Fifth Starter Battle Begins With Slowey
Each week through Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and break down the players in camp for the Indians at Goodyear, Arizona and examine their potential roles for the season to come. This week, we continue our Goodyear coverage by breaking down the players who are battling for a chance to make the Opening Day roster.
By Craig Gifford
When the Cleveland Indians acquired Derek Lowe from the Atlanta Braves this past Halloween, it seemed they would go into spring training with zero questions about their starting rotation. Lowe was set to join incumbents Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin and Fausto Carmona as a starting five with question marks, but long on potential.
Plans got scrapped in January as Carmona applied for his visa to leave the Dominican Republic and head back to the United States. Carmona was arrested for assuming a false identity, his real name being Roberto Hernandez Heredia. With the loss of Hernandez for the foreseeable future, it put a once stable rotation into a state of flux.
Instead of being the No. 5 starter as most assumed, the 38-year-old Lowe will now likely open the season as the No. 4 man. A spot in the rotation became open, leading to one of the tougher positional battles this spring as to who the fifth start will be.
Rather than hope one of their in-house candidates could step forward, the Tribe went outside the organization and acquired veteran Kevin Slowey in a trade with the Colorado Rockies. It was a move indicating the team did not fully believe Hernandez would clear customs any time soon and that the organization was not completely enamored with the pitchers it has on the minor league level.
In five seasons, all with the Twins, who traded Slowey to the Rockies after the 2011 campaign, the right hander has had his ups and downs. It was mostly ups, however, until 2011. From 2007-2010, the 28-year-old enjoyed a lot of success. In 2010, he was 13-6 with a 4.45 ERA. He had his best ERA in 2008 at 3.99, with a 12-11 record. Always thought to be a reliable, middle-of-the-rotation starter, Indians management had been watching Slowey from a distance for several years.
However, Slowey’s 2011 season was rocked with injuries. Shoulder and abdominal issues limited Slowey to just eight starts. Never pitching at perfect health, he struggled to his worst season, by far, slogging to an 0-8 record with a 6.67 ERA. Even with the nightmare season, though, Slowey’s career numbers are a respectable 39-29 with a 4.66 ERA.
If Slowey can rebound to his pre-2011 form, he could slide nicely into the back end of the Tribe rotation. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee Slowey can fully bounce back, explaining why two teams in one offseason were willing to part ways with him.
Slowey will see a lot of competition for the final starting job from four in-house pitchers. The two starters with most tenure of that group are the left-handed David Huff and righty Jeanmar Gomez. Both have struggled at times, but both have shown potential.
Huff would give the Indians a southpaw that currently is not in the Cleveland rotation. However, he has much to prove. In 2009 and 2010, he posted ERAs of 5.61 and 6.21. In multiple tours of duty with the Tribe last year, it seemed Huff may finally have been figuring out the major leagues – posting a 2-6 record, but a vastly improved 4.09 ERA. Was that a sign of improvement or just a stretch of solid pitching that won’t last? That is a question to be determined in the next month in Goodyear, Arizona.
Like Huff, Gomez has been up and down with the Tribe the last couple years. He struggled in 2010 and in his first go-round with the Indians last year. However, Gomez, like Huff, seemed to figure things out late in the season. He won his last four starts after a late-season promotion from AAA. Cleveland brass would love it if that was a sign he turned the corner and carries that momentum into this spring.
Two other in-house candidates for the fifth spot are rookies Zach McAllister and Scott Barnes. They are the true long-shots of this race. McAllister got his first taste of the big leagues last year, with four starts. He posted a 0-1 record and 6.11 ERA. He probably needs more seasoning on the farm. Barnes is interesting as he is a lefty the Indians could turn to at some point. After struggling in the minors for a couple years, he came on at Columbus last season. He was 7-4 with a 3.68 ERA and caught the eye of Indians management. He, too, likely needs some more time on the farm, but could be left-handed option later in the year.
That all leads back to Slowey. The former Twin has had, by far, the most success of all the potential No. 5 starters. If he can overcome last year’s injuries and pitch like the pitcher of his first four years, he should get the first look when Cleveland breaks camp. He is supposedly healthy at this point. If that is true, he deserves a spot in the rotation. If he struggles early or goes down with injury again, the Indians are not out much and can turn to one of the handful of kids who will have gained just a little more experience in Columbus. Options – it’s a nice problem for Cleveland to have.
Photo: Jordan Bastian/MLB.com