Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 55
Bob Toth | On 02, Feb 2018
While the offseason has been historically slow and the winter has crawled along at an even slower pace, we at Did The Tribe Win Last Night look ahead to the warmer days of the 2018 season by remembering Tribe players past and present.
Countdown to Opening Day – 55 days
Unlike some of the other numbers on our daily countdown thus far, the number 55 has been far more likely to settle into a home on the back of a player in the city of Cleveland than to be used by a short-time player.
Roberto Perez is the current owner of the double-five for the Indians and has laid claim to it for parts of the last four seasons as the only number he has worn during his big league career.
He once again split his playing time behind the plate with Yan Gomes, serving as the backup and the primary pitch caller for Trevor Bauer (the pair worked together 32 times last year). Perez played in 73 games on the year, hitting .207 with 12 doubles, eight homers, and 38 RBI. The power numbers were some of the best of his career to date.
Perez’s bat was not what got him to the Major League level, but he has shown a bit of a flare for the dramatics on a big stage. Instead of his hitting prowess, it has been his work as a good game manager and a sound defender behind the plate that has kept him working as the Indians’ number two catcher. He threw out 43% of would-be base stealers, the third season in a row he has been higher than 40%. For the third straight season, he led the American League in range factor per nine innings for a catcher (just ahead of Gomes). Had he qualified, he would have been just one-thousandth of a point behind Angels’ catcher Martin Maldonado (.998) for the best fielding percentage. He was fifth among AL catchers with four total zone runs. Utilizing Baseball Info Solutions’ Defensive Runs Saved Above Average, he netted a +14 for the year, his highest tally of his career (the Indians, as a team, were fifth in all of baseball with a +35 for the season).
Perez will head into the 2018 season with his familiar #55 and his running mate Gomes as the Tribe’s top two catchers in the organization. Pressure could be mounting behind the pair, however, as the club’s top prospect, catcher Francisco Mejia, made his big league debut in September of last season and he has the kind of bat that would help the lineup greatly. While a lack of playing time behind the plate will likely mean a start to the season in Columbus for the young switch-hitter, he could put keep the heat on the defensive-minded duo of Gomes and Perez.The man once named Fausto Carmona but more appropriately known as Roberto Hernandez Heredia spent his seven-year Indians career in the number 55. Signed out of the Dominican Republic under false pretenses (both in alias and age), Hernandez reached the Majors in 2006 in his fifth season with the organization. After a good overall showing as a starting pitcher in the minors, Carmona was thrust into bullpen action after just three MLB starts on the way to an awful 1-10 record with a 5.42 ERA. He worked as a seventh and eighth inning option for manager Eric Wedge, who saw his young pitcher lose ten straight decisions after winning his MLB debut.
The next year was a completely different story for Carmona/Hernandez. He took charge and went 19-8 in 32 starts, posting a 3.06 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP while finishing fourth in the AL Cy Young race (won by teammate CC Sabathia). The Indians came a game away from the World Series, and it was possible given the strong breakout from the big right-hander.
Injuries slowed Carmona in 2008 and 2009, but he was an All-Star in 2010 for the first time. He would finish the year 13-14 with a 3.77 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP, his best numbers since his second season. He could not replicate the numbers the following year, falling to 7-15, and then his world fell apart. He was arrested in the Dominican as he prepared to join the Indians for spring training and was accused of using a false identity to try to obtain a U.S. visa. As a result of the arrest, his real name and age were discovered and he was suspended by MLB for identity fraud.
The runaround would cost him nearly all of 2012 and he would be on the move as a free agent in the offseason. He spent 2013 with the Tampa Bay Rays and started 2014 with the Philadelphia Phillies before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He began the 2015 season with Houston before being designated for assignment midseason and he worked with Toronto’s and Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliates two seasons ago. He made what would appear to be his final big league starts with the Braves in 2016, earning a win and a loss before being released.
A bulldog of a pitcher took the digits to the playoffs in the glory days of the 90s, continuing a trend of wearing the 55 throughout the majority of his successful MLB career. Orel Hershiser left his longtime home of Los Angeles in 1995 when he signed as a free agent with the Indians. It was a homecoming of sorts for the right-hander, who attended college at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University.Hershiser was well decorated by the time he joined the Indians. A 17th round draft pick by the Dodgers in 1979, he broke into the Bigs with eight relief appearances in 1983. After splitting the following season between the rotation and the bullpen, he latched on to a spot on the starting staff and led all of baseball with an .864 winning percentage, thanks to a 19-3 record in 36 games with a tiny 2.03 ERA. His efforts helped carry LA into the postseason, where they were knocked out in the National League Championship Series by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Two years later, he would make the first of three consecutive All-Star teams. He would also dominate the game in 1988, when he went 23-8 with a 2.26 ERA in 35 starts and was named both the NL Cy Young Award winner and the World Series’ Most Valuable Player after throwing two complete games and one shutout in the Fall Classic against the Oakland A’s.
He joined the Indians at the perfect time, filling the team’s need for an established starter to join Dennis Martinez and the young Charles Nagy on the staff. Hershiser made 26 starts and returned to his old form in his first action in the AL, going 16-6 with a 3.87 ERA for the Tribe as they raced through the regular season with a 100-44 record and earned their first trip to the World Series in 41 years. He was brilliant in the postseason, going 4-1 in five starts with just six runs allowed over 35 1/3 innings of work, and he was named the MVP of the ALCS.
His win in Game 5 of the World Series against Atlanta would be the last postseason win of his career. Hershiser went 15-9 in 1996 and 14-6 the following year as the Indians returned to the Fall Classic, but came away heartbroken in seven games to the Florida Marlins. After the season, he returned to California, signing a one-year deal with the San Francisco Giants. He followed it with a year in the Big Apple, making 32 starts for the New York Mets. His career came full circle in 2000, his 18th season in the Majors, when the 41-year-old started the year with his former club, the Dodgers. He lasted just three starts before he was moved to the bullpen and he lost a month on the disabled list. When he returned, he was back in the rotation, but after three straight losses and short outings, he was given his release in the final work of his big league career.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images