The baseball season is just 11 games old, and the depth the Cleveland Indians acquired in the off-season has already been put to the test.
First, the starting rotation had a horrible two turns through, with many pitchers not being able to go more than five innings. That took a toll on the bullpen, so Terry Francona and the front office were able to change on the fly and add an extra relief pitcher.
Of course, the two rainouts helped because they were able to skip a start for the fifth guy in the rotation.
Scott Kazmir made a rehab start with Columbus last night and he is on track to make his first start in Houston this weekend, so Francona got away without having to use somebody he didn’t want to use.
With the nagging elbow injury for 2B Jason Kipnis, the skipper has had to use Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn, both established major league players, to fill in. This is different from having to use players like Aaron Cunningham, Austin Kearns, or Luis Valbuena as substitutes.
Aviles was the starting shortstop for Boston last season, and although the Sox wound up with virtually the same record as the Indians, both teams fell apart in the last two months, so it wasn’t like either team was like the Astros and Marlins of 2013.
Raburn is also experienced, having appeared in over 100 games three times with the Tigers and hitting double digits in home runs in three different seasons.
Tito has had to alter his catchers early this season too. Carlos Santana hurt his thumb/wrist during the home opener, and Lou Marson hurt his neck in a home plate collision, so Yan Gomes was called up from Columbus, and has done a good job handling the pitchers and also hit a home run on Saturday.
Now, CF Michael Bourn is going to miss perhaps of week’s worth of games with stitches in his finger. No problem. Francona will move Drew Stubbs to center, and he can play Raburn in right, or he can put Nick Swisher in right, use Mark Reynolds at first base and give Jason Giambi some at bats as the DH.
Giambi may be 42 years old, and won the American League MVP in 2000, but he has made his living in recent years by being a productive bat off the bench in Colorado.
Besides Gomes, the added depth also extends to the minor leagues. For example, with Bourn down and Kipnis out, the Tribe called up Cord Phelps, who had an excellent spring and has a very good history of hitting in the minors, to the 25-man roster.
They no longer have to use a player who has no business being in the big leagues.
At other times, they stayed longer with a struggling player because they didn’t have a better option available. This was the case with Johnny Damon last season.
And that bodes very well for the success of this ballclub. You have to have options because things never work out the way it is planned in the off-season. In the past few years, this organization had few alternatives.
This year, the depth they’ve accumulated is being put to the test before the first month of the season plays out.