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 to 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.
One of the biggest struggles and changes facing the 2014 Cleveland Indians is the bullpen. Once one of the Tribe’s strongest assets, with the trio of Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez gracing the mound in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, the bullpen as of late has become a roving question mark for the team. Perez and Smith are both out of the picture, and Pestano is coming off the roughest season of his professional career. However, the recent off-season has had the Tribe signing and acquiring a number of new names to include in their bullpen arsenal. Among them is veteran pitcher Josh Outman, acquired from the Colorado Rockies in December in a trade that sent outfielder Drew Stubbs to Colorado.
Outman, will be one of the players competing for the up-for-grabs bullpen roles heading in to 2014. The left-handed pitcher, who originally hails from Missouri, will likely challenge Marc Rzepczysnki for the left-handed reliever role, though returning reliever Nick Hagadone is also in the mix for the spot.
However, Outman is favored to make the club, based on his promising 2013 season with the Rockies. Outman spent his first season exclusively as a reliever in 2013, and his numbers show his improvement from seasons past. He went 3-0, posted a 4.33 ERA and 1.46 WHIP and did a strong job of generating strikeouts (8.8 K/9) and limiting home runs (0.5 HR/9). Although the numbers don’t seem immediately as great as they could, especially considering he was pitching in the pitcher-friendly Coors Field, he managed a 3.25 FIP, 3.62 xFIP, and 3.42 SIERA, which demonstrates that he did, in fact, pitch quite well in 2013. However, he allowed a .340 BAbip, indicating that he was, unfortunately, stricken with bad luck during his 61 appearances.
In seasons past, Outman was not as lucky in his numbers as in 2013. He posted an 8.19 ERA in 2012, going 1-3 in 27 appearances. He allowed 10.4 H/9, 1.5 HR/9, and threw 8.9 SO/9. He went 3-5 (3.70 ERA) in 2011 with Oakland, had one of his best seasons from a numbers stance in 2009 (4-1, 3.8 ERA with 7.1 H/9), and started his professional career in 2008 with the As, going 1-2 and a 4.56 ERA.
This potential and improvement in 2013, coupled with his status as a lefty, make Outman a strong candidate to make the team along with Rzepczynski. With a team coming off a season that had them going to the postseason for the first time since 2007, and the bullpen being one of the deciding factors if the team can make it that far again, adding a pitcher like Outman to the crew would be a wise move for the Tribe. John Axford will more than likely take over as closer, Pestano will attempt to regain his command and talents of old, and Outman can join the ranks of the rest of the bullpen, demonstrating his left-handed strength and command on the mound.
Outman is also rejoining former teammate Jason Giambi as part of the Indians organization. Outman played with Giambi in both Oakland and Colorado, making him no stranger to the energy and guidance brought to the clubhouse under a player like Giambi.
Outman expressed his enthusiasm to join to organization to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian in an article on Feb 14, in which he is quoted as saying, “I saw the run that they [the Indians] had at the end of the season last year…It’s a pretty young team that played really good baseball down the stretch. Obviously, with a manager like Tito, you have your leadership. And then with a guy like Giambi in the clubhouse, a leader who has been around the game for so long, you have all the pieces to a really, really competitive team.”
Francona has been quoted as saying that he does not believe that Outman has to be a lefty specialist. As with any pitcher, the more Outman commands, the better the stuff will be that he throws over the plate.
Outman’s role likely will not be determined by the team right away. Much will depend on the stuff of others in the mix, and lefties such as Hagadone and Rzepczynski will be factors in the decision as to what to do with Outman. However, if Outman uses camp to show that his progress last season is no fluke, and that he truly does have what it takes to be an effective closer for the team, it is hard to imagine that there would no be a place for him on the Opening Day roster.
Besides, with a last name like “Outman,” what more could you look for in a pitcher?
Photo: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images