Shaw Sets Up Strong Returning Indians Bullpen
Bob Toth | On 22, Mar 2015
No pitcher in Major League Baseball made it into games more than Bryan Shaw did for the Cleveland Indians in 2014.
For the 27-year-old reliever, it was a glowing recommendation of his value to Terry Francona that the Indians skipper could rely on Shaw whenever he made the call. And for what it is worth, Shaw proved his importance time and time again in each of his two seasons as a component of the Indians’ strong bullpen corps.
Francona set records with his bullpen use last season, going to his relievers 573 times during the year. Shaw was responsible for 80 of those calls in 2014 while logging 76 1/3 innings pitched on the mound. It marked career highs in both games played and innings worked.
Shaw was 5-5 with a 2.59 ERA last season and saved a pair of games, giving him three in his Indians career and five overall in the Bigs. It was a consistent effort when compared to his work in his first season with Cleveland in 2013, when he went 7-3 with a 3.24 ERA in 70 games and 75 innings pitched.
The right-hander was a bit of an unknown when Cleveland acquired him as part of the three-team trade with Arizona and Cincinnati that sent Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds. Shaw and starting pitcher Trevor Bauer have made that trade a win for the Tribe thus far, picking up two significant pieces for the present and the future for an outfielder that had outpriced himself from the Indians’ budget with a year to go before free agency. Choo signed a seven-year, $130 million dollar deal with the Texas Rangers following the 2013 season, a deal that Cleveland simply would not have offered nor could have afforded, and rightfully so.
Shaw had minimal experience at the Major League level with the Diamondbacks before heading to Cleveland.
Shaw debuted in June of 2011 and made his way into 33 games for Arizona that season, posting a 1-0 record and a 2.54 ERA. He struck out 24 batters and walked just eight in 28 1/3 innings of work. The results were good enough to include him in their bullpen picture for the next season and, while his win-loss record of 1-6 may have left something to be desired, he gave the D’Backs 64 appearances over the course of the season.
He bumped that appearance total to 70 games in his first season with Cleveland in 2013 while posting a 7-3 record with one save. He worked a then career-high 75 innings and struck out 73 batters while acclimating to a new league. He worked primarily in the middle innings for Francona and 25 different times threw more than one inning of relief. The relief depth that season was a bit more crowded with late inning options with Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, and Cody Allen all vying for work at the back end of the bullpen.
Shaw has an immense amount of value for the Indians this season. As it stands, he provides Francona with a durable, reliable, and consistent arm as an eighth inning setup option for primary closer Cody Allen. But, as Francona has shown before, he would use Shaw in a closing role or in a pinch earlier in a game if the situation dictates it.
“I pitch wherever I’m told to pitch,” said Shaw during an interview March 10th on ‘The Really Big Show’ on ESPN Cleveland AM 850 WKNR. “All of us down there [in the bullpen], we root for each other. Wherever we’re going to pitch we’ll pitch. Tito does a really good job with us down there. All of us want to pitch, wherever it’s going to be it’ll be. We all want to win.”
Shaw threw on back-to-back days repeatedly throughout last season and six different times through on three straight days. While such extreme use has been needed with shorter outings from Indians starters over the last two seasons, it is not necessarily ideal use of a reliever. Despite that, Shaw’s arm so far has held up to the task.
“I think I have a fairly resilient arm,” said Shaw. “I think our strength staff and training staff, they have done a really good job over the last couple of years of really helping out a lot of the pitchers that we have with building better routines and getting our arms in shape and doing a lot of maintenance work.”
Francona used four different relievers 70 times or more last season, including Shaw’s 80 appearances, the 76 of Allen, 73 from lefty Marc Rzepczynski, and 70 from 38-year-old Scott Atchison. The hope would be that Francona does not need to rely on these four individuals nearly as much this season.
In the early goings this spring, Shaw has been a bit shaky, but as is always the case during camp, it is tough to know whether or not the Tribe reliever is working on specific things and not necessarily focusing on the end result of his outings from a statistical sense. After surrendering two home runs in the eighth inning of Saturday’s game against the Colorado Rockies, Shaw has allowed 12 runs (six earned) on 12 hits with three walks and a pair of strikeouts in just four and two-thirds innings. Francona indicated after the game that Shaw was throwing well but was leaving the ball up in the strike zone still, something that he expects will improve in the coming weeks.
Shaw knows his role and seems to be comfortable answering the call from Francona, whenever it might come. He is a versatile piece of a flexible bullpen and provides the club with a security blanket in the event that Allen has any struggles this season in a regular closing capacity.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer