Changes in Roles on Roster Should Continue for Tribe

It’s not time to panic, but it’s not early any more.

Many feel that 40 games of a baseball season is a good point to assess a team’s strengths and weaknesses and time to make adjustments. With an off day today and 38 games in the books, let’s go ahead and call it good enough. In the last week, it appears Indians manager Terry Francona has felt the same way. Carlos Carrasco has been moved out of the rotation and John Axford has been removed as closer.

Both were necessary moves and ones many could see coming. Axford has blown a pair of saves and lost another game. Blown saves happen, but Axford’s lack of control is concerning. He’s walked 13 batters in just 14.2 innings. Add in 13 hits surrendered and it’s clear Axford has not been closing much lately. Despite a solid month last September in St. Louis, Axford has struggled much of the last two seasons. He lost his closer’s role in 2012 with the Brewers and was never able to reclaim it in 2013. Hitters continue to find their way onto the base paths, evidenced by his rising WHIP since 2012.

Francona has elected to use a bullpen-by-committee strategy, choosing to use the best matchups to get the most important outs in the final three innings. Cody Allen will headline the group, but may not pitch the final three outs, as evidence by Sunday’s 6-5 win in Tampa. Allen pitched two outs in the eighth inning after Marc Rzepczynski left the game with the bases loaded and just one out.

Like Axford, Carrasco’s struggles have been long documented. Carrasco has been fighting to prove he’s a Major League starting pitcher since the Indians acquired him at the July trade deadline in 2009. While he has had opportunities in every season, he has never been able to take control of a rotation spot. His last win as a starting pitcher was June 29, 2011—the unofficial date DTTWLN was born. It’s been a while for Carrasco.

This season Carrasco entered spring training the favorite for the fifth starter’s spot. Between Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer, Tomlin pitched the best in Arizona, but the spot was given to Carrasco since he was the only player out of options. Tomlin and Bauer were each optioned to Triple-A, Aaron Harang was given his outright release and signed in Atlanta where he has a 2.98 ERA. Carrasco has struggled with command and the ability to attack a lineup differently the second time through the batting order and still have success. Since Carrasco’s removal from the rotation, Tomlin has won a pair of games with quality starts and the rotation has started to stabilize.

Maybe not with the same authority, but it’s time for Francona to start addressing issue on the offensive side of the team. Nick Swisher is hitting .203, and despite a pair of hits on Sunday, Carlos Santana is only hitting .148. The two are expected to hit in the middle or top of the batting order and be major run producers. Both have struggled mightily.

It’s unfair to advocate benching either Santana or Swisher. Each have proven track records as hitters, just as Axfrod and Carrasco have long track records of struggles. The pitchers deserved the quick hooks from their roles. Swisher and Santana could use new spots in the batting order. Swisher had the day off on Sunday. An extra day off for each would not hurt.

Likewise, Lonnie Chisenhall has been a pleasant surprise this season. The leash on Chisenhall has been about as long as Carrasco’s the couple seasons. This season, however, he’s proving he is worthy of the playing time he’s receiving. Nyjer Morgan battled several contenders to earn a spot on the Opening Day 25-man roster—and despite fine production—was optioned to Triple-A when Michael Bourn returned from the disabled list in mid-April. Since Bourn strained his hamstring nine days ago, Morgan has been on the roster.

Sunday, Francona said he needed Morgan in the lineup and on the field because the team needs his energy. Morgan is hitting .341 on the season after his three hits on Sunday. Chisenhall is hitting .338 after going just 1-for-5 on Sunday. The two hot hitters, unfortunately, will not replace Swisher and Santana’s production. The Indians have to continue to stick with the seasoned veterans and hope they figure out their issues at the plate. But in the meantime, a little more of the hot hand and a little less of the struggling veteran could jump start a team that is not consistently scoring runs.

Making changes is part of the game. It’s not unprecedented and has already happened to this roster in the last week. It’s not early any more.

Photo: Steve Nesius/AP Photo

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