Bullpen Taking Shape with Two Weeks Remaining in Camp
By Mike Brandyberry
The picture that is the Indians’ Opening Day 25-man roster is starting to become clearer by the day.
Friday night, WTAM’s Nick Camino tweeted that Cody Allen will open the season in the Tribe’s bullpen and that Indians’ Manager Terry Francona told him last week. Allen has had an electric spring, with Francona commenting how he came to camp with something to prove.
“He obviously knows he’s coming to camp with something to prove,” Francona said earlier this month. “He looks like he is in midseason form. You never tell a guy to back off, but it’s obvious he worked hard and prepared for Spring Training because his stuff is electric.”
The bullpen may be the last element of the Indians’ roster left with any decisions to make. Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith have been assured spots publicly by Francona. The addition of Rich Hill to the 40-man roster this week seems to indicate he will make the roster. Hill is out of minor league options so adding him to the 40-man roster seems like an inevitable Opening Day spot. Now Allen’s addition seems to solidify the fifth spot in the bullpen.
Likely that leaves room for one left-handed and one right-handed pitcher to fill the bullpen. Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw, each acquired in the three-team trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks, are left competing for the right-handed spot. Albers is a five year Major League veteran, also out of options, while Shaw still has a minor league option. Francona discussed this week how Albers can be an effective middle reliever and innings-eater to save a bullpen, if necessary.
“He is one of those guys that knows when a staff is struggling, he’ll take the ball,” Francona said last Sunday. “That’s commendable. You might see a little higher ERA at the end of the year because he took a couple for the team, but he’s always got a job somewhere because people respect that.”
That leaves the final left-handed reliever spot left to battle between Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes and David Huff. Huff is out of options, but has had a lukewarm spring and has already been removed from the fifth starter competition. If he doesn’t make the team, the Indians may be content to try and slide him through waivers and back to the Triple-A bullpen or be willing to risk losing him.
Barnes and Hagadone have minor league options remaining. However, Hagadone has to be perceived the favorite at this point. He has not allowed a run in five appearances this spring and opponents are hitting only .118 in Cactus League play. Last year Hagadone had trouble getting ahead of hitters, but this spring he has demonstrated control and only walked one hitter.
Two wrinkles remain in finalizing the Tribe’s bullpen picture. The first, and most important, is the rehabilitation of Perez. Perez strained his shoulder and was shut down on Mar. 2. After 10 days of not throwing, he has started a throwing program this week to return to pitch. While it has progressed nicely—he could even throw 10 pitches off the mound today—he still has a lot of progress to make before being ready to be on the Opening Day roster. If he is not ready for the Apr. 2 opener, the door could be open for Shaw or veteran Matt Capps to make the roster.
Finally, Francona admitted once that he could consider opening the season with an eight man bullpen. While it appeared in his press conference he was just keeping any idea open as a possibility, the Indians do open the season with 13 consecutive games before having an off day. With a questionable starting rotation, the extra arm could be necessary early in the season.
Regardless, the Indians’ bullpen picture is becoming clearer. With the rest of the roster quickly taking shape itself, only 10 days remain for the Indians’ front office to make official decisions on veterans on minor league contracts. On that Mar. 26 date, the roster should be nearly official.
Photo: Jordan Bastian/MLB.com