Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Searching for Answers

Not too much to be happy about as the Red Sox scurry out of town, having swiped two games out from under the Indians’ noses thanks to the efforts (or lack thereof) of two different bullpens: “The Borowski Bullpen” and “The Non-Borowski Bullpen”. While the situation with Brodzoski (The Close) has caused much hand-wringing and rising blood pressure on the North Coast and elsewhere, I think that we’ve seen the last of the JoeBo. While a “strained triceps” sounds a lot like “we have no idea what happened to him other than that the guy who threw in the Speed Pitch booth for a Shell Gas card in the 7th inning had comparable velocity, so here’s an injury”, it’s obvious that Borowski has little to nothing left in the tank after years of “grinding it out” and bringing a “warrior mentality” to the mound. Ultimately, his lack of stuff and velocity caught up with him and, unless he’s magically able to suddenly find those missing 7 MPH on his fastball in rehab starts, or through rest, I can’t see a way that he makes it back to Cleveland in any capacity, much less a closer.

Of course, Borowski’s implosion has caused the argument to surface that the Indians should have addressed their tenuous closer situation in the off-season by not entering 2008 with Borowski as their assumed 9th inning option. I suppose there’s something to that, until you consider the options that were out there in terms of available relievers not already in the Tribe organization – Brad Lidge (really, is he a better option, particularly considering he’d be going from the NL to the AL?), Francisco Cordero (who got a 4-year, $46M contract), Eric Gagne (whose last appearance in the AL for Boston didn’t excite anyone outside of opposing batters?), Scott Linebrink, David Riske…you see where I’m going here? Obviously, Mo Rivera wasn’t leaving Gotham and teams aren’t exactly in the practice of putting effective relievers, much less closers, out on the trade market if they think that said reliever is going to remain effective.

So, with few better alternatives available outside of the organization, the Indians went into Spring Training sticking with the closer that led the AL in saves, as terrifying as many of them may have been, with the idea that the other relievers (namely the two Rafaels, the Fist of Iron and the Fist of Steel, because “if the left one doesn’t get you, then the right one will”) could be elevated to the closer role if Borowski struggled at any point.

Now, in Spring Training is where things get interesting and where this whole Borowski thing could have ostensibly been avoided with some preemptive measures. In the past few days, our crack Indians’ beat reporters have reported that Borowski actually injured himself on March 14th in Winter Haven and the Indians effectively hid his injury from the press and protected Borowski from any kind of radar gun that would have exposed the reduction in his velocity.

This, right here, is the moment that the Indians needed to act on this…in Spring Training. The Indians should have shelved Borowski, installed Betancourt as the de facto closer and allowed the rest of the bullpen to shake out through the last couple of weeks of Spring ball, perhaps ingratiating the likes of Perez and Lewis into the progression of relievers that we now see the Indians attempting to establish in the third week of the season.

With knowledge of Borowski’s injury and ineffectiveness that accompanied it, the plan should have had their relievers ready to start the season in these roles, right out of Winter Haven:
Betancourt - 9th
Perez and Lewis - 8th, depending upon who's coming up (LH or RH)
Kobayashi and Julio - 6th and 7th
Breslow - LOOGY
Mastny - Long relief
That’s what we’re looking at today, but instead of those roles being established in Winter Haven, these pitchers are going to have to acquit themselves to a new progression (now in the season, facing the likes of Manny and Youkilis in games that count), something that didn’t look to be a smooth operation last night as both Julio looked lost pitching with a lead and Perez and Lewis seemed uncomfortable in their trips to the mound.

Is anyone really surprised that Borowski’s arm gave out this year?
Not really, given numerous reports of looming arm trouble.

Did anyone expect it to be this early?
Only if you knew that he was hurt on March 14th….which, apparently, somebody (or somebodies) did without acting on it.

So right now, the Indians’ bullpen is forced into the mode of evolving on the fly and hoping that some semblance of a progression can be established before the bullpen sabotages multiple games for the team. The current bullpen (without Borowski) is talented, if generally unproven in the roles that they are thought to fill and there may be other options that present themselves if one of the current inhabitants of the bullpen continually…oh, I don’t know, walks two batters to start the 6th inning with a lead.

Atom Miller is still in Winter Haven but certainly could help at some point, so it will be interesting to see where Miller pitches when he finally makes the trip north to Buffalo. If he’s pitching out of the bullpen for the Bisons, he won’t stay down there much longer than to get used to the routine of a reliever as his arm certainly qualifies as an upgrade over the likes of Julio and Mastny.

Outside of that, the team could look at Aaron Laffey as a reliever (assuming that Cliff Lee and Paul Byrd pitch well out of the Cleveland rotation) if the bullpen casualties start mounting. Laffey, while obviously more valuable in the long-term as a starter, is a groundball pitcher who pounds the strike zone and has good K/BB rates, which could translate into becoming a solid contributor out of the bullpen.

Obviously, it’s a little early to start looking for replacements for relievers that are still beginning the process of settling into their new roles, but the fact that the pitchers are just now settling into their new roles (and not with two weeks left in Spring Training) is an error that the team will have overcome in the early season and hope that it can be overcome before the bullpen puts the team further behind the 8-ball than they are with the suddenly resurgent Tigers (only two games back of the Tribe despite numerous eulogies about 10 days ago) arriving tonight.

At this point, in terms of the bullpen, only one thing is a certainty in mid-April – the Brodzoski (The Close) Era is over in Cleveland, likely never to begin again, and the rest of the bullpen has little time to pull themselves into shape before the season starts circling the drain, sabotaged by a gas can-wielding bullpen.


C.C. Ya Later said...

It appears, and tonight will be the ultimate test, that the starting pitching is coming around. If we can get the offense going all will be well.

For all you JoeBo fans, apperantly yesterday’s MRI was done by Bryd’s dentist.

KonstrucktaTribe said...

Borowski seems like a nice enough guy but I doubt he will be missed. Lets hope Miller can show up soon and with his arm and blister problems behind him. And most importantly C.C. will calm down and pitch well and deep tonight.

On a positive note Hafner is starting to look like his old self again. And victor could hit .300 with a stick of twizzlers.

I have a feeling we can turn it around and put some distance between us and the kitties tonight.

Go Tribe.

Halifax said...

We better start playing well soon because there's only about 150 games left!

Les Savy Ferd said...

i have faith in the big fella tonight. not gonna be a one-hitter or anything, but his whip will come back down around 1.

tribe seem to have problems with guys they have seen little of (see dana eveland) so lets hope this spot start for le tigre has a bad case of nerves.

also, tonight's the night Vic goes deep for the first time this year.

Ron Vallo said...

well after 3 innings it's already a 5-hitter and the whip is a solid 2.00

Rockdawg said...

PTC, in your column you say (about JoBlow's meltdown) -- "Did anyone expect it to be this early?"

Yes sir, I most certainly did...frankly, I'm surprised he lasted this long.

It all goes back to something you said last week Tabs (can I still use that name?) You mentioned how there's a difference between following a team in the standings and actually WATCHING games. Now, granted I don't see nearly as many games as the average Cleveland resident, I usually get the MLB package for a month in the beginning and a month at the end of the season, but when you watch The Close pitch, you can just tell he's not that good. Even last year when he "led the AL in saves" I find it hard to believe that people that were watching him pitch, Tribe brass included, couldn't tell he was done for. His slider (his best pitch) didn't have nearly the movement as Wickman's, and since he was never throwing hard last year and obviously this year, his off-speed pitches are inefective. And don't get me started on his "fast" ball, which is more like a "Straightball" (Pedro Cerrano reference)

Anyways, if they hadn't taken this risk, we may not have acquired a shut 'em down closer, but at least we would have had a plan. I don't mean to doubt the Tribe front office, as they are Gods, but I REALLY think they blew it on this one.

For the first time this year, I have to say that if Kobe ends up as MVP, I will not argue. If Chris Paul wins, God help us all.

Anonymous said...

Detroit 10.....Tribe 1..
I'm going to bed....wake me sometime mid June...
(just curious...what is the cut-off for saying "hey. it's early"