The regular season for the Cleveland Indians starts in less than two weeks, and there are still some unresolved issues on Terry Francona’s pitching staff.
The skipper has named four of his starting pitchers with Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zack McAllister, and Danny Salazar getting the nod, with one spot remaining open.
In the bullpen, John Axford, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, Mark Rzepczynski, and Josh Outman seem to have nailed down spots with two openings in what figures to be a seven man bullpen to start the campaign.
That leaves several candidates for the three remaining spots on the staff when the season opens in Oakland on March 31st.
The battle for the last spot in the rotation boils down to Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, and Aaron Harang.
Carrasco struggled last year as a starter, but pitched very well in relief, while Tomlin missed most of 2013 with Tommy John surgery. When healthy, the right-hander is a strike thrower and has demonstrated an ability to give his team at least five innings per start.
Harang was brought in right before spring training started to compete for a spot in the rotation and has pitched nine innings in “A” games, allowing two runs.
Carrasco and Tomlin have also been impressive thus far.
Our guess is that Carrasco will start the season in the fourth spot in the rotation while Tomlin will go to Columbus to length out his arm at the minor league level, which is needed since he pitched very little in 2013.
As for Harang, GM Chris Antonetti will have to work some magic to keep him in the organization after March because other teams are looking for starting pitchers.
The Tribe would like to keep the veteran around because Trevor Bauer doesn’t look ready to pitch in the bigs yet, and outside of Tomlin, there isn’t much starting pitching depth in the organization.
Perhaps the Indians can get Harang to go to Columbus with an out clause if he isn’t recalled by the end of April.
In the bullpen, the candidates for the last two spots are Vinnie Pestano, Blake Wood, David Aardsma, Scott Atchison, and C.C. Lee.
Pestano would seem to have a leg up based on his success in 2011 and 2012 when he was one of the best set up men in the game. He’s done okay this spring, allowing one run and two hits in five innings.
Wood is another Tommy John survivor and has big league experience with the Royals. He’s allowed one run in seven innings, striking out eight.
Aardsma has had arm troubles too, but was the Mariners closer a few years ago. He’s allowed two runs in six innings, while Atchison, who was with Francona in Boston, has given up a run in five innings of work.
Lee is a prospect who spent bits of last year with the Tribe, and he’s allowed two runs in six frame in Arizona.
Our prediction is that Atchison makes the squad, taking the Matt Albers role from 2013. That is to say, pitching extended outings (two or three innings) if needed if the starter has to depart the game early.
The Tribe has also pointed out that Wood has an option remaining, so the other spot looks to be Pestano’s to lose.
Aardsma would be welcome in Columbus, but more likely will ask for his release so he can pursue a job elsewhere.
Of course, a late injury or a couple of horrid appearance could change these spots before Opening Day.