As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the players who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.
Countdown to Opening Day – 65 days
The world might be built predominantly for right-handers, but being left-handed will certainly benefit Cleveland pitcher Giovanni Soto when he heads to Goodyear, Arizona, to battle for a spot on the Indians relief staff for the 2016 season.
While he only had a quick cup of coffee with the club in 2015, number 65 did nothing to hurt his cause to aid a staff suddenly lacking in southpaw options after relying on Marc Rzepczynski for parts of the previous three years. Now, the club returns Soto and Kyle Crockett, each of whom spent a large chunk of their 2015 down the interstate in Columbus waiting for their phones to ring.
Left-handed relief depth for manager Terry Francona’s beloved bullpen was a source of focus by the front office in the offseason, as the club brought in free agents Ross Detwiler, Tom Gorzelanny, and Joe Thatcher on minor league deals and non-roster invites to spring training.
None of the three overwhelmed the competition last season, leaving the bullpen battle wide open for the coming year.
While those three men, each of whom will be 30 or older as spring camp hits full stride, will be fighting for his professional life, Soto does have the benefit of age and options on his side.
The Detroit Tigers selected Soto, now 24, out of Carolina, Puerto Rico, in the 21st round of the 2009 draft and dealt him one year and five days after signing him to the Indians for infielder Jhonny Peralta and cash.
The lefty worked almost exclusively as a starter while progressing through the Tribe’s farm system, which included a nine inning no-hitter in 2012 while pitching for Akron. His 2013 season, which was supposed to see him working at Triple-A Columbus, was almost entirely lost to injury and when he did pitch, it was in relief. He returned to Akron for the following 2014 season, working again as a reliever, and landed in Columbus for the first five months of action in 2015, going 2-1 with a 2.68 ERA while striking out 51 batters in 53 2/3 innings before joining the Indians for the final month of play.
Over six games, all against American League Central Division opponents, he faced 13 batters. He allowed just three base runners (all on singles), with two of the three hitters batting left-handed against him. He did not strike out a batter nor did he walk one and he allowed no runners to score, giving him a largely blemish-free stat sheet for the season.
Soto, with a low 90’s fastball and mid-80’s slider, will mix in both a curve and changeup on occasion in the mid-70’s on the radar gun.
While he does not have a spot guaranteed for the coming season, he will have a shot to compete for one of up to two spots in Francona’s bullpen as lefty options. His teammate for the bulk of last season, Crockett, struggled with his command and saw an elevation in his walk rate that proved concerning in the early going last year and persisted throughout the season. Detwiler brings eight years of MLB service with him, but was 1-5 with a 7.25 ERA in 41 games with Texas and Atlanta in 2015. Gorzelanny, 33, went 2-2 with a 5.95 ERA for Detroit in 48 games while spending a month at Triple-A Toledo. Thatcher, 34 and the oldest of the veteran additions, may have been the best of the bunch, being shuffled off the Houston roster to Triple-A in August while going 1-3 with a 3.18 ERA in 43 innings for the Astros on the year.
The fight for spots in the bullpen will be one of the key battles of the spring to watch in the Indians camp in Goodyear. If Soto does not win, he will be primed and ready in Columbus waiting for his next call to come.
Photo: Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports