Columbus Kids Contributing for Cleveland

When injuries mount on the big league roster, who do the Cleveland Indians call?

The Columbus Clippers.

The Clippers have answered that call throughout the year, as is their job. Despite an ever-changing roster, they lead the International League’s West Division by five games with a 73-62 record after Saturday night’s loss to Indianapolis. The Indians, meanwhile, are 65-63 and are seven games in back of the division lead and five behind in the AL Wild Card race.

For some players, the shuttle back and forth between Cleveland and Columbus has been consistent throughout the season. For others, they have taken full advantage of the opportunity and have given their parent club no reason whatsoever to send them packing back down Interstate 71 to the state capital.

In their time with the Indians, many of these young players have contributed in big ways.

One of those has been Zach Walters.

On July 31st, there is a fair chance you were one of the thousands of Tribe fans who muttered “the Indians got WHO for Asdrubal Cabrera?” While you may not have known Walters’s name before, he is doing everything he can to make sure his recent trip up from Columbus is one of his last.

The 24-year-old switch hitting utility guy made his Major League debut last September, batting .375 in eight games for Washington. He played in 32 games with the Nationals this season, making three starts while hitting .205 with three homers and five runs driven in during limited playing opportunities. In Triple-A with Syracuse, he had shined, hitting .300 with 15 home runs and 48 RBI after hitting 29 blasts and knocking in 77 last season at the top minor league level.

After being dealt to Cleveland, he played seven games with Columbus and hit .387 with a pair of homers and eight batted in.

Walters made his eleventh start for Cleveland on Saturday night since being called up on August 10th when Nick Swisher and David Murphy landed on the disabled list. He was hitting .222 in his first ten games, but five of his eight hits have left the yard. After starting his first three games in left field, he has settled into a role in the designated hitter’s slot in the lineup.

He had homered in three straight games and was the Indians’ only offense on Thursday and Friday. Three of his five home runs for Cleveland have given the Indians the lead and the other two have tied the game. His first homer for the Tribe on August 13th came in the bottom of the ninth with one out in a 2-2 tie to give the Indians a walk-off win over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first game of a doubleheader.

The Indians have received steady play from an unexpected contributor at the backup backstop position.

Roberto Perez was called up at the end of the first week of July to replace George Kottaras, who had been designated for assignment for the second time by the club. Perez was already on the 40-man roster and provided the Indians with a backup catcher for Yan Gomes, allowing Carlos Santana to remain as the team’s first baseman instead of hopping all around the diamond as he had done throughout the first half of the season.

Perez has been steady at the plate, hitting .256 going into the middle game with Houston with a homer, two doubles, and three runs batted in. He will be forced into more regular action now with Gomes’s placement on the 7-day concussion disabled list, although former Indians catcher Chris Gimenez was re-acquired by the club in a trade with Texas earlier on Saturday.

Perez hit .305 in Columbus in 53 games this season, hitting a career-high eight home runs and 43 RBI for the Clippers. He entered the 2014 campaign with a .227 career minor league average.

The addition of the 25-year-old Perez shored up the defense behind the plate for Cleveland. His range factor per nine innings is already one full point higher than the career average of Santana. The Indians’ former backstop threw out an average of just 25% of would-be base stealers, including just 18% last season, while Perez has averaged 38% in his minor league career and 44% so far in the MLB.

Rookie 25-year-old outfielder Tyler Holt had to wait for his first opportunity to pick up a bat at the MLB level and he took full advantage of it in his first big league start. He received his first call to “the Show” on July 6th when he was added to the club to replace Michael Bourn, who was off to the disabled list with a left hamstring strain. He suited up that day against the Kansas City Royals and was inserted into the lineup in the ninth inning in right field where he was able to make his first career putout.

He was optioned back to Columbus on July 8th, but he would return to the big league club for four days at the beginning of August. He appeared in another game late, getting hit by a pitch and striking out, and was optioned again to Triple-A on August 5th. He returned on August 10th with Walters and finally made his first start on August 13th, getting two singles in each game of the day’s doubleheader. He was optioned again on August 17th to make room for Danny Salazar on the roster, but was recalled two days later when Ryan Raburn was placed on the disabled list.

Holt is hitting .438 on the season with seven hits and two runs batted in over nine games. He hit .298 with Akron and .308 in Columbus so far in 2014 with a combined 31 stolen bases in 37 attempts. His pinch-hit single to lead off the ninth inning on Saturday started the rally and he scored the game-winning run on Jose Ramirez‘s walk-off single.

Ramirez is in his second stint this season with the Indians. In eleven games in May replacing the injured Jason Kipnis, he hit .080 with two singles in 25 at bats. He was recalled in late July when Cabrera was banged up and has been much better, batting .278 with three stolen bases in 22 games heading into Saturday’s action. He has seen regular playing time at shortstop after the Cabrera trade while essentially keeping the seat warm for future Tribe starter Francisco Lindor.

Ramirez made his mark earlier this month, driving in two of the Indians’ three runs in a 3-0 shutout in New York against the Yankees. He had a career-high three hits and stole a base in the contest. He supplied the Indians with their tenth walk-off victory at home this season on Saturday night with an opposite field single to win it.

He hit .302 in 60 games with the Clippers with five homers and 19 stolen bases in 30 opportunities. He hit .333 in 15 games for the Indians in the final month last season after being called up for the postseason push from Double-A Akron.

The Indians have even had help in the starting rotation from Columbus, as 24-year-old left-hander T.J. House has filled in for injured and inconsistent starters throughout the year.

House got his first call to the big leagues this season in the middle of May, when he made one appearance in the bullpen before being optioned to Columbus. He would return two days later to replace an injured Zach McAllister and made five starts, going 0-1 with a 5.06 ERA in that span.

He was optioned back to Triple-A but would return at the end of June. He left the club again on July 11th, optioned to Class-A Mahoning Valley, but would return ten days later to make a start, and then was again shipped to Columbus. He returned on August 2nd and has made four starts since.

He is 1-4 with a 3.48 ERA in eleven starts in the minor leagues this season around his erratic travel schedule. House is 2-3 on the season with a 3.80 ERA in 13 games, 12 starts, for Cleveland.

The Indians have seen contributions from other Columbus recruits this season, including relievers Nick Hagadone (1-0, 1.40 ERA in 24 games; .176 batting average against, 0.83 WHIP), C.C. Lee (0-1, 3.72 ERA in 22 games; .273 average against, 1.34 WHIP), and Kyle Crockett (3-0, 1.88 ERA in 30 games; .267 average against, 1.25 WHIP).

With the September roster expansion just around the corner, the Indians could add a few players from the Clippers roster to the Major League club without needing to make any 40-man roster moves. Candidates on the position player side of the roster could include first baseman/DH Jesus Aguilar and utility infielder Justin Sellers, who have both spent time with the Indians this season. Both hit .188 in 16 at bats, each had three singles, and each scored a run.

There is even a chance the team could add Lindor from Columbus and get his MLB clock started with some September experience. The top prospect in the farm system would need to be added to the 40-man roster. Lindor, who is only 20 years old, was hitting .264 at Columbus through his first 29 games and had compiled consecutive four-hit games for the Clippers on Friday and Saturday. He hit .278 in 88 games in Akron to start the season.

Last season, the team added additional arms to Terry Francona’s bullpen and this year may be no different, as the team could recall Austin Adams, who appeared in three games earlier this season, or could look to add right-hander Bryan Price, the third piece of the Victor Martinez/Justin Masterson swap with the Red Sox back in 2009 who has yet to make his MLB debut.

Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

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