Indians’ manager Terry Francona likes to have a lot of options in his bullpen.
Because of the versatility of players like Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn, and now, Lonnie Chisenhall, Francona likes to carry 13 pitchers on the roster, including eight relievers.
That’s fine, because the skipper would rather bring in a fresh arm at the end of games, than use a starter who is running out of gas after throwing around 100 pitches.
But there is a growing problem in the relief corps, because it is fairly obvious that Tito doesn’t trust three members of his bullpen crew, and that lack of trust is causing fatigue and possible ineffectiveness down the road for the guys he does trust.
Since we are just a little over 1/3 through the long baseball schedule, this has the potential for disaster.
Currently, there are four Cleveland relievers in the top four of the American League leaders in games pitched: lefty Mark Rzepczynski and Bryan Shaw are tied for the league lead, while Cody Allen is tied for third in the AL.
Recently deposed closer John Axford had been in the top ten for most of the season, but has recently dropped out, mostly because he is one of the pitchers who has left Francona’s “circle of trust”.
As a matter of comparison, Kansas City, Detroit, and Boston all have two pitchers in the top ten in appearances.
Rzepczynski isn’t a real big deal, because he’s a LOOGY (left-handed one out guy) and many of his appearances are to face one or two batters, like last night when he came in to get David Ortiz out.
However, the heavy use of Shaw and Allen will come with a price. Francona admitted after last night’s win over the Red Sox that he shouldn’t have used Shaw, who was in his third consecutive game, and has thrown close to 100 pitches over the last seven days.
To be fair, none of the three are averaging over an inning per appearance, but you have to figure in warming up as well. All of that takes a toll on a reliever’s arm.
The only other bullpen guys Francona seems to feel confident with are veteran right-hander Scott Atchison and another LOOGY, Josh Outman.
The former started the year as a kind of mop up man, but his effectiveness in that role has earned himself opportunities with the game on the line.
That leaves Axford, who has had difficulty throwing strikes (17 walks in 21-2/3 innings), Carlos Carrasco, sent to the ‘pen after struggling as a starter, and the revolving door guy (Mark Lowe, Nick Hagadone) sitting around collecting dust if the Indians are winning.
Granted many managers deploy the relief personnel the same way, using certain guys with a lead, the rest get used when losing, but Francona has used Allen and Shaw in close games with the Tribe losing, trying to keep them in the game.
Also, the length the starters are giving the skipper is not helping the situation. It would be one thing if the starting pitcher went into the seventh, so Tito could use Shaw one day and Allen the next, but many times he has to use both to put the contest in the victory column.
That’s why GM Chris Antonetti needs to get the manager more arms he can trust, or another starter who can pitch deep into games.
If it doesn’t happen soon, the bullpen, which has been a mainstay for the Indians over the past few years, will simply run out of gas, and the house of cards which is the Tribe pitching staff will completely implode.