Biggest Story for Tribe? No Doubt, It’s the Starters

The Cleveland Indians sit poised to make their first appearance in baseball’s post-season in six years.  That is something some people predicted at the beginning of the season, but most experts didn’t see this coming.

We picked the Tribe to finish fourth in the American League Central Division, mostly because of doubts about the starting pitching staff.  We are very happy to have been wrong on our guess.

Justin Masterson pitched more like the guy who took the mound in 2011 when he had a 3.21 ERA and developed into a horse, throwing almost 190 innings before a rib cage injury sidelined him in early September for a few weeks.

Corey Kluber, picked up for Jake Westbrook at the trade deadline in 2010, didn’t even make the Opening Day roster.  But he became a mainstay before hurting his index finger, and has come back in September winning 11 games on the year with an ERA of under 4.00 (3.85).

Left-hander Scott Kazmir was on baseball’s scrap heap last season, pitching in an independent league trying to put his career back together.  That he did, giving Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Calloway over 150 innings, going 9-9 with a 4.14 ERA and averaging a strikeout per inning.

And who could have foreseen rookie Danny Salazar, who opened the season at AA Akron, would become a key arm in the rotation by the season’s end.  The youngster, equipped with an electric fastball, has fanned 65 hitters in 52 innings pitched and looks to be a guy who could become a front of the rotation starter by the beginning of next year.

However, perhaps the biggest surprise has been Ubaldo Jimenez.

Jimenez was acquired at the trading deadline in 2011 for two top pitching prospects, lefty Drew Pomerantz and righty Alex White, both former first round draft picks.  For most of the next two seasons, the balance of ’11, all of 2012, and the first half of this season, most would have to agree Jimenez was a huge disappointment.

He led the AL in losses last season with 17.  his ERA with the Indians both for the balance of his first season here and in 2012 were over 5.00, a mark that signifies you are not an effective pitcher.

In the second half, something clicked for the big right-hander, whether it came from Calloway or watching film, or from frequent mechanical adjustments, and Jimenez started to resemble the pitcher who posted 19 wins and a 2.88 ERA for Colorado in 2010.

And he started pounding the strike zone like never before.

In his first 205 big league starts, Jimenez never had a game where he struck out nine batters without walking anyone.

He’s done it three times in his last six starts.

Any of these stories would have been amazing on their own, but the fact that they all happened for the Tribe is a credit to the scouts who found Kluber and Kazmir, the coaching staff that turned around Masterson and Jimenez, and the player development people who nurtured Salazar back after his elbow surgery.

That doesn’t mean this was a lucky season for Cleveland because all of these guys are certainly capable of repeating these types of campaigns.  In the cases of the veterans, they’ve done it before.

In the youngsters case, it was a mechanical adjustment that add a few MPHs to Kluber’s fastball and Salazar has an arm that is a gift.

The Cleveland Indians have been a terrific story most of the season, although many in Cleveland have missed it.  The pitching staff was just the biggest reason for an unlikely 90 win season.



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