Marcum Quietly Excelling in Fifth Rotation Spot

To talk about the Indians this season is to talk about spotty play and trying to figure out ways to make the current roster pop. You talk about inconsistent offense and, at times, horrible defense, and you talk about being strapped by huge contracts for players who aren’t really producing. You talk about a shaky bullpen.

You also talk about phenomenal starting pitching.

The Indians have what you can call the Big Four – four of the best starting pitchers in the game of baseball in Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar. Although their records don’t necessarily reflect it, these four pitchers are some of the best on the mound. They can compile strikes and hold opposing batters to minimal offense based on their skill alone, although the defense that is behind them can often try to paint a different picture. More often than not, the runs scored off these pitchers are the result of sloppy play in the field, and not their actual talent.

Since the beginning of the season, however, the fifth spot in the rotation has been a question mark. A few pitchers have tried their hands at the spot, few with little, if any, success. It’s been a revolving door for the Tribe, though one player has quietly come in and could be the player who closes that door, at least for the time being.

Zach McAllister, T.J. House, and Bruce Chen have all been able to take a chance as the Tribe’s fifth starter this season. McAllister, who struggled last year in the Tribe’s starting rotation, started just one game for the Tribe this season on April 10 before being relegated to the bullpen. He lost the game, pitching four innings and allowing five runs on 13 hits. He walked one batter and struck out five to start the season with a 11.25 ERA. He pitched in the start of a game again on April 14 when Carrasco left the game in the first inning after getting hit in the face on a comebacker. In that game, McAllister essentially could have started the game, as he pitched in innings one through four. He allowed one run on four hits, walking and striking out one batter each. Following that performance, McAllister took on a new role as a reliever. In the bullpen, McAllister has thrived. He is 1-2 with a 3.78 ERA. Whatever was cursing him in the rotation seems to have disappeared with his move to the ‘pen.

House and Chen both struggled to maintain their consistency in the rotation, as well. The two were nothing short of awful in their starting spots, with House posting an 0-4 record and 13.15 ERA in his four starts, a far cry from his 5-3, 3.35 ERA numbers in 2014. House made four appearances in Columbus this season, and is 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA in his four starts there. He was placed on the DL with a sore left shoulder on May 1, and made rehab appearances in both Lake County and Columbus while trying to bounce back to the pitcher he was before. He was placed on the AAA roster at the end of that DL stint on May 21, and has remained there ever since. It’s not out of the question that House could find another chance at the big leagues before the season is over, though it stands to be seen if his performance in Cleveland this season was a result of his shoulder injury or indicative of something larger.

Similarly, Chen did not have the success int he bigs this year that he had in the minors, and spent two games in Cleveland’s rotation before receiving the demotion to Columbus that ultimately led to his retirement after 17 seasons. Chen went 0-1 in his two starts in Cleveland, posting a 12.79 ERA in 6.1 innings. He gave up 17 hits and nine runs while striking out only four batters. He had gone 2-1 with a 1.74 ERA in Columbus over the course of the season before he retired, likely because he realized that his days of big league success could very easily be coming to a close. Rather than spend more time bouncing between levels and teams, Chen chose to recognize that he time in the majors was limited, and chose retirement over continued seasons of struggling.

Quietly, however, a fifth starter could be emerging in Shaun Marcum, the 33 year old pitcher who was recently called up to fill the blank space left in the rotation. In four starts in Cleveland, Marcum has gone 2-1 with a 5.19 ERA, striking out 25 batters in 26 innings. He has given up 15 runs on 24 hits and, with the exception of May 25 against Texas, has pitched at least five innings for the Tribe. Could he be the fifth starter Cleveland has been looking for? He went 4-0 in Columbus earlier this season with a 1.36 ERA, though as seen by a number of other players on the team, AAA numbers don’t always accurately reflect big league potential. Thus far, though, Marcum hasn’t seemed too shabby on the Major League stage.

Marcum’s name hasn’t been tossed around a whole lot since joining the Cleveland squad. Perhaps it’s because the fifth rotation spot hasn’t been consistent or steady thus far that fans don’t want to get attached or put faith on a player who may just find himself sent back down in a matter of days, or maybe it’s due to the fact that Marcum has had success at,  inconveniently, the same time the Cavs have been dominating the Cleveland sports scene, leaving little energy to be spent on rooting for a new pitcher. But he’s a starter to at least pay attention to as the season continues. The fifth spot in the rotation may continue to rotate until a solid starter emerges in the minors (Cody Anderson perhaps?), but, for now, to place a little faith in Marcum would not be ill-advised. He has been more solid than McAllister, House, or Chen before him, and is quietly making a name for himself as, possibly, the fifth starter the rotation is looking for right now.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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