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’ players who is in a roster battle to earn one of the Tribe’s last spots on the Opening Day roster.
Quietly after the conclusion of last season, the Cleveland Indians claimed pitcher Tyler Cloyd off of waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies.
There were some that were surprised that the Phillies had exposed the 26-year-old Cloyd to the waiver process. Injuries and ineffectiveness had riddled their aging starting rotation throughout the season. Left-handed starter John Lannan was lost in mid-April to injury and made only 14 starts on the season. Veteran Roy Halladay made just 13 starts, including an eight-run shellacking by Cleveland on April 30th, before losing time to the disabled list himself. Even rookie Jonathan Pettibone, who joined the club in late April, was shelved for the season with a shoulder injury by the end of July. Another veteran, Cole Hamels, was tagged for losses in nine of his first ten decisions.
Cloyd, who has had various degrees of success throughout his professional career, had shown the ability to compete consistently at the minor league level. He has not been able to translate that success in his two seasons in the Major Leagues.
Having better consistency with his four pitches has been the biggest area of concern for Cloyd, who spent time addressing that this offseason.
“I think the biggest thing that I worked on this offseason was being more consistent with pitches,” Cloyd shared during an interview January 30th at the Lake County Captains Hot Stove Dinner event. “Every year, that is the thing I want to work on. Getting some time with the Phillies, that was the biggest thing that I saw that I was missing was consistency. Not only on my fastball, but a lot on my offspeed. I changed little things mechanically to help me out to do that. All in all, it’s consistency and it has been paying off from what I can see.”
Cloyd compensates for a mid-80s fastball with a cutter, curveball, and a changeup. He is most effective when he is using the offspeed pitches to complement a fastball that is not overpowering in the velocity department.
Cloyd has kept in touch with numerous coaches from his past, looking to them to help him find ways to improve his game on the mound.
“Towards the end of last year, I talked with our bullpen coach who was my pitching coach in 2012 in Triple-A, [former Indians pitcher] Rod Nichols,” said Cloyd. “Sitting in the bullpen, I was just talking about what I needed to do to get better and some changes to make. I was watching Roy Halladay pitch one day and just watching his delivery thinking, ‘How can I relate that to myself?’”
“There are big changes I did on my own the whole offseason and I really worked with my pitching coach from my college years. I work with him, he sees me every single offseason. I look at him and he helps me out a tremendous amount. It’s fun to talk to him.”
The right-handed pitcher started last season in Triple-A with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and got off to a rough start. He allowed 17 earned runs in 20 innings over his first four games, getting hit with losses in three of the outings. But back-to-back strong efforts to follow, including a ten strikeout game against Indianapolis on May 3rd, earned him a spot start in the Majors.
His string of good pitching continued, as he limited the Arizona Diamondbacks to two runs on two hits over six and one-third innings in a no-decision. He was demoted back to Lehigh Valley following the start and got roughed up for seven runs in three and one-third innings, but it did not prevent the Phillies from recalling him again to fill voids in the rotation.
In five starts, he allowed eleven earned runs in 28 2/3 innings, but six of those runs came in a loss to Boston on May 27th. He surrendered two earned runs or less in the other four appearances. But again, he was shipped back to the minor leagues.
His return to Lehigh, like the previous trip, did not begin well. In his first four games back, he gave up 23 earned runs in 21 1/3 innings, despite keeping his walk totals down. The long ball, a thorn in his side throughout his career, hurt him six times. Then suddenly, Cloyd was locked back in, posting a 4-1 record in his final seven starts, striking out 32 and walking five while allowing a 1.33 ERA and a .170 batting average against.
His solid efforts again saw him return to the Major Leagues, briefly in two games in August and again for five games in September, but the results were not as good. He lost each of his final four starts, twice allowing five earned runs and twice allowing seven, and gave up another two runs in a relief appearance.
He finished the Major League regular season 2-7 with a 6.56 ERA in 13 games, eleven of which were starts. He was 5-9 with a 4.71 ERA in 19 starts at Triple-A.
Cloyd made his Major League debut in 2012. He was 2-2 with a 4.91 ERA in six starts. He struck out a still career-high nine Cincinnati Reds’ hitters in his second MLB game. He was a 2012 Triple-A All-Star and the International League Pitcher of the Year.
He was an 18th round draft pick by Philadelphia in the 2008 draft.
In his two years with Philadelphia, Cloyd had the opportunity to learn from several well-established, veteran starting pitchers, including Hamels, Halladay, and Cliff Lee. The latter two both have received Cy Young Award recognition during their careers.
“Those guys are amazing,” said Cloyd. “They’re willing to help you out and talk with you. Just talking with them and watching them and how they go through their business. How they prepare for games. How they look at their mechanics. Just their work ethic. It’s unbelievable just to watch it. You obviously sit there and wonder how those guys do it. How, not even those guys, but the top pitchers. How did they stay at it so long and have such long careers? You just watch them and it shows you.”
Cloyd took advantage of the opportunity to be surrounded by a veteran pitching staff. Throughout the year, he took their actions, efforts, and experiences and tried to incorporate them into how he prepared for the game himself.
“The biggest thing that I took from them was just preparation on the game, how they prepared for their game, how they studied the lineup they were going to face, and how they prepared their bodies. It’s not just the night before and the day of. It was four days before. After one start, it was like, ‘Okay, I’m on to the next one’. And that was the biggest thing. And watching the consistency that they have, not only in their pitches and where they are, but how they executed and even their mechanics. It was unbelievable to watch.”
The Indians organization will provide Cloyd with a fresh new start to his career. While it would appear he will not factor into the pitching staff in Cleveland at the start of the season, he could provide much needed depth for the club at the Triple-A level in Columbus.
“I’ve been keeping in contact with some of the guys, no one in particular,” said Cloyd in January. “It was crazy, I think I’ve talked to 15 different people from the time I signed with them to the time I came up here [to the Hot Stove Dinner].
“They haven’t really said what they wanted from me or anything. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just preparing myself to make a team, whatever team that is, and to help them win.”
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