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 – 56 days
In 2015 the Indians had one of the top pitching staffs in baseball. However, a major Achilles heel for the Tribe for about half the season was the number five starter role.
For the better part of the campaign’s first three months, Cleveland tried throwing anything and everything against the last starter wall in the hopes it would stick. From young guys like T.J. House, to a reclamation project in Zach McAllister, to veteran journeyman like Shaun Marcum and Bruce Chen, nothing worked.
House, a rookie breakout sensation in 2014, got hurt. McAllister proved to be far better in a long-relief, bullpen role. Chen and Marcum were not nearly the trusted arms they were when they were young and less-traveled.
On June 21, the Tribe decided to dip into its minor league pool of talent to see if a fifth starter, who could be trusted, could be found. The little-known Cody Anderson got the call. In his first big-league game, the right-hander stymied the Tampa Bay Rays for seven and two-thirds scoreless innings. It was easily the best performance by a Tribe starter out of the last rotation spot. Before the game, it was questionable as to whether or not Anderson would head back on a return trip to Columbus shortly after his Major League debut. Instead, he stuck around and stuck around for the long haul.
Anderson finally answered the months-long question of who would slot in after the Tribe’s big starting four of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer.
Anderson ended up putting together an eye-opening final three months of 2015. He finished with 15 games started, going 7-3 with a 3.05 ERA. Add another month or so to the resume, and the now 25-year-old may have entered the American League Rookie of the Year conversation.
Anderson’s stunning rookie season came out of nowhere as he was not near Cleveland’s radar during spring training. He had struggled significantly in 28 games at Double-A Akron prior to last year. His ERA in those outings was 5.65. He was certainly headed back to the Aeros for the 2015 campaign and it seemed he had a lot of work to do just to get to Columbus, let alone Cleveland.
However, something seemed to click and the lights went on for the pitcher entering his mid-20s. He was lights out in ten outings to start the Double-A season. He went 3-2 with a 1.73 ERA, earning a promotion to Columbus and looking more like an early round draft pick rather than the 14th-rounder he was when selected by the Indians in 2011 amateur draft.
Anderson got off to a very good start with the Clippers. In three games, he split a pair of decisions and carried an excellent 2.33 ERA. Thanks to some other injuries at the Triple-A level and the mess that the fifth starter job in Cleveland had become, the Tribe went calling for its previously unheralded hurler.
After a full season like Anderson enjoyed last year, having success at all three levels at which he pitched, he should seem a lock for Cleveland’s 2016 rotation. However, when it comes to Cleveland’s starting five, nothing is a given considering how strong the options are.
The 2014 Cy Young award winner Kluber will anchor a staff considered by many to be a top five rotation in baseball and arguably the best in the AL. Carrasco and Salazar, following strong years of their own, are likely numbers two and three. Josh Tomlin, who was coming off Tommy John surgery and not in the rotational picture until August, showed enough good stuff to earn a two-year deal last month and could slot into the number four spot in the starting pecking order.
We have yet to mention Bauer. That is because if there is an odd man out from last year’s top four, it could well be Bauer. The extremely talented, but somewhat head-strong, Bauer struggled so much down the stretch last season that he ended the year in the bullpen. His still potentially bright future is in the rotation. However, if he does not come into spring training as the starter who began last season on fire, he could enter the conversation of players needing some more fine-tuning. In a world where the Indians have such good pitching and playoff hopes, fine-tuning is not happening at the big league level.
Should Bauer falter or Tomlin show that last year’s final two months were a mirage, Anderson will be back in a Tribe uniform. However, he will probably go to Goodyear, Arizona, as the Indians’ sixth starter. That a guy who had the success Anderson had last year will start the Cactus League season on the outside looking in says more about the state of Cleveland’s starting pitching than it does about the player himself.
Anderson breathed life into a spot on the team a year ago that was lifeless for periods of last season. He may find himself back in Columbus come April, which would not necessarily be all bad. His time there was so short, there may well be things for him to learn. The last thing the Indians want is another House, who looked lost in his second season a year ago even before injuries totally wiped it out.
If Anderson does indeed start the year in the minors, it is a safe bet he will not be there for keeps. No rotation in baseball goes a full year completely in tact. Injuries and unforeseen ineffectiveness take over at some point. Somewhere along the way, the Indians will need to call upon someone to rescue a spot in the starting rotation at some point. Anderson was so good at that last year; why not do it again this summer?
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