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Notes from the Wigwam: Bullpen woes take toll

Indians scuffle to 3-4 record thanks to left-handed relief problems

Notes from the Wigwam: Bullpen woes take toll
June 3, 2013
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When a problem arises, it’s imperative to quickly find a solution. Unfortunately for the Cleveland Indians, there does not appear to be any definitive solution in sight to the Tribe’s bullpen woes.

In particular, left-handed relief has been an immense problem for the Indians and also played a key role in why the Tribe scuffled and finished 3-4 this past week.

Few things went right for the Indians, who are now 30-26. The one thing that did go right though was the continued struggles of the Detroit Tigers, who have gone 4-6 in their last 10 games and only lead the Indians by a mere half game in the American League Central.

If there was a time for the Indians to struggle, it was indeed now as they have essentially lost no ground in the American League Central race.

With that being said, let’s take a look at the week that was for the Cleveland Indians…

Weekly results

May 27 at Cincinnati, L 4-2 (WP: Broxton, LP: Hagadone)

May 28 at Cincinnati, L 8-2 (WP: Latos, LP: McAllister)

May 29 vs. Cincinnati, W 5-2 (WP: Masterson, LP: Arroyo)

May 30 vs. Cincinnati, W 7-1 (WP: Kazmir, LP: Bailey)

May 31 vs. Tampa Bay, L 9-2 (WP: Wright, LP: Barnes)

June 1 vs. Tampa Bay, W 5-0 (WP: Jimenez, LP: Archer)

June 2 vs. Tampa Bay, L 9-2 (WP: Hellickson, LP: McAllister)

Player of the Week

Ubaldo Jimenez — Starting pitcher

2 GS, 1-0, 15 IP, 2 R/ER, 1 HR, 5 BB, 13 K

Has Ubaldo Jimenez actually come full circle? It may still be hard to say that with certainty, but it’s impossible not to be very pleased with what the right-hander has put forth as of late. Overall, Jimenez has been pretty solid this season as he’s allowed four or less earned runs in eight of his eleven starts. However, the other three starts explain his 4.83 season ERA as he allowed seven, seven and six earned runs, respectively, in each contest. He is no longer the flamethrower that he used to be, but Jimenez is doing such an excellent job at mixing all of his pitches that it does indeed look as if he could be back to being an effective Major League starter. Yes, he has shown glimpses in the past, but he’s never been as consistently good as he has been this season with the Indians. One has to hope that his confidence is now at an all-time high, especially after Saturday’s start, which was arguably the best start in Jimenez’s Indians career. Jimenez dazzled as he threw seven shutout innings while walking just one and striking out seven. If this was indeed a sign of things to come, then the rest of the American League Central better look out because the Indians just became all the more dangerous.

Minor League Player of the Week

Matt Langwell — Relief pitcher, Columbus Clippers

3 G, 3 IP, 4 H, 1 R/ER, 1 HR, 2 K

*Stats include Indians appearance

So Langwell’s numbers may not look too flashy, but he is certainly deserving of mention this week, especially because he finally got the call to the Show. The 27-year-old Langwell has been one of the most consistent performers in the Indians’ system since he was originally drafted in the 11th Round of the 2008 MLB Draft out of Rice University. In his minor league career, Langwell has an impressive 3.00 ERA in 321 innings. For years, Langwell has contributed and put up excellent numbers at every stop. While he does not overpower hitters, he knows how to pitch and just always seems to get the job done — he has the perfect mentality for a reliever. He was finally called up by the Indians on Saturday and he then made his Major League debut Sunday against the Rays. Langwell did allow a home run to the first batter he faced, Evan Longoria, but considering Longoria’s resume, there’s really no shame in that. Langwell then settled down to pitch 1 1/3 innings while not allowing any runs. We’ll have to see if he is here to stay, but he likely can make his own luck if he goes out and continues to perform well. He’s done that at every other stop across his career, so let’s hope that trend continues here in Cleveland.

A rough week

Scott Barnes — Relief pitcher

2 G, 1.2 IP, 5 H, 5 R/ER, 2 HR, 1 BB, 2 K.

Barnes really struggled this past week, and his struggles are also indicative of the larger bullpen problems that persist for the Indians. After more than four hours of rain delays on Friday, Barnes entered Friday’s contest against the Rays. Given his previous experience as a starting pitcher, it was believed that he might be able to give the Indians some length, but that unfortunately was not the case. Barnes got rocked for a pair of home runs and five earned runs, which basically all be sealed the loss for the Indians. It was unfortunate because the appearance was coming off an outing where Barnes pitched three scoreless innings to earn a save against the Boston Red Sox. Following the outing, Barnes was optioned back to Triple-A Columbus, which is also what ultimately led to Langwell being promoted to the big league club. The problem with Barnes is that he seems to be fooling no one up at the plate. He’s supposed to be a lefty specialist, yet lefties are having a field day with him and have already hit three home runs in just 18 plate appearances. It would have been nice if Barnes could have claimed one of the open pen spots and helped solve the Indians’ left-handed relief problems, but it’s now evident that he is unfortunately part of the problem.

News & notes

— While Scott Barnes has been part of the problem, no Indians left-handed reliever has arguably been more ineffective than Rich Hill. In his last six outings, Hill has either failed to record an out or allow at least two earned runs. He was especially poor this past week as he pitched 1 2/3 innings and allowed six earned runs. For the season, Hill owns an 8.44 ERA. One has to wonder how much more time Hill has with the Indians, especially considering he was signed as a minor league free agent prior to the start of the season. However, I tend to believe that Hill will continue to get some chances simply because there really are not that many options out there. The Indians have to hope that someone emerges from the group of Barnes, Hill and Nick Hagadone, but it has not looked promising so far. Many considered Tony Sipp to be a throwaway item when he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Trevor Bauer deal, but I remember specifically noting that the Indians could end up missing him more than they expect. It appears as if that prediction has officially come to fruition.

— Like Hill, left-hander Nick Hagadone has also been painful to watch. It appeared as if he might have been on his way to turning the corner this past week as he combined to pitch three scoreless innings against both the Reds and the Rays. However, on Sunday, the ugly Hagadone again reared his head as he allowed two earned runs in 1 2/3 innings of work. The stuff is clearly there as it’s evident that Hagadone can be a strong, back-of-the-bullpen left-hander. However, he still struggles with his command as evidenced by his 11 walks in 15 innings, and he also seems to implode when things do not go his way. He’s been especially poor on the road as he owns a 12.46 ERA in games played away from Progressive Field. It’s really now up to Hagadone to continue to work on his problems and really take all the necessary steps toward becoming an elite reliever. He, perhaps more than any other player in the bullpen, has shown signs, but he just has not been able to put it all together. If the Indians are to compete this year, they will need to have a capable left-handed reliever, and Hagadone may be the most likely candidate, but it sure does not look promising as of now.

— It’s been difficult to get a read on Tribe starter Scott Kazmir. The left-hander struggled for a bit in two starts, but he has now come back with two strong outings as he’s allowed a combined three earned runs in his last two starts. What’s also amazing is how Kazmir’s strikeout stuff seems to suddenly be back. Kazmir is striking out 9.2 batters per nine innings, which is the best rate he’s posted since 2008, which also happens to be his last season where he was really an effective starter. After his string of bad starts on May 14 and May 20, it seemed probable that Kazmir may be the starter that is removed once the Indians decide to work around Carlos Carrasco’s suspension and have him rejoin the Major League roster. However, Kazmir came right back with two quality outings, and it does seem as if his job is again secure. Of course, the bigger question here is this: Who do the Indians remove from the rotation for either Carrasco or Brett Myers? There’s really no easy answer there as every single Indians starter has had his moments where he’s been impressive, and none have consistently imploded either. I suppose this is really a good problem to have though.

— It’s clear that the Indians are doing whatever they can to get catcher Yan Gomes into the lineup, and it’s easy to see why. Gomes played in three games this past week, and he recorded an RBI in every single contest. On the season, Gomes is now hitting .307 (23-for-75) with four doubles, two triples, five home runs and 15 RBI. This all has come in a mere 23 games too, which is especially impressive. The one knock with Gomes is plate discipline as he’s only walked twice this season but has struck out 14 times. Of course, it’s easy to sacrifice plat discipline for the type of power that Gomes displays, and he seems to have plenty of it. It will be interesting to see how the Indians use Gomes in the future. So far, he’s only played catcher, but he has the ability to play corner infield and outfield spots. It might be a worthwhile move to do from time to time as Gomes is looking more and more like an everyday player. The bottom line is that Esmil Rogers for Gomes and Mike Aviles is now looking like the deal of the century.

Quick hits

— The Indians have reportedly received positive feedback on both Chris Perez and Brett Myers, who are both on disabled list. Perez, who is recovering from a strained muscle in his right rotator cuff, is expected to begin throwing again in three days while Myers, who is recovering from a sore right elbow, should begin throwing again in four or five days.

— Vinnie Pestano’s velocity woes may be a thing of the past. The right-hander had struggled with velocity since coming off the disabled list, but he was consistently throwing 92 and 93 miles per hour in Saturday’s 5-0 win against the Rays. 

Steve can be reached via email at orbaneks@gmail.com.

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