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 will need to take his game to the next level.
It’s hard out there for a left-handed pitcher.
Despite the highly sought-after nature of the role, the competition level between lefties fighting for a place on the roster of a Major League baseball team seems to be one of the most challenging competitions in the clubhouse. Although it is not explicitly stated that there is a limited number of spaces available for left-handed throwers on a roster, it has been suggested that there are only a few spots open for left-handed relievers when camp breaks at the end of March.
For Nick Hagadone, one of a number of left-handed relievers invited to participate in the Tribe’s big league camp this spring, his chance to appear with the team in Cleveland this season will have to wait.
Hagadone was one of six players sent down during the Indians’ round of cuts on March 17. He was reassigned to AAA Columbus from the Major League level.
Throughout the off-season, it has been suggested that lefties Marc Rzepczynski and Josh Outman will fill the left-handed reliever spots open in the bullpen for the Tribe. Hagadone’s removal from the roster seems to further that notion. Despite pitching at the Major League level last season, Hagadone still has areas which require improvement should he be considered for a call-up into the big leagues ranks in the near future. He posted a 5.46 ERA in 2013, appearing in 36 games for the Tribe. He allowed 19 earned runs, including giving up four home runs, and threw 30 strike outs, with batters hitting .220 off his pitches. Hagadone also walked 21 batters last season, a walk rate which heavily influenced his focus moving into 2014.
Thus far in Spring Training, Hagadone appeared in six games and posted a 2.57 ERA. He struck out six batters, walked three, and allowed four hits.
“I think the biggest thing [I’m working on] is not putting guys on base for free,” Hagadone said of his area of concentration during spring training. “Not walking guys. Just working to get ahead in the count.”
Hagadone’s numbers, including his high walk rate, reflect the inconsistency that plagued him last season and the command he needs to harness in order to truly develop into a strong left-handed reliever during 2014.
“The biggest thing for me is consistency,” Hagadone said. “I can go out and have a really good game one day, and the next day – in the past, it’s just really been up and down.”
Manager Terry Francona echoed these sentiments when discussing Hagadone, saying that the pitcher showed both “really good” outings while also demonstrating some inconsistencies.
“The biggest thing we’re trying to get Nick to do is make adjustments quicker,” Francona said in his media briefing on March 17. “The thing he showed this camp is that he’d come in and get a walk and then he’d go back out and have a good inning. OK, now we want to get to, ‘if you throw ball one, let’s reel it in right now,’ as opposed to after one hitter.”
In addition to developing his sense of command, Hagadone needs to develop his readiness to pitch at a moment’s notice, despite schedules that may suggest later inning appearances. In a game against Seattle, Hagadone was surprised to find himself pitching in the first inning, expecting to be called in from the bullpen much later in the game.
Hagadone said that the appearance against Seattle demonstrated the need to truly be ready for an appearance at any time during a game.
“I’m always going to work as hard as I can to be ready to go whenever my name’s called,” Hagadone said. “You’re always going to get the same effort and the same thing every time I go in the game.”
This is not the first lesson Hagadone has learned during with his tenure with the Tribe. In 2012 he went through a grievance incident with the Tribe when he slammed a door on his way to the clubhouse following an outing in which he allowed two runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Rays during a game on July 6, giving him a 16.4 ERA throughout 10 appearance. With the slam, Hagadone broke the radius bone in his left forearm and was optioned to Columbus.
The Indians and Hagadone, who had a grievance filed on his behalf by the Major League Baseball Players Association, reached an agreement earlier this year, which included a settlement that had Hagadone receiving service time and compensation for his time spent on the Minor League disqualification list following his injury.
“Sometimes you gotta learn things the hard way, at least I do,” Hagadone said of the incident. “I think it’s nice and I’m glad that it’s over. I’m just happy we can move forward and focus on baseball without having that hanging over my head.”
And focus on baseball is exactly what Hagadone must do to prove to the organization that Triple-A is not the place he should he should stay for very long. Prior to his reassignment to Columbus, Hagadone acknowledged the fact that working hard was going to be the difference maker in the eyes of the organization. Despite not making the Major League roster from the get-go, Hagadone’s drive and determination to improve his numbers serves as an indication that he may soon find a way back to Progressive Field.
“It’s not just all the other lefties, I think it’s everybody,” Hagadone said of the competition he faces throughout the organization. “There’s two spots open, but there’s a lot of guys. I think it just means that every outing matters and we have to go out there and focus, because it could mean the difference between making the team and not.”
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer