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Orbiting Cleveland: Can ZMac extend the rotation and bullpen?

Orbiting Cleveland: Can ZMac extend the rotation and bullpen?
July 19, 2013
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Today, I’m hijacking “Orbiting Cleveland” for my good friend Steve Orbanek, who is still celebrating his marriage while gallivanting across the globe on his honeymoon. In his honor, I decided to talk about a starter near and dear to his heart, and no, I’m not talking about Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez, and no, I’m not talking specifically about the enigma known as Ubaldo Jimenez.  Nope, I’m talking about that other guy, that the rotation and bullpen are clearly missing.

How important is Zach McAllister to the Cleveland Indians?

McAllister pitched Thursday night for the Columbus Clippers, and really looked like his old self. He went an efficient six innings, making only 69 pitches, to win his first game in Columbus in over a year.

He won’t be in Columbus for long.

The Cleveland Indians are believed to be actively involved in discussions with several teams potentially looking for a starting pitcher and/or a reliever.  The starting rotation has been a question mark since the start of the season. Who am I kidding? The starting rotation has been a question mark since the beginning of last season.

Could Zach McAllister be the answer? Perhaps the Indians starter already answered the starter question earlier in the season.

The Indians rotation has solidified over the past two weeks, with several interesting performances from Corey KluberScott Kazmir and Danny Salazar, in a supplemental role.  Justin Masterson is the “ace” of this staff, and can normally be counted on for solid outings more often than not.

Ubaldo Jimenez is Ubaldo Jimenez, and while he’s pitching better, I don’t think anyone is going to stand up and defend him as a consistent winner.

That brings me back to McAllister. When he was healthy and right at the start of this season, you could argue without hyperbole that he was the best starter on the team. Only once did he give up more than three earned runs in any start, and that was his last start against the Rays in which he didn’t throw any curves because of the injury to his finger.

McAllister’s current numbers are impressive. While he’s only 4-5 on the season, his 3.43 ERA is the best of all the starters with multiple outings. That’s simplistic, I know, but so is McAllister on the hill. He only strikes out six per nine innings, which is the worst of all the starters, but he walks only 3.02 per nine, which is the best of all the starters.

He’s efficient, and he really might be the best pitcher on the Indians’ staff.

At the very least, McAllister lengthens the rotation.

Without him, the Indians have been throwing up a group of rookie-ish prospects to take his place with varying levels of success.

Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco haven’t been able to string together much of anything, and look further away than they did to start the season. Danny Salazar was absolutely dominant, but to say he doesn’t have any questions would be the understatement of the world.

Regardless, Salazar is back in the minors, and actually relieved McAllister in last night’s start. While it’s possible that Salazar will end up in the bullpen this year based on his supposed innings limit, the move last night was to ensure he would be able to pitch on a normal day’s rest should McAllister not be able to go in his normal slot next Tuesday.

With McAllister, the rotation lengthens.

Justin Masterson has his ace-ish counterpart. McAllister can slot back into his #2 spot. Kluber then becomes the defacto #3, which actually gives him a bit more leeway to go along with a bit more incentive to pitch better perhaps to show that he’s as good or better than McAllister. Ubaldo Jimenez will slot into the #4 slot, and not because he’s better than Scott Kazmir, but to allow Kazmir a bit more time to rest between outings.

That’s not a bad rotation.

That’s a rotation with a lot of question…

…but it’s also a rotation with a lot of upside.

I’m a firm believer in momentum, and big mo can come in all shapes and sizes, including a rotation, and including a pitching staff. I’ve always been impressed by good pitching staffs that seemingly outdo each other from one start to another.

I remember an interview that Bob Feller gave talking about the Indians rotations of the early 50’s. He talked about how Early WynnBob Lemon and Mike Garcia would push him later in his career to be better in every outing. Part of it, he said, was not wanting to let down his teammates. The other part of it was just wanting to be better than they were.

Now I’m not trying to compare this rotation to one of the greatest rotations in the history of baseball.

But, the same mentality makes sense with how well this rotation was pitching through the first two months.  They seem to be back there again, and McAllister will only enhance that.

I also like the idea that McAllister will help extend that bullpen as well. The big righty often gets through the sixth inning and beyond. That’s a lock, and something this bullpen will need in the second half to be successful.

It could also work two-fold when you take into account the use of Danny Salazar.

Salazar was unhittable, and what’s scary about the performance that the youngster showcased in his first major-league start is that for those that have followed him over the last 18 months, this isn’t anything new.

He’s that good.

But the Indians are still taking care to limit his innings. In other words, he has a rumored shelf life.

What does that mean for Salazar moving forward in 2013? Should Salazar finish out his year pitching for Columbus, or could he still help the Indians out as the season progresses.

The easy answer is yes.

The easiest way for Salazar to help out would be to insert him into the bullpen. Immediately, he can help to right the ship to a group that has struggled for the past two months. You could use Salazar in a variety of circumstances depending on the need, and help the rest of the pen keep their normal roles. I’m not a HUGE fan of moving starters to the pen, especially ones with suspect arms, but if Salazar only has 30-40 innings left, I would be in favor of it.

The Indians could also utilize a six-man rotation if they wanted. It would allow McAllister time to ease his way back in to longer innings. It would help curb the amount of innings that Scott Kazmir works, as I fear his arm and body aren’t ready for a full season of work.

Or, the Indians could do allow him to spot start for the Indians should they need it.

My dream scenario would have the innings threshold be a mystical fact, and allow Salazar to take Ubaldo’s spot in the rotation, but I won’t talk about that here in Steve’s column.

I’ll save that for a future corner.

Congrats Steve, and looking forward to your return to Orbiting next week…

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Tbone
July 19, 2013 - 1:14 PM EDT
Any idea when Adam Plutko will start the season?
Roger
July 19, 2013 - 11:56 AM EDT
i listened to the clippers game and the announcers said he threw several curves so except for pitch limit it appeared by performance he was zac mac and when you add the split to his repatoire it adds a new twist to upset the timing of the batter
over his first 10 starts this year he has been a top 15 or 20 pitcher. from what i can figure it appears tuesday night will be a late night on STO for me. masty, zac mac, kluber, ubaldo, and kazmir is not a bad rotation sitting here 100 games into 2013 there are better staffs for sure but the indians may in fact be in the top half of the rotations in the major leagues. if we continue to be 5th in runs we should be fine as our bullpen has an excellent track record and will likely right itself.

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