Huff All Too Familiar With Roster Battle
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
A left hander who led his team in wins for a season sounds like just the kind of starting pitcher the Cleveland Indians can use. That is except for when you mention said pitcher’s name is David Huff.
Tribe fans have gotten to know Huff well over the last few seasons, more because he has struggled than coming anything close to being a lights-out pitcher. However, he was one of several serious candidates vying this spring for Cleveland’s fifth and final spot in the starting rotation. He has as good a chance as anyone to open the regular season with the Indians, rather than in Columbus, where he spent a lot of the past two years.
Huff first came on the scene as a rookie in 2009. He received a May promotion and stuck in the big leagues as the Indians struggled all season. He stuck mainly because he was winning games – something no other starter could find a way to do. He wasn’t dominating opposing hitters, as his 5.61 ERA that year would attest. However, an 11-8 clip was as good as it got for a Tribe starter in that dismal campaign.
Thanks to run support helping him lead the team in victories as a first-year pro, the team guaranteed Huff nothing in 2010. He battled in spring training and was the last pitcher added to that year’s rotation. He was back in AAA by midseason as he slogged his way to a disappointing 2-11 mark and even worse 6.21 ERA. The organization seemed ready to pull the plug on Huff. He went into 2011’s training camp with little to no shot at earning a spot on last year’s Opening Day roster and was in Columbus when the year began.
Due to injuries to Cleveland starters last year and rebirth in the minors, Huff got noticed as a possibility to be called up to the Indians. He showed more major league readiness than ever in 2011. A 2-6 record was not good, but the ERA was finally respectable at 4.09. He was finally getting the game’s top hitters out on a more regular basis.
Because of last year’s improved performance, Huff is now back to where he was before the 2010 season. He is not, nor will anyone else supplant, embedded starters Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin and Derek Lowe. However, he can claim the fifth spot with a solid spring effort.
Kevin Slowey entered training camp as the slight favorite to claim the final job in the rotation. The Indians acquired him in a trade with the Rockies after they learned Roberto Hernandez would be lost indefinitely for failing to clear Dominican customs. Slowey has had the most major league success of any of the hopefuls looking to round out the Cleveland rotation. However, he struggled last year with abdominal and shoulder injuries and was not the same pitcher he was the first several seasons of his career. He is not a lock to break camp with the Tribe.
Jeanmar Gomez is in the same situation as Huff. He has spent the last two years bouncing between Columbus and Cleveland. He, too, found success late last year and is looking to prove it wasn’t just a flash-in-the-pan performance.
The long shots in the competition are Zach McAllister and Scott Barnes. McAllister had a brief stint in Cleveland last year, but likely will need more minor league seasoning this year. Barnes has yet to make his major league debut and that is probably several months away from happening, if it even happens this year.
Huff, as a lefty, would be the only starter in the rotation from that side of the mound. The incumbents are all right-handed. Still, he has a lot to prove this spring to make people forget about his 2009 and even worse 2010 struggles.
Everything being equal, Slowey probably has the slight edge for his longer and more successful history in the big leagues. If he falters, the doors are wide open and Huff has a shot to walk right in.
Photo: Associated Press