Hagadone Faces Uphill Battle to Make Bullpen
During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one of the players on the 40-man roster that is in need of a major bounce back season from 2012.
By Craig Gifford
With the departures of relief pitchers Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp during the offseason, the Indians now have a huge opening in their bullpen for a lefty – preferably one who throws strikes and is not afraid of the later innings.
Nick Hagadone would seem to fit the bill, for the most part. In parts of the last two seasons with the Tribe, the left-hander has shown the ability to strike people out and hold opposing bats at bay. The problem for Hagadone is that he has also shown the penchant for melting down.
Last season, Hagadone was called to the majors in mid-April and started off well. He had a sub-3.00 ERA through May, covering 16 appearances. In his first extended shot at the big leagues, the then-26-year-old was looking like he would be in Cleveland for a while. Then, the leaks began.
Hagadone labored through the month of June, posting a horrendous 14.73 ERA in nine appearances for the month. Then, on July 6, it all fell apart. He gave up two runs in two innings to Tampa Bay as Cleveland was preparing to send him back down to Triple-A for a little more seasoning.
After being pull from the Rays game, a month’s worth of frustrations boiled over and Hagadone punched an object in the clubhouse, injuring his pitching arm and landing on the disabled list the remainder of the season. The team put him on the minor league disqualified list, suspending his service time in the majors and his paycheck. That is a situation still being contested by the players union. Following a promising start, Hagadone’s final 2012 numbers were a 6.39 ERA in 25.1 innings. He did strike out 26 batters, but walked 15.
For what it’s worth, the 27-year-old lefty says he has put last year’s ugly final moments behind him.
“To start off the year having some success and then finishing it up with a not so good of June and then the way it ended, it was not the way I wanted things to happen,” Hagadone said during Spring Training Daily last week. “I’m just glad to be here and looking forward to this year.”
As for the hideous month of June and what went so wrong after going so right, Hagadone said it’s a matter of adapting more to the hitters at the Major League level.
“I think the biggest thing for me is I need to make adjustments in the big leagues because the hitters are so good,” he said. “If you fall into the same patterns or do the same things every time, they’re going to figure it out.”
Hagadone is now trying to prove to Cleveland’s coaching staff he has figured out how to pitch against those good, big league hitters. He is off to a good start. In two Cactus League games, covering two innings, Hagadone has not allowed a run and surrendered just one hit. He has four strike outs to one walk.
That is a nice start for Hagadone, but he will have to show Tribe Manager Terry Francona a lot more of that to make the opening day roster. While Francona has said he would like to have at least one lefty in the bullpen, it is not the all important thing. Most important to the skipper is having the seven best arms in the bullpen and their are a lot of good ones to choose from.
Closer Chris Perez, setup man Vinnie Pestano and late-inning ace Joe Smith are the lone guarantees to break camp in the Cleveland pen. After that, last year’s rookie phenom Cody Allen and veteran Matt Albers, who came from Arizona as part of the Shin-Soo Choo trade, seem to be the next safest bets. All five are right-handed.
That still leaves a dearth of relievers vying for what would seem to be two vacancies. Bryan Shaw, also received from the Diamondbacks, looked good in his first full year last year. He has a good shot to make the roster. After him are a lot of lefties.
Scott Barnes was up and down between Triple-A and Cleveland as a rookie last season. Barnes is a southpaw and has shown the ability to pitch well in the majors. Same goes for lefty David Huff. Huff is trying to earn a spot in the starting rotation. He is a long shot there, but could fill a valuable spot as both a left-hander and long reliever out of the bullpen.
In reality, Hagadone probably has better pure stuff that all three of the other lefties in camp. The question remains where his head is at. If his head is on the mound and he is focused on getting people out, he stands as good a shot as anyone to make the team. If he loses focus and falls into the habits of last June then he will be back in Columbus come April.
Hagadone could pitch well the rest of spring, but start start the year in Triple-A. That is more because of the number of pitchers competing for positions than anything. After the big five, Shaw may get in. The last spot could well go to Huff. He is out of options and long relievers/spot starters can be very important during an early season that brings the potential for rain delays and postponements.
Hagadone will be in the majors at some point this year, perhaps as early as he was last season. Someone who makes the Cleveland pen will surely struggle or get injured. Hagadone would likely be the first candidate to get the call up. It would be nice to see Hagadone fulfill his promise of being a 2007 first round pick by Boston. He and Justin Masterson could still combine to make the 2009 Victor Martinez trade to the Red Sox look decent. It just seems like it will have to wait a few weeks into the season, unless Hagadone has the type of spring where he leaves the team no choice but to bring him to Cleveland.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer