While the Cleveland Indians‘ starting rotation has finally started to log some innings, the team has had to tax a bullpen that was already in somewhat of a transition with a new closer and new setup man.
This offseason, the team didn’t bring back Chris Perez, who went to the Los Angeles Dodgers. They also lost key left setup men Joe Smith to the Los Angeles Angels. Vinnie Pestano made the roster, but his career downward spiral continued and he now seems in limbo in triple-A Columbus.
That leaves three players (Bryan Shaw, Mark Rzepczynski and Cody Allen) for manager Terry Francona to turn to when the game is tight and on the line, and turn to he has. Shaw, a former second-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2008, came in a deal which involved the Indians, Cincinnati Reds and Diamondbacks which saw the Indians send Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds. Rzepczynski came to the Tribe in a deadline deal last season with the St.Louis Cardinals, and threw well down the stretch.
As for Allen, he has has flown through the Indians’ system after being drafted in the 23rd round in 2011. He appears to be the team’s closer of the future, as he has been receiving the ball in the ninth inning and has closed the door against the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox the last two nights.
Allen certainly wasn’t slated as the team’s closer this year, as the club inked former Milwaukee Brewers and Cardinals reliever John Axford to close games. Axford saved 46 games for Milwaukee in 2011, and when he started the season with nine saves for the Tribe by May 3, it looked as if things would be okay for the pen.
That’s when the bottom dropped out. Axford gave up a blown save and then a homer for a loss in back-to-back games in early May, and Francona quickly moved him from the closer role and instead went into the ‘closer by committee’ mode, which meant even more work for Allen and Shaw, who seemed already on their way to logging a record number of games pitched in.
Allen seems to be the closer for now, having saved five games with a 2-1 mark with a 2.81 ERA. Shaw has been very good as well this year, going 2-1 with a 2.22 ERA, and both he and Allen have thrown already in 30 of the team’s 59 games. Rzepczynski has shown up in 31 Indians games, going 0-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 21 innings.
While there are others in the pen who Francona can turn to, it seems barely a game goes by that you don’t see Allen, Rzepczynski or Shaw throwing at some point, and that could be a major problem that will need to be addressed.
Axford seems lost right now despite wanting to get that closer role back. He’s thrown just nine times since being removed from the role, twice in the last nine games, and he never seems to appear with the game on the line in any fashion. Another player in the pen who seems to pitch only in meaningless games in former starter Carlos Carrasco. Since going 0-3 and being moved to the pen, Carrasco has thrown in eight of the last 31 games, and almost all in blowouts or when the game is well decided.
That leaves Francona with a thin pen to say the least. Veteran Scott Atchison has been seeing more and more meaningful innings, throwing in 23 games logging 25.2 innings. Lefty Josh Outman has thrown in 25 games, but has just 18.2 innings on the year. There’s a revolving door in the last spot of the pen, with Nick Hagadone being the guy up right now, and he did have a solid 1.1 inning in the Boston win Tuesday, actually picking up the win.
Look for the Indians to again look for the waiver wire and also the trade market for help in this department. If the team can again get a solid player like Rzepczynski, there’s no doubt they will have their eyes on players who could be available at the end of July for a low price from other teams.
Matt Loede has covered the Cleveland Indians for 20 years for National Networks like AP Radio, Metro Networks and other local and national stations. Follow him on twitter @mattloede