With New Faces, Tribe Bullpen Remains Strength
Craig Gifford | On 26, Apr 2013
A good number of names and faces may have changed during the offseason, but the bullpen still remains the biggest strength of the Cleveland Indians. Gone from last year are mainstays Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp. Also sent away in the winter was Esmil Rogers, who became a key contributor to the 2012 relief staff.
Tribe General Manager Chris Antonetti spent the offseason collecting relief pitchers the way some people collect baseball cards and stamps. He held fast to that old saying of never having enough pitching. Newcomers to this season’s pen include Matt Albers, Rich Hill Bryan Shaw. Nick Hagadone and Cody Allen, a pair of 2012 rookies, have been key contributors so far this season.
Despite all the turnover and relatively new arms, the relief corps continues to hum along as it has over the past several seasons.
Of course, a key to keeping relievers as the best group on the club are the names that haven’t changed in recent years. Closer Chris Perez and setup men Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith have been in their roles with the Tribe the past three seasons. Just about every team in baseball would love to have a trio like that at the back-end of its bullpen.
Much like seasons past, Cleveland’s Big Three are off to another fruitful start. Smith has been nearly untouchable, not allowing a run on four hits in seven and 2/3 innings. Perez and Pestano have matching 1.29 ERAs in seven innings of work, each.
Success for the top three arms in the pen is to be expected, however. What some questioned at the season’s start was how everyone else around them would fare. Through 20 games, it is so far, so good.
Among regular relievers, only Albers has an ERA over 4.00. The new father is at 5.40. However, recent paternity leave and time off have limited him to four outings. It is too soon to worry about him. Everyone else, though, has been just what the Indians hope for or better.
Shaw, who arrived from Arizona with Albers in the trade that sent Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds, has been phenominal to this point. In eight games and bullpen-high 10 and 1/3 innings, Shaw has surrendered just one run.
Hagadone and Allen have continued their progress with promising starts to their second Major League seasons. Hagadone, who started the year at Triple-A Columbus, has seemingly put the events of last year’s poor May and self-inflicted hand injury behind him. He has been solid to the tune of a 1.80 ERA in five frames. Allen, who looked like a keeper after last year’s July call up, continues to have that appearance. His 3.00 ERA is decent and actually among the worst among the relievers.
Of the seven relief pitchers with at least five outings, left specialist Hill has the highest ERA. His number of 3.86 is not great by any stretch, but also nothing scary either. Remember, all it takes this early in the years is one bad showing to make an ERA a little bloated.
Right now Indians manager Terry Francona could put any of his relief corps on the mound with some degree of confidence. The only memorable poor performance out of the pen has come from Brett Myers, who was a starter making an emergency relief appearance.
Albers, who came back from his time away on Monday, has a track record to say he may rebound from his early struggles. Even if he does not, however, the Tribe is much further ahead of the game than many teams. There are so many squads in baseball scrambling to find several effective relievers. The Indians have more than a handful of arms who can reliably come out of the bullpen.
Naturally, the key to the team’s relief success is the Perez-Pestano-Smith connection. With them, everyone else falls into place. Without them, the bullpen would become a lot more dysfunctional. Still, to have several pitchers beyond the Big Three will be huge toward future success. Francona will not have to burn out any arms in an effort to keep games close or from big leads evaporating.
The ability to go to other pitches is something former Cleveland manager Manny Acta did not have last year. The middle relievers struggled a good deal at times in 2012.Between good scouting and solid use of the bullpen arms in the early season, this year’s middle relievers have looked as strong as any in MLB.
If this year’s group of middle relievers can continue on their current paths, this year’s pen actually has a chance to be better than that of 2011, which was so good While so many of this year’s arms from that 2011 Bullpen Mafia group were not around then, the relief corps continues to remain as strong as ever.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images