Columbus Rotation Arms Need More Time
Bob Toth | On 30, Jun 2013
Friday night’s doubleheader sweep by the Cleveland Indians over the host Chicago White Sox proved a lot of things about the Indians ballclub.
Along with the never-say-die attitude, the heart, and the resiliency that they showed over the course of 18 grueling innings, a rain delay, and nearly eight hours of game action, two young pitchers also showed that they are not quite ready for the big league stage.
This by no means is meant as a stab at either Trevor Bauer or Carlos Carrasco. Both young men have showed glimpses of the pitchers that they could potentially become at the Major League level. Unfortunately, the remaining holes in their respective games are too glaring to fine tune in Cleveland while the team remains in contention in the American League Central division.
If either one of the two pitchers is able to develop accordingly, the future of the Indians may be bright.
The acquisition of Bauer from the Arizona Diamondbacks in December of this past offseason was supposed to be a move more about the future than this season.
The former first round pick, third overall, of the 2011 draft had been fast tracked to the Majors in Arizona, with a minimal degree of success while pitching through some minor injuries. He was a combined 12-2 between Diamondbacks’ affiliates Mobile (AA) and Reno (AAA) during the 2012 season. He threw one complete game in 22 starts and posted a 2.42 ERA. He averaged nearly eleven strikeouts per nine innings between the two stops.
While in Arizona, the results were not quite as appealing, although the sample size was limited. In four outings, he pitched between 73 and 96 pitches. In three of his four starts, he failed to pitch beyond the fourth inning. In those three starts, he walked twelve and struck out eleven in ten and one-third innings.
Easily his best outing came on July 8th against the Los Angeles Dodgers, when he scattered a pair of hits and just one walk in six innings of work to earn his first Major League win. He struck out six, walked one, and dropped his season ERA by almost four and a half runs.
He finished the season 1-2 with a 6.06 ERA.
Bauer has had several opportunities with the Indians this season as a spot starter, oftentimes in doubleheaders like Friday’s. In four outings, his results mirror last season’s limited efforts.
He has posted a 1-2 record with a 5.29 ERA this season for the Indians, bloated after allowing five runs Friday afternoon to the White Sox in just two-thirds of an inning. The run total and number of hits allowed tied or set new season highs.
Entering Friday’s start, Bauer had allowed opposing hitters to bat just .161 off of him and he had maintained a 2.76 ERA. He was able to give the Indians a minimum of five innings of work in each. Control, however, helped to inflate opponents’ numbers to .338 in the on-base department due to 15 walks allowed in those first 16 1/3 innings, more than one and a half times as many walks as hits allowed.
He is 3-2 with a 4.13 ERA in twelve starts for the Columbus Clippers so far in 2013.
When in good control of his pitches, as his minor league numbers showed, he was a threat on the mound. His 2.57 strikeouts per walk rate in 2012 at the minor league level were off of his pace from the previous season (3.58), but were still workable. This season in Columbus, the numbers have dropped to 1.86 and, in Cleveland, are even lower at just 0.69.
He is quirky, as most fans know from his unique long toss warm up routine and his rap song that introduced Mark Reynolds as his walk up music prior to a home run earlier this season. While a lot of attention is given to his warm up, it would all go for naught if his results on the field merited ignoring his atypical pitching habits.
Carrasco’s struggles are more familiar to Cleveland fans, as he is in his fifth year with the organization after being acquired as one of four pieces in exchange for former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee and reserve outfielder Ben Francisco from the Philadelphia Phillies on July 29th, 2009.
After posting an 0-4 record and an 8.87 ERA in five late season starts in 2009, he saw better numbers in a September call-up in 2010. He pitched six innings in all seven starts and despite finishing 2-2, gave the team a 3.83 ERA.
The wheels fell off for Carrasco exactly two years after the Indians acquired him, on July 29th, 2011, when either a lack of maturity, a lack of control, an inability to control his emotions, or a combination of the three caused him to be ejected from a game in Cleveland against the Kansas City Royals. After giving up a grand slam to Melky Cabrera, his third home run allowed in the game, he threw up and in at Royals slugger Billy Butler and was tossed.
It was the seventh time in 20 starts that he had allowed four earned runs or more in a game and the seventh straight start he had given up at least one home run.
While appealing the suspension handed down for head hunting Butler, Carrasco pitched just one more game, a start on August 3rd against Boston. He pitched into the eighth inning for the first time since June 29th and threw a season-high 112 pitches in a no-decision. During a bullpen session that followed the start, he experienced elbow inflammation and was placed on the disabled list for the third time that season due to elbow issues. After treating the injury carefully yielded no significant response from Carrasco’s elbow, doctors suggested UCL reconstruction, also known as Tommy John surgery, for the 24-year-old starter.
Back for 2013, his results have been mixed and his immaturity hurt the team when the door was opened for Carrasco to claim a spot in the rotation.
In his first start of the season, fresh off of the completion of his eight-game suspension, he allowed seven earned runs and a pair of home runs to the Yankees. The latter home run to Robinson Cano was followed by a pitch up and in to Kevin Youkilis, hitting him and leading to another ejection and lengthy suspension for the Indians pitcher.
In five Cleveland appearances, the results have been hit or miss. Three different times he has allowed at least six earned runs. Just twice has he pitched into the sixth inning.
A positive sign for Carrasco, though, is the reduction in the home run numbers that were plaguing him prior to his elbow surgery. Since his two homers allowed to the Yankees, he has not allowed another ball to leave the yard in the 21 2/3 innings that have followed.
He has struck out 13 and walked 12 in 25 1/3 innings total. He has struck out no more than four in any outing. He is averaging just over five innings per appearance and more than seven hits per.
His best outing, when he allowed one earned run and one walk with four hits in seven and one-third innings on June 17th, was a no-decision as the Indians bullpen allowed his run to score in the eighth and allowed the go-ahead run to cross the plate on a wild pitch an inning later.
At Columbus this season, he is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA in ten appearances (nine starts). He averaged 9.4 strikeouts and 2.6 walks per nine innings.
As the team attempted to get Carrasco through his two suspensions that he has served this season, it has forced the Indians to play a man down on the roster. Coupled with his inconsistencies throughout the season, his predicament opened the door for Corey Kluber to earn Brett Myers spot in the rotation while Myers rehabbed his own injury.
Over the course of the season, the Indians have already lost starters Scott Kazmir, Zach McAllister, and Myers to disabled list trips. The likelihood that the team makes it through the rest of the season unscathed in the starting rotation is slim at best.
Kazmir missed just a couple of weeks at the beginning of the season, but was forced out of his last start with back spasms in the eighth inning. Myers has been shelved for a substantial period of time and will not rejoin the rotation when he returns. The verdict on McAllister remains out, but as time continues to pass with minimal updates on his status, the need for the Indians to have another bona fide arm in their rotation is pressing.
Other arms in Columbus may not provide any relief. Joe Martinez, who earned the win in relief of Ubaldo Jimenez on Saturday, had made all 15 appearances for Columbus this season in the rotation and had earned a 2-6 record with a 6.23 ERA. T.J. House, who was demoted to make room for Chris Perez on Friday, was 1-8 in 12 starting appearances and had a 5.66 ERA. Both have WHIPs above 1.60. Daisuke Matsuzaka, fending off injuries throughout the campaign, is 1-4 in nine starts with a 4.54 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. Young Danny Salazar, a potential arm of the future and one of the younger players in the International League, is 1-2 in eight games and too has dealt with injury and adjusting to a new level within the Minor Leagues.
While it may be far more cost effective for the Indians to rely on the possibility of Carrasco or Bauer assisting the rotation to fill in the absence of McAllister and any other starter who may miss time over the remaining three months of the regular season, the inconsistencies of the two righties may force Chris Antonetti’s hand to acquire a legitimate Major League starter for any sort of playoff push.
With the close proximity the Indians are to the top of the AL Central and the Detroit Tigers, it may be a move Antonetti has to make.
Photo: David Banks/Getty Images