Lemon and Starting Staff Key to Tribe’s Success

April 22, 1948

On Tuesday, the Indians rode always-reliable ace Bob Feller to a two-hit shutout and 4-0 victory in the home opener over the St. Louis Browns. Feller’s domination over the always-lowly Browns was no surprise.

The question for the Tribe and its rotation is what remains behind Feller.

Cleveland will send Bob Lemon to the mound Friday afternoon in Detroit at Briggs Stadium against the Tigers in their home opener. Lemon is hoping to make considerable strides as a pitcher this season and emerge as a strong second pitcher behind Feller.

For the 27-year-old right-hander, it has been a slow development as a pitcher. The Indians originally signed Lemon as a third baseman in 1938, and he played predominantly in the minor leagues until leaving the team to serve in World War II in 1943. He did appear in five games in both 1941-42, but only had one hit in nine at-bats for the Tribe over the two seasons.

Before Lemon left in 1943 for Los Alamitos Naval Air Station in California where he served his first two years in the Navy, Tribe pitcher Mel Harder recognized a good curveball from Lemon and suggested to both Lemon and the organization that he consider pitching. He headed to Aiea Barracks in Hawaii in 1945, where perfected his curveball.

Even upon his return to the Indians, Lemon played center field in 1946. He made a diving catch on opening day to preserve a shutout for Feller. However, Lemon’s struggles at the plate helped Indians manager Lou Boudreau make the decision to move Lemon to pitcher fulltime. Lemon pitched much of the season in the bullpen, appearing in 32 games and making only five starts. He was 4-5 with a 2.49 ERA in 1946, bringing his position player career to a close.

In 1947, Lemon again began the season in the bullpen, but when the Tribe fell out of contention, he moved into rotation and won nine games in the final six weeks of the season. He beat the Tigers, his Friday opponent, in one of those starts. He finished last year 11-5 with a 3.44 ERA in 37 games and 15 starts.

His ability to assert himself toward the top of the rotation will greatly impact the wig-wammers’ pennant hopes. Lemon pitched eight strong innings last Sunday against the New York Giants in his final exhibition warm up. If Lemon can solidify the second spot in the rotation, Al Gettel and Don Black can fill in the back of the rotation.

Currently, Boudreau plans to start Lemon tomorrow and bring back Feller on Saturday. X-rays on Feller’s index finger from Tuesday’s opener revealed only a bruise. Boudreau hopes he will make his scheduled start Saturday afternoon, but in a morning workout today, Feller threw batting practice and had discomfort.

“I can grip the ball all right,” Feller said. “I can’t throw it over the plate. I could pitch with it right now, but I’d be awfully wild. I probably won’t know how it’s going to be until I start warming up Saturday.”

If Feller is unable to pitch Saturday, Boudreau will move up Gettel, who currently is slated for Sunday against Detroit. If Feller still is unable to pitch Sunday, Black will move up a day. Currently, Black is not slated to pitch until Monday in Chicago against the White Sox. Detroit plans to throw Fred Hutchinson on Friday, Art Houtteman on Saturday and Hal Newhouser on Sunday.

Cleveland opens an eight-game road trip tomorrow with three weekend games in Detroit, followed by three in Chicago before ending the trip in St. Louis for two games. The Tribe will return from their westward journey for a home game on May 1 against the Tigers.

Photo: Cleveland Memory Project

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