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Countdown to Opening Day – 51
The number 51 has rarely been a sign of longevity for careers in a Cleveland Indians uniform. Just seven times since the number hit the field in 1929 has it been worn by the same player across multiple seasons on the shores of Lake Erie.
Right-hander Shawn Armstrong is the current 51 on the Indians roster, but his spot with the club for the coming 2017 season is hardly guaranteed. He spent the last two seasons shuttling back and forth between Cleveland and Triple-A Columbus oftentimes in the final spot on the 25-man roster.
The 26-year-old will look to do his best to make an impact later this month as players report to Goodyear, Arizona. Manager Terry Francona’s bullpen is far from settled, but with the offseason acquisition of left-hander Boone Logan occupying one spot, there may only be a spot or two up for grabs for the remaining options coming to camp.
Armstrong has put up respectable numbers over the last two seasons, but he has been limited to just 18 total appearances. In that span, he has put up a 2.41 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP, but last season, his walk rate jumped nearly two batters per nine innings as he walked five over ten and two-thirds innings of work.
In the minor leagues, it has been a completely different story for Armstrong, who has been a strikeout machine. While he has averaged 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings in the Majors (thanks to a 12.4 K/9 rate in his debut year in 2015), he has averaged 12.2 during his time in the minors dating back to his professional introduction at short-season Mahoning Valley in 2011.
That minor league success has included four mid-season All-Star trips over the last five seasons and over the last three seasons (2014 at Double-A Akron; 2015 and 2016 at Triple-A Columbus), an MILB.com Organization All-Star for last season, and his inclusion in the proposed five-player trade in July with Milwaukee that would have sent him, catcher Francisco Mejia, outfielder Greg Allen, and shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang to the Brewers for catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
While the Indians have opened some doors for Armstrong to make the bullpen by letting go of Jeff Manship and Austin Adams this offseason, there is still a crowded mix trying to join Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, Zach McAllister, and Logan in the bullpen. If the Indians opt for a bigger bench and smaller bullpen, there may be just one spot available, barring injuries during the spring.
Before Armstrong’s time in the number 51, the list of players with more than one year in the number was limited to pitchers Scott Barnes, Mitch Talbot, Jerrod Riggan, Alvin Morman, and Bud Anderson. Jacob Cruz is the only player in franchise history to wear the number for more than two years, doing so for parts of four seasons from 1998 to 2001.
The first player to do so was Bibb Falk in 1929, the season when the Indians broke in numbers on the backs of their jerseys. It was his first season in Cleveland after being acquired from the Chicago White Sox for Chick Autry. In his tenth season in the Majors, the corner outfielder Falk appeared in 125 games and hit .312 with a career-high 13 home runs and 93 RBI in the last great year of his career. He wore new numbers over his final two big league seasons, both for Cleveland, playing 82 games in 1930 while hitting .325 and appearing in 79 games in 1931 with a .304 average.
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