It’s been a bumpy road at times for Nick Hagadone, but as 2015 is less than two weeks from Opening Day, it appears he has finally arrived for the Cleveland Indians.
Hagadone, acquired in 2009 with Bryan Price and Justin Masterson, for Victor Martinez, has been on the cusp of assuming a role in the Tribe’s bullpen since 2012. However, control and concentration issues have hindered the hard-throwing left-handers progression. But after a strong 2014, it appears Hagadone has settled in to his place in the bullpen—and still has room to grow.
After nine appearances in 2011, Hagadone was off to a solid start in 2012 before control issues derailed his season. On June 8 of that season, Hagadone had a 2.75 ERA in 20 games, but Hagadone lost control and confidence on the mound. He no longer was attacking hitters and walks became a major issue. By July 6, when he was optioned to the minor leagues, he had a season ERA of 6.39 and had issued eight walks in 5.2 innings since June 8. His lack of control on the mound bled over to the locker room when he punched a wall, breaking his hand, and ending his season.
With a new manager and pitching coach in Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway, Hagadone opened 2013 with a new perspective. He made the Indians Opening Day roster out of spring training, but was optioned back to Triple-A Columbus before the first game was ever played. Hagadone was part of a roster shuffle, created by Carlos Carrasco’s need to be on the roster to serve his six game suspension and Scott Kazmir’s minor injury. The Indians needed Hagadone’s roster spot for another starting pitcher.
He would end up riding that I-71 shuttle all season long, bouncing between Cleveland and Columbus, but never finding any continuity or role with the Tribe. In 36 games, Hagadone had a 5.46 ERA in 31.1 innings, but walked 21 batters and lacked the consistency necessary to stick in a regular bullpen role. However, the Indians remained encouraged with his 30 strikeouts and his ability to retire both right-handed and left-handed hitters. Righties hit .231 versus Hagadone and lefties .211 in 2013.
But after not making the team out of spring training, 2014 seems to be the season where Hagadone put it all together. Recalled on June 3, he had better control and was back to attacking hitters with his plus-fastball. As the Indians made their second half push, Hagadone became a mainstay in the bullpen, making 20 of his 35 appearances during the final two months. In his 35 appearances, Hagadone donned a 2.70 ERA in 23.1 innings, striking out 27 and walking just six. He continued to have success against hitters from each side of the plate, holding right-handed hitters to a .211 average and left-handed hitters to a .217 average.
Now, Hagadone enters 2015 with a roster spot secured. He’s out of options, but regardless, he assumes a spot in the Tribe’s bullpen as a middle inning reliever capable of bridging the gap from starting pitcher to back end relievers. His success against both right-handers and left-handers makes him a quality choice for the role. Francona and Callaway do not have to consider a pitching change when Hagadone faces a right-hander. The fireballer has potential to get an out—especially a strikeout—against any hitter.
Furthermore, if late-inning, matchup left-hander Marc Rzepczynski were to struggle in his role, it’s possible that Hagadone could easily shift back into a more high leverage role. Hagadone’s ability to find the strike zone has gone a long way to making the left side of the Indians’ bullpen a strength with himself, Rzepczynski and youngster Kyle Crockett.
Hagadone’s control will remain a point of focus this season, and likely will be tied to his success in the Tribe’s bullpen.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer