In past seasons, the Cleveland Indians went to spring training with their roster virtually set.
Oh, they said there was competition, but from the opportunities given to some players and early optioning to the minor league camp, it was clear that it was already decided who was coming north with the big club.
This year, it’s different. While many have speculated that Jason Giambi will make the team if he’s healthy, the battles for spots on the bench are on going. Does Ryan Raburn’s versatility give him a leg up?
Does Ben Francisco have a shot if he hits?
On the starting pitching side, there seems like a good battle going on for two open spots in the rotation. Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Brett Myers seem like locks, but in what order?
It wouldn’t be a shock if Jimenez struggles that he doesn’t take the mound for the second game of the season in Toronto. However, that’s another story.
Right now, the candidates for the last two spots are Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Zack McAllister, Scott Kazmir, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, with Corey Kluber on the fringe.
To this point, Kazmir and Bauer have pitched the best, the former hasn’t allowed a run and the latter has allowed just two earned runs in seven innings.
Kazmir would give the Tribe a much-needed lefty as a starter, and his velocity thus far is reportedly in the low 90’s, much better than the mid 80’s he was throwing at a couple of years ago.
The front office probably would prefer to have Bauer open the season in Columbus to get more AAA innings under his belt, but if he continues to shut down opposition hitters, he may force them into a different mindset.
Carrasco has the most experience with the Indians, pitching well during the first half of the 2011 season before hurting his elbow and having the resulting Tommy John surgery.
He was said to be throwing in the mid 90’s during the window, prompting Terry Francona to say if Carrasco isn’t healthy, then nobody is.
As for McAllister, you can make a good argument that he was the Tribe’s best and most consistent starter in the second half of last season. That makes should give him a solid chance to open the season in the rotation.
It will be interesting to see how Jimenez’ spring develops. He pitched well in his first outing and did okay in the first two innings of his second.
However, he ran into trouble in the third frame and he couldn’t right the ship. It may have just been fatigue, but it is troubling because that has been a problem in the past.
The management has been very upbeat about the right-hander, saying he looks much better mechanically than he did since he arrived in Cleveland.
Still, until he strings together a series of solid starts, there has to be a question mark on the guy who started the All-Star game for the National League in 2010.
He just has to keep proving himself. It will be interesting to see if Francona will leave him in the #2 spot in the rotation if he struggles during the rest of the spring.
After last season, when the team struggled to find starting pitchers who could get past the fifth inning, a little depth is welcome. Finally, the Indians have some alternatives.
It’s also good competition among these guys, none of them can feel secure about a roster spot.
The key to the 2013 season for the Tribe is how their starting pitching will perform. Hopefully, they can craft five effective starters out of this group.