Can Detwiler Crack Through Cleveland’s Crowded Bullpen?

Left-handed pitcher Ross Detwiler is in camp with the Indians, looking to revive his once promising career.

The 30-year-old eight-year MLB veteran and former first round draft pick hopes to catch on with Cleveland this season. If he were to make the staff, it would appear most likely that it would be in the role of a lefty-on-lefty option out of the bullpen.

The Indians added him in December during a particular heavy stretch of minor league signings with spring training non-roster invites by the club that focused on the bullpen, following the acquisitions of fellow left-handed veterans Joe Thatcher and Tom Gorzelanny.

Over parts of eight seasons in the Majors, Detwiler has spent time as both a starter and a reliever, although the latter has become the norm over the last several seasons. He is a former first round draft pick, sixth overall, by the Washington Nationals in the 2007 draft. He surprisingly pitched in his first Major League game later that September, throwing a scoreless inning of relief for the Nationals. It was an eventful welcoming to “The Show”, as Washington was held hitless by Atlanta’s John Smoltz for seven innings before former Indians infielder Ronnie Belliard broke up the no-hitter to lead off the eighth.

Detwiler bounced back and forth over the next few years between minor league stops and occasional MLB appearances before finally settling into the club’s starting rotation in 2012, when he went 10-8 with a 3.40 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 33 games (27 starts). But his 2013 season was limited to just 13 starts for Washington and with a crowded rotation, Detwiler moved into a relief role for the club in 2014. He went 2-3 with a 4.00 ERA in 47 games and earned his first career save that season but, in December of that offseason, he was traded to Texas for a pair of minor leaguers.

On a Rangers pitching staff decimated by injuries, he started last season in the rotation, but four times in seven starts he allowed five earned runs and was sitting at 0-5 with a 6.95 ERA. Like many others on the roster, he landed on the disabled list in mid-May with a shoulder injury and when he returned from a pair of rehab outings, was back in a relief role. But pitching from the bullpen, he fared no better, giving up eight runs on 14 hits with five walks in nine and one-third innings (7.71 ERA and .368 batting average against). The club designated him for assignment on July 11 and he was released several days later after rejecting an outright assignment.

He joined the Braves a couple of days after his release and worked in 24 games for the club in a relief role, earning one win but allowing 13 earned runs over 15 1/3 innings (7.63 ERA). While the long ball problem that killed him in his stint in Texas was resolved (after allowing nine homers in 43 innings in Texas, he gave up just one with Atlanta), he was getting hit frequently and struggling with free passes. He walked 16 batters while striking out just 13 and gave up 20 hits for the Braves. He finished the season a combined 1-5 with a 7.25 ERA in 41 games, including career highs in hits and walks per nine innings and a significant jump in his home run rate.

Being left-handed, Detwiler could have some value to a club like the Indians. They may envision him as a potential LOOGY, something the Indians currently lack in their bullpen. In addition to the contracts tendered to Thatcher and Gorzelanny, the club is returning Kyle Crockett and Giovanni Soto for possible spots in the Cleveland bullpen for 2016. Southpaw starting depth at the upper levels of the farm system is also thin, with T.J. House being the most notable option for the club this spring.

Detwiler’s career splits may give some credence to the thought of him in the bullpen as a lefty-only relief option.

Last season, right-handed hitters pummeled him for a .390 batting average and .472 on-base percentage. He allowed 14 doubles, a pair of triples, and nine home runs to righties, and to make matters worse gave up 27 walks while striking them out just 24 times. Over the course of his career, he has a lifetime .295 average allowed to right-handers (1,720 plate appearances) with a 1.55 strikeout-to-walk rate and has faced them nearly three times as often as he has faced left-handed hitters.

Those lefties have had a harder time against Detwiler, historically. They hit just .234 last season in 92 plate appearances with three doubles, a triple, and a homer. He struck out 17 of them while walking 9. Lifetime, he has limited lefties to a .233 average over 601 plate appearances and has struck them out 2.27 times to every one walk.

The 6’3” lefty utilizes a sinker on the mound as his primary pitch and will go to a changeup and a breaking ball. While he got more strikeouts off of the sinker than any other pitch, the opposition also hit .308 against him when using it. Yet that was markedly better than the .429 average against his breaking ball and .500 mark off of changeups. He threw just 51.3% of his sliders for strikes.

Detwiler has, in the past, had some concerns about being a reliever in the Majors, as he had felt himself more of a starting pitcher. When asked about his trade to Texas, he welcomed the move and shared in a story following the trade on that, “It’s a better fit for me. I get a chance to start. I really didn’t fit as a reliever last year. I think of myself as a starter. I have just been preparing the way I have my whole career that I would be a starter.”

After another difficult time on the mound in 2015, will Detwiler consider prolonging his career as a relief option, or is he solely looking at starting opportunities for the future?

As it stands, he was set to start a “B” game for the Indians on Monday afternoon to get some innings on the mound. In two other spring outings, he has given up three runs on four hits with a walk and two strikeouts in two innings of work. One of those hits was a solo home run to Chicago’s Adam LaRoche, a lefty, in his second contest. The rough start only further complicates his ability to crack the Cleveland roster by the end of camp.

Photo: Hunter Martin/Getty Images

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