The biggest worry most fans of the Cleveland Indians had going into the season was the starting pitching. With two weeks of the season having been played, that concern still exists.
Despite the absence of Michael Bourn and slow starts by Nick Swisher, Asdrubal Cabrera, and to some extent Carlos Santana, the Indians have scored enough runs. They rank 3rd in the American League in runs scored, averaging 4.83 tallies per game and the team’s OPS ranks tied for 4th in the junior circuit.
Unfortunately, the two teams they trail in runs per night are teams they have played thus far in the 2014 season: The Twins and White Sox. Are those teams hot, or are the struggles by Cleveland’s starters responsible for their impressive ranking.
Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway’s pitching staff has struggled throwing strikes, leading the American League in allowing walks. They also lead the AL in striking hitters out. This combination leads to high pitch counts for the starting pitchers, and that puts a huge burden on the bullpen. And we all know how Francona likes to protect his relief corps.
In the Tribe’s 12 games thus far, the starter has completed seven innings just twice (Justin Masterson on Opening Night, and Zack McAllister vs. San Diego), and in only two other games have they thrown six frames (Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, both this past week against the Padres).
That’s two out of every three games that the bullpen is forced to get more than nine outs per game.
To be sure, Callaway and the skipper would prefer the starters to be more efficient, throw strikes and let hitters put the ball in play to get outs. Masterson has walked nine in 15-1/3 frames, Carlos Carrasco has walked five in 10-1/3 innings, and Danny Salazar has issued five more free passes in 9-1/3 innings.
Speaking of Carrasco, it appears he isn’t pleasing his bosses. He struggled in his second start of the season on Friday night, but what had to have Francona and Callaway shaking their heads were the two walks he issued after the Tribe tied the game at three for him. Response runs have been a problem this season for the whole staff, but when they occur because of walks, it makes the manager upset.
After the game, reporters received the dreaded “ask him” answer from the pitching coach, a very good sign of his anger. Callaway sent a clear signal to the pitcher that he is no longer covering for him. And both he and Francona go out of their way to take the player’s side when at all possible.
The right-hander had his next start, scheduled to be Thursday at Detroit, delayed until at least Saturday vs. Toronto, but the guess here is that the front office is buying time to see whether or not to use Bauer or maybe Josh Tomlin in that spot with Carrasco staying in the bullpen.
Blake Wood (seven walks in 4-1/3 IP) could be sent to Columbus to make room in the ‘pen for Carrasco, as the organization tries to find a spot for the young right-hander and his electric stuff.
If he fails in the relief role, GM Chris Antonetti will likely have to cut ties with Carrasco.
While it is still very early in the campaign (less than 10% of the season has been played), the Tribe needs to get more length out of the starting pitchers. If the current guys can’t do it, Francona will make changes. He isn’t about to throw away a season because of this problem.