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Did The Tribe Win Last Night? | December 20, 2014

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Bullpen Struggles Provide an Area of Early Concern

By Christian Petrila

Yours truly is not the type of person who panics a week into the regular season. Having said that, yours truly is panicking over the bullpen.

There are plenty of areas where the bullpen dissection could start, but let’s begin with one of the newcomers.

Dan Wheeler hasn’t lived up to half of the most modest expectations coming into this season. In only 3.1 innings, he has allowed three earned runs. He’s also walked three more batters while allowing a home run. All that, and he’s only faced 17 batters. His ERA? 8.10. For his sake, he’ll need to turn his performance around before the Indians send him out like they did with so many other non-roster invites this spring.

Almost nobody had heard of Jairo Asencio at the end of spring training. The Indians claimed him off of waivers from the Braves and he could very possibly be one of the most consistent arms in the bullpen. He has made five appearances. His ERA is a bit high at 5.63, but that number could be very deceiving. He leads all Indians relievers with eight innings pitched, but he has only allowed runs in two of those innings. He allowed the decisive three runs to the Blue Jays on Opening Day and two runs to the Royals in the ninth inning of the series finale. Other than that, he has been extremely solid. In those eight innings, he has nine strikeouts. The Indians just need to hope that they don’t use him to the point where he is all used up by the All-Star break.

Tony Sipp. This season is already a mess for the 28-year old southpaw. He has been absolutely shelled in only 3.1 innings of work. He is supposed to be a lefty specialist, but it’s the lefty batters that are specializing off of him. Lefties are hitting .333 against Tony Sipp. Righties are feasting off of him even more, hitting .400. His ERA is 13.50. He needs to return to his 2011 form, or Nick Hagadone may be inClevelandto stay.

Rafael Perez is the other southpaw in theClevelandbullpen. He has also had a rather shaky start to the season. He and Dan Wheeler are the only 30+-year olds in the bullpen, and they’re pitching like they’re on the back nine of their careers. Perez has an ERA of 7.36. Control has been a major issue for him in the early going. He has given up three earned runs in 3.2 innings and has also surrendered three walks. The Indians were probably looking at trade offers for him during the offseason. He isn’t improving his trade value thus far.

With the exception of two pitches, Vinnie Pestano has been very solid. Through 4.2 innings, he has only allowed two runs. Both of those runs were via solo shots. One was at the hands of Kelly Johnson and the other to Yuniesky Betancourt. Other than that, he has been overpowering. His seven strikeouts in 4.2 innings are good for a 13.5 K/9 ratio. He also hasn’t walked a single batter. In fact, he’s the only Indians reliever who has yet to allow a walk. Overall, Pestano should be in good shape if he can just keep the ball in the park.

The sidearm wonder of the pen is Joe Smith. His 3.60 ERA is the lowest among all the relievers. In his five innings, he has allowed two runs and struck out five batters. However, one area of concern could be that he has allowed seven hits in those five innings. However, his mechanics are all there. His slider is still moving like crazy and he has that good high fastball. The Indians have nothing to worry about with #38.

Finally, there’s the anchor of the bullpen: Chris Perez. To sum up Opening Day in one word for Perez, it would have to be: catastrophic. However, to sum up his work since then, it would have to be: efficient. He did wipe an Opening Day win away by allowing three runs in the ninth, but he has been nothing short of brilliant since then. He has gone three innings while allowing no runs, one hit and striking out three. He is doing a good job of silencing all the skeptics.

There are plenty of reasons for Indians fans to be worried about the bullpen. In fact, I count three with room for a fourth. Luckily, there are ways for the Indians to address their needs, should the struggles continue.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images