Anderson’s Road to Starting Success Detours Briefly to Bullpen
Bob Toth | On 11, May 2016
The heat has been turned up a notch on Cody Anderson’s seat in the Indians dugout. It now includes a spot on the bench in the Indians bullpen.
Another good start from Trevor Bauer on Tuesday night, coupled with a shaky effort from the Indians young right-hander on Saturday afternoon, means many eyes in the Indians organization will be watching closely on how Anderson can right his season, just a month and a half into the 2016 schedule.
With each passing day, Cleveland is closer to getting its number two starter, Carlos Carrasco, back from the 15-day disabled list from his left hamstring strain. When that happens, the Indians will have a decision to make regarding their starting rotation. Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar are going nowhere. Josh Tomlin, while flexible enough to transition back into a bullpen role, has pitched more than well enough to deserve starting pitching innings while serving as the club’s stopper time and time again. That leaves Anderson (0-2, 7.56 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, .364 batting average against in five starts) and Bauer (3-0, 3.86 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .226 batting average against in nine games, three starts) on the hot seat and, with a small sample size to consider, Bauer is carving his name into a spot by carving up opposing lineups. He is 2-0 in his three starts with a 3.24 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.
Anderson, meanwhile, was in line to pitch the series opener against the Minnesota Twins on Friday, May 13, after a disappointing end result to his game on Saturday, May 7, against the Kansas City Royals. Manager Terry Francona has instead opted to push his starter back to Monday against the Cincinnati Reds because of Thursday’s off day, allowing others on the staff to pitch on regular rest while giving Anderson more time.
“He’s not being skipped,” Francona was quoted on Cleveland.com on May 10. “He’s just being moved back a few days.”
Francona indicated that in the meantime, Anderson’s routine in between starts was going to be altered slightly and that he may join his teammates in the bullpen later this week, possibly even making a relief appearance to act as a side session, depending on the situation.
“I think it’ll be good for him just to sit out there and be one of the guys for a couple days,” said Francona in the same story. “If he comes in and pitches an inning, [great]. If he doesn’t pitch, he’ll throw a side day to get him ready.”
Anderson exited his last start after 69 pitches through five innings. He had allowed four runs on six hits, walked one, and struck out two. A first inning three-run monstrous mash by Kendrys Morales well into the lower reserve in right provided the bulk of the damage. He settled down and faced the minimum over the next 12 outs, getting double play balls to erase an Alcides Escobar single leading off the third and a one-out walk from Alex Gordon in the fourth, but a one-out single in the fifth, followed by a wild pitch and a double, added to the Royals tally. The Indians did him no favors, as they were unable to strike through against Ian Kennedy or the vaunted KC bullpen.
The 25-year-old, despite being at a good pitch count, left the game with leg cramps.
“I took him out because his left leg was cramping,” Francona said in his postgame interview Saturday. “It’s hard enough to get good hitters out when you feel good. The medical guys talked to him a little. He sweats so much. He changes jerseys every couple innings. We’ll try to keep an eye on that a little better.”
“It was weird. Haven’t really had that issue since last year,” said Anderson Saturday. “Just started getting cramped up after sitting down for a little bit…As the weather changes, I guess I need to drink more water.”
He ended the game much better than he started it, but the end results – a loss – still puts him in jeopardy of spending more time in Columbus than he might have preferred this season.
“I was starting to get some of that weaker contact and some of those different swings, which is huge. Getting some groundballs,” said Anderson after Saturday’s game. “Predominantly they were hitting the ball on the ground so that is something to build off and keep moving forward.”
“I thought he was better,” said Francona in his postgame interview that day. “He was down. He threw some good changeups. He made a really bad pitch to the wrong guy.”
After a surprising breakout rookie campaign last season (7-3, 3.05 ERA, 1.11 WHIP in 15 starts with one complete game), Anderson came in to spring camp in a battle for a rotation spot and came away with the fourth spot on the starting staff. But after five games of work, he has hardly resembled the right-hander who flirted with no-hitters, minimized runs, and managed his overall game well, especially in the month of September when the Indians needed every last win while fighting for an outside shot at a wild card berth. Anderson was 5-0 in six starts in the final month of the season, posting a 1.38 ERA in 39 innings.
This season, his first start was his best start and each had gotten gradually worse before the Indians opted to skip over his spot in the starting rotation and send him to Columbus to get some side work in.
Anderson allowed two runs on six hits in six innings in a no-decision in Chicago against the White Sox on April 9. He was dealt a loss on April 15 against the Mets in a 6-5 defeat as he allowed five runs on nine hits in four and two-thirds innings, striking out five, walking one, but coughing up three home runs to New York. He went just three and two-thirds on April 21 versus Seattle, allowing five runs on nine hits with three strikeouts, a hit batter, and another home run. In his final start, he lasted five and two-thirds, but again gave up five runs on ten hits and his sixth home run through his first 20 innings of the season.
In one start for Columbus on May 1, he lasted five and two-thirds innings, allowing four runs on seven hits with six strikeouts and three walks on 94 pitches. He allowed two more home runs, this time to the Gwinnett Braves.
Time is of the essence for Anderson, who has just four Triple-A games to his credit and could find himself working with Columbus further if unable to find his groove on the mound. It could happen even before Carrasco’s return, if he doesn’t find a way to keep the ball down and out of hitters’ wheelhouses. Several members of the Clippers starting rotation are on the Indians 40-man roster already, including right-hander Mike Clevinger (4-0, 3.03 ERA, 1.35 WHIP in six starts for Columbus with one complete game) and left-handers Ryan Merritt (3-2, 2.54 ERA, 0.98 WHIP in six starts with one shutout) and T.J. House (2-2, 6.39 ERA, 1.86 WHIP in six rough starts). Any of those three candidates could merit a look if Anderson struggles again on Monday.
The time is now for Anderson to secure his spot in the starting rotation, not just for the short term, but for the long term with candidates emerging just a couple hours south of Progressive Field. As these minor leaguers continue to show their worth, the pressure on Anderson will continue to grow. He has no time to waste as the Indians can ill afford anyone on the roster not carrying his fair share of the workload this season.
Time is ticking. As former Indians Hall of Fame pitcher and baseball legend Satchel Paige once said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
Photo: Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports