Friday, April 14, 2006

Not Going 161-1

After starting 6-1, the Tribe has dropped 3 in a row, and to the Mariners and the Tigers, to rub salt into the aching wound. It’s well known that there are peaks and valleys during the course of a Major League season and the Indians, after a phenomenal start in which they handled the White Sox and Twins handily, have found themselves on the slippery slope of a losing streak. While a 6-4 record is certainly no need to panic, there are some underlying concerns that have reared their ugly heads in the past few nights.

First and foremost, the bullpen is in disarray, as seemingly every pitcher coming out of the pen (other than Wickman) is struggling. Going into the season, who would’ve thought that Wickman would be the least of our worries? The problem is that none of the relievers are throwing strikes and challenging hitters; instead, they are nibbling and trying to make the perfect pitch. The result is a lot of walks, and subsequently, a lot of runs.

When Rocky Betancourt, who seemingly only throws strikes (he has 185 career Ks to 48 career BBs), is walking people – it’s more than just a problem. It’s an epidemic. So how do the Indians respond? By sending the one pitcher who HAS consistently thrown strikes, Jason Davis, back to AAA. It’s far from the time for me to question personnel moves, but this one is too overt not to mention.

Is it only obvious to me that Davis should stay in the pen with the promotion of Carmona, and that Danny Graves should be the one to go? Outside of the obvious fact that Davis more of a true long reliever (who can throw 3-4 innings in case of a bad start) than the Baby-Faced Assassin, Graves is giving up hits and walks at an alarming rate, and even the outs are hard-hit balls. For those who say that Graves won the last spot in the bullpen in Spring Training, you’re only half-right. He out-pitched Steve Karsay (the other veteran reliever in camp on a minor league deal), but in truth, both Jason Davis and Andrew Brown outperformed him. The existence of options for both of those youngsters (though JD is almost 26) allowed Graves to break camp with the team. One can only hope that Shapiro sees the fruitlessness of the Danny Graves Reclamation Project soon and allows Jason Davis to remain in Cleveland for an extended period of time and allow him to become acclimated to pitching out of a Major League bullpen. If Graves clears waivers and makes it to Buffalo, fine; but he should not be working his issues out in Cleveland.

Graves is just a portion of the problem though. The bullpen lacks the rhythm necessary to perform in a game. Realizing that the season is only in its second week, there is still no set pattern for how Wedge is using the relievers. Outside of Wickman pitching the 9th and Mota pitching the 8th, the relievers seem apt to pitch anywhere and at anytime. As soon as someone establishes himself as the 7th inning pitcher (hopefully Betancourt or Cabrera, who have both struggled), the bullpen should become closer to becoming settled. Until that happens, though, we’re just as likely to see Matt Miller in a situation as Danny Graves (Ugh), but that’s the story right now.

The pitcher who is most indicative of the lack of certainty that the bullpen has right now is Scott Sauerbeck. Is he a match-up lefty? Is he capable of pitching a full inning? Nobody, certainly not Wedgie, seems to know. But that uncertainty is just another indication of how the bullpen remains a work in progress.

It’s true that it took nearly half a season last year for the Indians to settle into a comfortable rotation coming out of the bullpen (it seemed like Cabrera or Betancourt, then Howry, and finally Wickman pitched the 7th, 8th, and 9th every day for about 2 months at the end of last year), but the sooner those roles are finalized, the better off this Indians’ pitching staff will be.

Hopefully, C.C. coming off of the DL at month’s end will end Danny Graves 2006 Season with the Tribe, which could be the first step to the settling of the bullpen.

Fausto Carmona's 2006 debut tomorrow. Enjoy the show.


t-bone said...

um... more like his MAJOR LEAGUE DEBUT. i will not miss a pitch!

Baltimoran said...

Carmona is a king. i like keeping Davis up thanks to Cabrera's "bruised heel" but i agree that graves may be the odd man out. the question is, how can they keep getting carmona starts in the bigs when c.c. comes back?
Thanks to Cobra Kai vodka bombing me, i nearly missed my plane back to b-more last week, slapnicka is a jerk