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After Set Back By Injuries, Blake Wood is Ready to Contribute

After Set Back By Injuries, Blake Wood is Ready to Contribute

| On 24, Feb 2014

The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ new players who will be trying to fill a role on the Tribe’s roster.

When it comes to the Indians bullpen for the 2014 season, there are not a whole lot of spots that are up for grabs. One of the players that will be trying to earn one of the last remaining spots will be flame thrower Blake Wood.

Wood, a 28-year old right handed reliever, is just recently coming off of Tommy John surgery which cost him to be designated for assignment back at the end of the 2012 season by the Kansas City Royals. On November 2, 2012 he was claimed off of the waivers by the Cleveland Indians, knowing that he would miss most, if not all, of the upcoming 2013 season. Wood then proceeded to miss the majority of the 2013 season, being moved to the 60-day disabled list on July 14, 2013 and optioned to Triple-A Columbus. He was later called up to Cleveland and made two appearances and did not give up a run at the end of the 2013 season. Now fully healthy and ready to compete, Wood will be the outside guy looking in and attempt to lock down a bullpen spot.

In 2006, Wood was drafted in the third round by the Kansas City Royals. He then spent four years in the in the minors before breaking into the big leagues in 2010 against Cleveland. After having a not-so-successful first year in the majors, he rebounded very well in 2011 posting a 3.75 ERA and more importantly an 8.0 K/9 ratio. He ended up pitching in 55 games for the Royals in 2011, but then he didn’t make another appearance in a Royals uniform. It was announced in May 2012 that his season would be over and that he would have to get Tommy John surgery. Later that year he was designated for assignment and was then picked up off of the waivers by the Indians.

As the bullpen currently stands, the only players who are locks for a spot are Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, Marc Rzepczynski, and newly acquired John Axford. Unless something goes horribly wrong at spring training, it seems that Josh Outman will be filling in the second left-handed pitcher spot in the bullpen. That leaves only two spots remaining, with about ten other guys competing for a job. Players like Vinnie Pestano, C.C. Lee, Preston Guilmet, and Nick Hagadone will be high up on the list of players who could potentially take one of the last two spots in the bullpen. Pestano has an obvious leg up on everyone due to his past success in 2011-2012, but after having a season to forget in 2013 he has to again fight for a job come this spring. That leaves one spot left which could potentially be taken by Wood.

The Indians seem to have confidence that Wood can regain his 2011 form, even after having Tommy John surgery. The Indians signed him early to a new major league deal this off season for one year, $560,000. This is a good sign that the Indians are willing to work with Wood, and hope that he can return the favor by giving them a successful and healthy season.

Wood is an intriguing player for the team because no one else that is currently in the bullpen can hit almost 100 mph on their fastball. Last season, in one of Woods two appearances for the Indians, he topped out at 99 mph on his fastball. Having a pitcher like that in the bullpen can be a huge asset, especially in the late innings of a game. The biggest concern that is going to surround Wood though is the question of if he can stay healthy or not. Also, Wood is a similar pitcher to players like Allen and Shaw as he is meant to be a late inning guy that can throw the heater past a batter for about an inning, or two.

After losing Matt Albers to free agency, the Indians are now without a long man reliever. They could always turn to someone like Carlos Carrasco or potentially Josh Tomlin to fill that role, but manager Terry Francona has stated previously that he would like to see Carrasco as a member of the pitching rotation. That being said, if the Indians believe that someone else who is currently in the pen could fill the role of the long man reliever, than Woods chances of gaining a spot in the bullpen increase.

When it comes to the type of pitches that Wood can throw, he has a wide variety of pitches to choose from. He tends to mostly throw the fastball, but he also has a slider, changeup, sinker, and curveball. A strong fastball pitcher, that can also drop the velocity on some quality off speed pitches, could be a real weapon in the bullpen. This is why the Indians want to believe that Wood can come back and really improve a bullpen that is already shaping up to be much better than in 2013.

The competition for the last spot in the bullpen is going to be one of the more interesting stories in spring training this year. All eyes will be on Blake Wood over the next two months to see if he can be the pitcher that the Indians believe he can be.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images