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Did The Tribe Win Last Night? | July 23, 2014

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In Battle for Bullpen Shaw is Left with Options

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 12 newcomers to the 40-man roster this winter and the role they can play moving forward.

By Mike Brandyberry

Good teams have depth and better teams are deep enough to have good players who can’t make the roster.

It may remain unclear just how good the Cleveland Indians as a whole will be in 2013, but their bullpen has been a team strength for the last two seasons. This season could be the deepest and most talented bullpen of right-handed pitchers the Tribe has had in recent history. It could be so deep that there isn’t room for everyone.

One of those right-handed relievers battling for one of the final spots in the bullpen is Bryan Shaw. Shaw was acquired with Matt Albers, Trevor Bauer and Drew Stubbs on Dec. 11 in the three-team deal with the Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks. A year ago, Shaw emerged in the Diamondbacks bullpen as a quality middle reliever, going 1-6, with a 3.49 ERA in 64 games and 59.1 innings.

Better yet, Shaw has a .211 batting average against right-handed hitters. “Shaw has that cutter that really is an explosive pitch,” Indians Manager Terry Francona said earlier this spring.

However, Shaw is very reliant on his cutter for success. While he dominates hitters with his cutter that barrels in on righties, the same pitch tails out over the plate against left-handed hitters. Shaw had a .333 batting average against left-handed hitters a year ago.

His inability to retire left-handed hitters with consistency could negatively impact his chances to make a very deep bullpen. Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith have been assured spots by Francona and Matt Albers is a five-year Major League veteran who is out of options who should make the team as the fourth right-handed reliever. Meanwhile, Cody Allen—Shaw’s biggest competition for a roster spot this spring—has been electrifying.

“He has options, I know he doesn’t want to hear that, but there is some flexibility there,” Francona said.

Most bullpens carry seven relief pitchers, with two left-handers, but Francona could elect to be unconventional and start the season with six righties. Another wrinkle in building the bullpen is Perez’s injury. Perez has been shut down for 10 days since developing shoulder soreness. He is currently restarting his throwing program with a goal to be ready by Opening Day. If he has any setbacks, or isn’t ready, another door could open for Shaw to make the roster.

Regardless of where Shaw begins 2013, at 25-years old and already having played parts of two seasons in the big leagues, he will likely see action throughout the season with the Indians. If he is one of the final righties to make the bullpen, or a Triple-A promotion during the season, Shaw is ready for any role he’s asked to serve.

“I think with anybody in the bullpen, we have our closer and set up guy pretty much locked into their spots and where they are going to pitch at but if we go into extra innings, they might not be pitching in the ninth,” Shaw told STO’s Spring Training Daily this spring. “You might find yourself pitching in the tenth or eleventh inning, so whenever the phone rings you gotta be ready and get it going.”

Likely Shaw’s role and whether he makes the Indians 25-man roster will not be decided until the final days of Spring Training. With several moving parts around him, he’ll have to continue to pitch and compete until the final week before learning his fate.

It’s a fate Shaw is resigned to in a deep, talented bullpen.

Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer