Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Song Remains the Same?

The Tribe took 2 of 3 from the Halos at “home” in Milwaukee, and are headed back to the Jake (with snow expected tonight in the Cleveland area) to take on the White Sox for the weekend “Home Opener”. Despite the fact that they took an early season series from the favorite in the AL West in a neutral site, the Angels’ series didn’t leave a great taste in my mouth. The offense had an extended period of time off (thanks for the win today Grady and Pronk) and showed the same inconsistency that plagued them last year, the bullpen looked shaky and made certain wins much less certain, and the infield defense looked no better than the sieve that it was last year.
The biggest concern, however, remains the bullpen.

Regardless of the arms in the bullpen, the handling of those arms is chief among those concerns. The Atomic Wedgie has shown his colors again in his stubbornness and favoritism regarding the use of his bullpen. Just like the Chicago series, in the two games that the Indians had a lead, Wedge pitched Betancourt, Hernandez, Fultz, and Borowski. In the Wednesday loss, Cabrera and Davis finally made their debut and Mastny came in to bail JD out of a jam (more on The Taxidermist later).

Apparently, the bullpen consists of an A-Team (for when the team has a lead) and a B-Team (for when innings need to be eaten). Realizing it’s only been 6 games, these classifications for the relievers seem to be pretty set in stone, as it looks unlikely we’ll be seeing any change in those teams. To wit, Hernandez has done nothing but fail and still gets trotted out in close games; while Mastny has been effective in his appearances, yet seems permanently relegated to mop-up duty. Wedge has always shown a propensity for riding his favorite horses (remember the end of the 2005 season when Cabrera, Betancourt, Howry, and Wickman were the only guys trotting in from the bullpen?), but to stick with ineffective relievers (Hernandez), while better options may exist (Cabrera looked GREAT and, again, Mastny has been nothing but effective this year). If these patterns continue, Wedge is going to sabotage the season pretty quickly and throw some gas on the “Wedgie can’t manage his way out of a paper bag” talk.

Now, Wedge can only play the hand that’s dealt him, but to even throw some of these guys out in lieu of having a shot at the game is terrifying to watch. Take Jason Dangerously, who made an inauspicious debut last night, showing off a new funky delivery and whiffing the first 2 batters only to completely fall apart once a runner hit 1B. Davis then proved completely incapable of getting a batter out, grooving straight fastballs, and eventually having to be bailed out by Mastny (who just throws strikes and gets batters out), burning an arm out of the bullpen in the process.

I know it’s only 2/3 of an inning, but it’s the same thing with Davis – inconsistency, inability to prevent runners already on base from scoring, and complete frustration. At a certain point with Davis, all of the talk about “electric stuff” and his potential to become Joe Nathan has to turn into the reality that he’s simply an ineffective reliever taking a roster spot away from a potentially useful arm in the bullpen. Allowing him to “knock the rust off” or try to harness his stuff while the Indians are in a position to contend, at any point in the season, is simple irresponsibility.

Wedge’s current favorite ineffective reliever, Hernandez, left today’s game with an unspecified “right leg injury”, giving hope to the thought that another reliever can take his spot in Wedgie’s bullpen rotation. Maybe Hernandez will hit the DL and can go on a rehab assignment to figure out what’s wrong with him. Or…maybe he’s 42 and the tank’s simply empty.

Watching the Angels lock-down bullpen (Pronk’s moonshot against Scot Shields notwithstanding) shows the importance of developing your own relievers to occupy the 8th and 9th innings. Watching the Tribe batter flail away at Francisco Rodriguez makes one dream of a Eddie Mujica or a Tom Mastny or a Fernando Cabrera developing into a top-notch closer to make the Indians forget about their bullpen difficulties. Once those homegrown pitchers are in the fold, they can be supplemented with pitchers like Justin Speier (or, if you will, Just Inspire) to finish off the bullpen that’s the envy of all of MLB.

Unfortunately, until one of these young arms develops (or is put into situations where they’re allowed to developed), the Indians will be forced to sign players like Hernandez or never-ending projects like JD to fill the time and bullpen spot in the interim. Of course, if Wedge doesn’t put talented arms like Mastny and Cabrera into games that are actually within reach, we may be forced to watch the newest retreads for the foreseeable future.


Anonymous said...

Seriously, I couldn't agree more about the bullpen. Mastny has done nothing but his job thusfar and merits a promotion. Instead, he'll be lucky to keep his roster spot when Miller gets healthy.

And this seems to be the end of the line for Davis. He might make a good ROOGY or long-man for a team that's not, you know, trying to WIN THE DIVISION. There is no baseball reason that this bullpen shouldn't be Cabrera, Mastny, Betancourt, Lara, Fultz, Borowski, and Eddie Moo or whoever's hot in Buffalo, right now.

t-bone said...

Westbrook signs three-year extension
Posted by Paul Hoynes April 13, 2007 11:05AM

Plain Dealer Reporter

One down and two to go.

Plain Dealer fileJake Westbrook and the Indians have agreed on a three-year contract extension.

The Indians have signed right-hander Jake Westbrook to a three-year extension worth an estimated $33 million.

It's believed Westbrook will make $11 million a year under the extension. He's making $6.1 million this year.

Westbrook, 29, was eligible for free agency at the end of the season.

Travis Hafner and C.C. Sabathia are the next targets on GM Mark Shapiro's hit list. They are still negotiating with Hafner, but talks have slowed. Negotiations with Sabathia have been tabled until the end of the season.

Hafner and Sabathia can be free agents after the 2008 season.

Westbrook (0-1, 7.36 ERA) is coming off a 4-1 loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday. He's won 14 or more games the last three seasons, pitching at least 210 2/3 innings in each of those years.

He's made two starts this year.

CleveSportsPerspective said...

Amen, brother! Davis is the typical million dollar arm with a ten cent brain.

Unknown said...

Where to begin? Smarter folks than I have looked at the number of low-scoring games the '06 offense played and found it was about the same as the rest of the division. This talk about an offense that somehow scored only when it didn't matter simply isn't true.

Second, Hernandez hasn't "done nothing but fail." You're working with a small sample size, but if that't the context, I will too. He was successful, IMO, in his first two appearances. Does that mean he's a lockdown 8th inning man? Of course not. But dismissing him (and Davis) based largely on 6 games and/or 2/3 of an inning seems incredibly, tendentiously premature.

Finally, I agree with the concept of building a bullpen from within. You realize, of course, that some of the same talk show loons who are convinced the Tribe scored 800+ runs in one game last year and shut out in all the rest are the same folks who called for huge contracts to "name" relievers this off-season. And who ran Speier out of town on a rail when he actually pitched (poorly at the end) for the Indians.

In short, its way too early for a "DiaTribe." They're 4-2 and won a tough series away from home without one of their best hitters against a very good team. Let's hope the bullpen becomes an embarrassment of riches and some vets can be flipped for value later on.

Paul Cousineau said...

The offense will be fine, I know. It just scares me when that soft-tossing lefty shuts the offense down.

Getting Vic back to protect Pronk and allow everyone to move down a notch can't be underestimated.

Completely agree on the small sample size, but Hernandez and merely served as Exhibits A & B for what I feel is the larger problem - namely, Wedge's propensity to value past success and veteran experience over the here and now.

I'm not railing against Hernandez's performance, per se, I'm railing against the fact that he's pitched in 5 of 6 games while Cabrera and Mastny languish in the bullpen, waiting for the call.

The pickings this off-season were EXTREMELY slim and the contracts that Jaime Walker, Danys Baez, and others received were downright criminal. But, Wedge needs to find the right mix of what he's given so we don't see a repeat of Gil Mota and Gas Can Graves blow lead after lead.

I certainly hope the bullpen can be built from within, though it won't be easy if Cabrera or Mastny aren't given the opportunity to evolve into significant pieces.

By no means am I suggesting the bullpen gets blown up after 6 games (and, admittedly, 3 saves); but with the Indians poised to contend in a very competitive division, it’s vital for them not to give away games in April while they see if Hernandez (the whipping boy of the first week) still has anything left.

It’s a situation that bears watching, as it will be interesting if Wedge continues to make the call to an obviously struggling reliever in a tight game or changes his usage patterns to find an effective mix at the back end of the bullpen as he did down the stretch in 2005 (the only time that he really has).