suffered a lower back strain and would be unavailable for Opening Day. Yesterday it was revealed that closer Chris Perez has suffered an left oblique strain and will be out for 4-6 weeks, however, he was not ruled out for Opening Day since closers have much less endurance and need less time to prepare for the season.
To many fans, Sizemore’s injury was almost expected since the centerfielder has been on the shelf for much of the last three seasons, but the loss of Chris Perez for the early part of the season could be a serious concern for the Tribe and their hopes to contend in the American League Central Division. If Perez is not ready on Opening Day, Vinnie Pestano would likely assume the role of the Tribe closer until Perez is ready. That would move Joe Smith back to an eighth inning set up man, assuming the role vacated by Pestano.
After Smith and Pestano, the right side of the bullpen could become very weak. Frank Herrmann could fill a middle relief spot. He pitched in long relief a year ago, but struggled in September when the Tribe gave him a chance to pitch in more pressure situations. After Herrmann, the Tribe’s right handed possibilities would include spring invitees, Dan Wheeler, Jeremy Accardo, Robinson Tejeda and Chen Lee. Wheeler probably has the best chance to make the team.
While it may not seem like a major adjustment, moving Pestano to the closers role and Smith to a key set up role can alter a bullpen. Historically, bullpens thrive when pitchers have assigned roles and stay in those roles. Setting up a bullpen with one plan, only to change it weeks later when Perez returns could create inconsistency and irregularity out of several of the key arms in the Bullpen Mafia.
In 2007, the Indians had a dominant bullpen, headlined with Joe Borowski, Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez. When Borowski had arm problems in 2008, and was finally released, it altered the entire set up of the bullpen. Betancourt struggled as the closer and was eventually removed from that role. The falter of the 2008 bullpen was one of the major reasons the Indians underachieved and did not return to the playoffs.
If Perez is unavailable to start the season and roles have to be shifted, the chances last year’s Bullpen Mafia finds themselves a little less invincible could rise. For a team who needs a good start to stimulate ticket sales and revenue while keeping early pace with the Detroit Tigers, they can ill afford a slow start or inconsistent pen. The Indians have never had a playoff team that did not have a dominant bullpen.
Perez claims he is not out of shape and just threw too hard in his bullpen session creating the oblique strain. He believes he can return in two and a half weeks, projecting a return to baseball activities at March 15, but if he can not, his late February injury could affect the bullpen in April and the Tribe’s record for the season.
Photo: Associated Press