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The State of the Rotation

It's only April but the rotation already appears to be in trouble

The State of the Rotation
April 23, 2013
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After the second game of the season, fans were ready to go 162-0 this season.  A week later, everyone was ready to throw in the towel after two straight blowouts against the Yankees.  In the third week, everyone was ready to run Ubaldo Jimenez out of Cleveland. Now Brett Myers is injured and the roller coaster continues for the 2013 Indians.

The Tribe has been shut out some nights and scored 19 runs the next. It may be just a team trying to find its groove as much of the new additions to the roster are adjusting to the change of scenery. However, the starting rotation, which already came into the season with several question marks, is already in a semi-critical state.

Justin Masterson has been about as good as any ace in Major League Baseball thus far, but behind him, the inconsistency levels of all the starting pitchers has been staggering and many times too much for the offense - as much as it’s been improved - to keep up with.

Ubaldo Jimenez’s ability as a starter is now in question. Brett Myers was better in his last couple starts, but now is on the 15-day disabled list with elbow inflammation. Zach McAllister has had a solid to start the year. However, left-hander Scott Kazmir didn’t even make it through four innings is his debut start for Cleveland on Saturday.

Here is a brief synopsis of each starter’s situation is and what his future in the rotation looks like as of now.

1. Justin Masterson

There’s no question, this guy has done everything the Indians have asked him to do and more in just five starts this season. In five starts, he’s been as good as any ace in the big leagues with a 4-1 record and a 1.85 ERA, including a complete game shutout victory. I never would’ve predicted this kind of domination during the third inning of his opening day start against the Blue Jays where he had loaded the bases with less than two outs. But “Nasty Masty” or “Mr. Clean” or whatever you want to call him has proven thus far that he is capable of stepping up and leading the rotation as the Indians ‘ace’. As long as he keeps control of the insane movement on his pitches and continues to locate them well, his future with the Indians, especially with his former team’s manager now at the helm with the Tribe looks very bright indeed.

2. Ubaldo Jimenez

I’ve given Ubaldo Jimenez every benefit of the doubt as humanly possible over his career with the Indians, but he may be on the last straw with me now. The right hander has had about as inconsistent a start to the season as you could imagine pitching six innings of one-run ball in Toronto and serving up a seven spot to the Red Sox in the second inning two weeks later. The explanation as to why he’s been this up-and-down is anyone’s guess. Some suggest his mechanics still need work. Others believe it’s purely a mental issue. Who knows, it may even be a combination of both.

One thing’s for sure, though. The Indians need Ubaldo more than ever with Myers now injured and Kazmir currently a question mark. Before the season, many analysts pointed to Masterson and Jimenez as the keys to whatever success Cleveland has this season. That fact is no less true today. Masterson has lived up to his end of the bargain thus far. Now it’s time for Jimenez to step up and do the same in what could be his last chance pitching for the Indians, if not all of Major League Baseball.

3. Brett Myers

After two absolutely horrid starts to the season followed by two semi-decent starts, veteran right-hander Brett Myers has been taken out of action and placed on the disabled list with right elbow tendonitis and a mild UCL strain. Myers will be shut down for at least two weeks and will not begin a throwing program until he is symptom-free.

Elbow injuries are always delicate issues with pitchers and must be handled with the utmost care and caution. The Indians signed Myers to be a veteran leader in the rotation and innings-eater to help save the bullpen. Well, from the looks of his situation including recovery time and a throwing program, he could be out of the rotation for at least a month. Right-hander Corey Kluber will take his spot in the rotation for the time being.

4. Zach McAllister

It’s always a good laugh to think we got Zach McAllister from the Yankees for Austin Kearns. McAllister has picked up right where he left off last season and so far has been the only other bright spot in the rotation outside of Masterson. In three starts, McAllister hasn’t been as dominant as Masterson, but has still kept his team in games pitching 5+ innings per start and only allowing three earned runs or less. Only once has the team been able to capitalize, though, but McAllister has done his job thus far and should continue to do so more often than not if he stays consistent as he did last year.

The only issue McAllister has had is pitching around errors by his defense. The right-hander led the league in unearned runs last year with 19. After only three starts this season, McAllister already has four unearned runs. Of course unearned runs don’t affect his stats, but they can affect the outcomes of the games he starts. He puts too much pressure on himself when his defense makes mistakes and seems to have trouble at times limiting the damage. If he can overcome that, he can become that much more effective as a starter.

5. Scott Kazmir

The Scott Kazmir comeback story thus far has been an inspiring one; however, it did hit a bit of a snag on Saturday when he couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning in his debut start against the Astros where he surrendered six runs and served up two homers. Luckily the Indians had already plated 14 runs up to that point, so blowing the lead wasn’t an issue. But, Kazmir did look a bit rusty on the mound, which is understandable given that it was his first big league start in over two years and he had been sidelined for the first portion of the season with an abdominal strain. The long rests between innings with the Tribe scoring a lot of runs didn’t help much either.

Kazmir was signed to a minor league deal by Cleveland in the offseason after being absent from Major League Baseball for the past two seasons with mechanical issues. But through hard work and perseverance in those two years, Kazmir earned another chance in the majors and earned a spot on the Indians pitching staff out of spring training. It appeared the Tribe may have gotten the steal of the offseason as the left-hander went 1-0 with a 3.46 ERA in exhibition play over the spring. Now whether Kazmir can shake off the rust and find his groove again in the regular season, only time will tell.

Starting Pitching Depth:

There’s no denying it. Carlos Carrasco screwed up big time and let the team, the organization and fans down with his actions against the Yankees earlier this month. In his first big league start since recovering from Tommy Johnsurgery, Carrasco struggled in only two and a third innings giving up seven runs on seven hits including two home runs. Him being a little rusty should come as no surprise, but his decision to throw at Yankees third basemanKevin Youkilis after Robinson Cano’s home run was inexcusable, especially since he had just finished serving a suspension from 2011 for similar behavior against the Royals.

Well, what happened happened and now Carrasco faces another suspension and likely an indefinite banishment to the minor leagues by the Tribe. To allow Carrasco to serve his eight-game suspension, the Indians would have to play with a 24-man roster for over a week, which would mean playing with a man short on the bench or in the bullpen. Something the Indians can ill-afford to do with current injuries to position players and inconsistency from their rotation. Unless the rotation is in a state of emergency, the soonest we could see Carrasco at the major league level again might be September when the rosters expand and playing shorthanded is no longer an issue.

As far as the rest of the rotation depth is concerned, Corey Kluber has already been called up to take the place of the injured Brett Myers. That leaves rookie sensation Trevor Bauer and veteran right-hander Daisuke Matsuzakaas the remaining immediate depth options.

Bauer has dominated in the minors thus far, but the Indians are going to be careful in how they handle him since he represents a large part of the future for the rotation and not bring him up until he’s ready. Bauer has already had a spot start with the Tribe this season and struggled a bit with his pitch location walking seven over five innings against the Rays. So far, Bauer is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in AAA.

Matsuzaka, on the other hand, has struggled in AAA going 0-1 with a 5.56 ERA. Walks have been a big problem for Matsuzaka so far as he’s issued 16 free passes in only 11.1 innings of work, though the right-hander has been able to hold opposing hitters to a .220 batting average. Daisuke signed a minor league deal with the Indians over the offseason and accepted a minor league assignment with the organization after he was informed he wouldn’t make the major league club.

Most of us knew going in that the rotation would throw us for some loops this season. There have been dark days and bright spots over the first few weeks of the season. Whether this is just an acclimation process or ingrown inconsistency that will continue over the course of the season, it’s still too early to tell, but there may be some changes that will need to be made in regards to Jimenez, Myers and Kazmir depending on if they can recover and step up as starters.

Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.

User Comments

April 23, 2013 - 6:37 PM EDT
At this point I would have rather see Aaron Laffey on the mound than Jimenez, I'm just not a fan - to be kind. Laffey isn't an option anyways but I think he could post at worst similar numbers.
Another thought, could Marson net anything of value as far as SP goes? I doubt it but you never know...
Maybe the Tribe will get desperate enough and decide to convert Trey Haley and Scott Barnes back into SP.
April 23, 2013 - 5:35 PM EDT
Yep, agree Matthew, one can always dream about an Ubaldo-free rotation, but I don't actually think they're ready to cut the cord. They are still struggling with denial. Anything could happen, if Ubaldo has a horrific outing against KC and doesn't make it out of the 2nd or 3rd inning and kills the bullpen again, that may push them over the edge, but anything better than a total meltdown they'll continue running him out for another month or so. There will be other times they can call Carrasco up with the same scenario though.
League Park
April 23, 2013 - 4:07 PM EDT
I firmly believe that we cannot have a winning record with two reliable starters nor could any other team.

We are going to need Bauer, Carrasco, Kluber and Dice K to contribute. Nor can we trot out the bullpen mafia each game we are ahead late. They are only good for two games in a row. We need a Plan B in which 3 other relievers can seal the deal. As the team is presently built, I see it almost impossible to go on a prolonged winning streak due to the starting pitching, the overreliance on 3 relief pitchers and the inconsistent offense. I do not enjoy saying this but it is how I see it.
April 23, 2013 - 4:03 PM EDT
It is important to note that the exact nature of the injury is often times not disclosed. Myers could have been recommended for surgery, but may have opted for the natural healing option. Lots of guys do this. Sometimes it works, but it seems most of the time it doesn't. If I were a betting man, I would guess he has a 60% shot to pitch again this season. It doesn't sound really bad, but who knows what happens after a two week layoff and if it goes away. Right now, if I am the Indians, I am planning on him not pitching for them again this season.
April 23, 2013 - 3:57 PM EDT

There are only 2 ways to burn Carrasco's suspension in the near future, as I see it.

Option 1-Call Carrasco up tomorrow, send down a bullpen guy. Starting tomorrow, we have 8 games in 10 days. We currently have 8 bullpen guys, and only 3 bench guys until Bourn comes back. I know all too well how bad the rotation has been, but we should still be able to get through an 8 game stretch with 2 days off with a 7-man (the regular amount) bullpen. Bourn can't come back until April 30th, and this would force him to stay out only until May 3. The 3 extra days stinks, but it's entirely possible he won't be quite ready to come back exactly on the 30th anyway. This would be my recommendation.

Option 2-DFA Ubaldo Jimenez on April 27th. You mentioned this, and it really makes the most sense. You cut ties with Ubaldo, and the rotation times up perfectly to allow Carlos to serve his suspension by just missing his turn in the rotation. Unfortunately, I just don't think the organization is ready to do this. As bad as he's been, Ubaldo still probably has another 3-5 starts before they finally give up.
April 23, 2013 - 3:52 PM EDT
Hmmm... @ MT in WI

I think you may be onto something there.
April 23, 2013 - 3:41 PM EDT
jwahoo, I think it's optimistic to even think Myers will be back. "Minor" UCL tear is kind of a contradiction in terms. Usually those "mild" tears end up as a month of rest, then a throwing session that goes badly, then a visit to Dr. Andrews, then a date with Tommy John. Especially for an old guy like Myers. But I think at this stage in his career, Myers is no better/worse than Kluber/ Carrasco/ Bauer. Projection systems actually favor both Bauer and Carrasco over Myers the rest of the way, and think Kluber is about equal to Myers.

I don't think they should trade for someone like Nolasco early. Better to wait until closer to the trade deadline to see how things shake out. One starter isn't going to make or break the season. If they can turn it around and hang in for the first half, then go after someone who could impact not only the regular season but also the playoffs at the deadline. Or, they might remain a sub-.500 team for the rest of the year, in which case trading for a Nolasco is pointless.
April 23, 2013 - 3:31 PM EDT
Yes, theoretically, the Indians could just activate Carrasco four days before an off day so he serves 4 games and then serves 4 games after it and then is available for the 5th day after the off day. The problem is, there has to be an open spot in the rotation, which means dumping Kazmir, Ubaldo, or Kluber. That's not too big of an issue, but at the moment the Indians appear set on giving each of them at least a couple of starts, so until the plug is pulled on one of them, they can't bring up Carrasco. I am sure that they have it all arranged and a timetable setup around an off day to work around it.....but they really can't do anything about it until mid-May when by then they will know what to do with Kazmir, Ubaldo, or KLuber (if an injury doesn't get them first).
April 23, 2013 - 3:14 PM EDT
I agree. The Carrasco thing sucks big time but its not impossible. Losing Giambi for a week won't be the end of times. Plus, if have a bench of Gomes, Aviles and Raburn thats all you really need. So, it is overblown. IF he can dominate in AAA you gotta pull the trigger. He has the stuff to give us 3 solid starters in Masterson-McCalister-Carrasco. Then we just need Meyers or Kazmir to own the 5th spot in the rotation.

That would leave us with one open rotation spot. We could and probably should look to make a trade for a solid middle of the rotation starter. Ricky Nolasco with The Marlins should not cost too much as he is a FA next year on a rebuilding team. I would love to slot him in behind the top 3 Masty,Zach and CC. Then you can have Ubaldo, Kazmir and Meyers all fight for the last rotation spot with one of the losers pitching in long relief.

The ace in the hole is Trevor Bauer. We can bring him up in Semptember to give new life to the rotation. A rotation of........

Masterson-McCaliser-Carrasco-Nolasco-Bauer isn't really that bad when you consider you could have still have Ubaldo, Meyers or Kazmir in the pen as the long man. I think finding a good long man is very important as it will help save the roation from bringing its curse down upon the bullpen.

The Indians need Ubaldo to simply eat innings right now. They can't have him only go 2-3 innings every start. They need him to be a man and help save the rotation until Meyers is back and help can arrive.

I said it before and I will say it again. Its hard to see this team doing anything without Carlos Carrasco. He has legit middle of the rotation stuff and would give us the required 3 starters to be a factor in the division.

While, the pitching staff is very important. Its also dire that Ascab and Kipnis get back to their former selves. With those two hitting this lineup could be good enough to deal with the very weak rotation.

Thank god for Masterson though. We needed an Ace more then ANYTHING and he has come through so far.
April 23, 2013 - 1:55 PM EDT
I think the idea that Carrasco's suspension is difficult to work around is overblown. All you need is one off day to work around where you can skip his turn in the rotation. You can call him up whenever and have him appeal the suspension, then drop the appeal after his turn in the rotation when you have an off day lined up. Or, e.g. if KC shells Ubaldo on 4/27, DFA Ubaldo, called up Carrsaco, Carrasco's next turn in the rotation is 5/7. No harm at all.

I don't know that Ubaldo is inconsistent. In 2011 his ERA with the Indians was 5.10. Last year in a full season, it was 5.40. So far this year, 10.06. Sure, some games he's had good results, but the same could be said for any borderline major league starter--I remember in 2010 when Talbot and Huff opened the year with complete games. Ubaldo right now, the guy who throws 92-93 mph with the same poor command he's had his entire career, is no better than David Huff, Aaron Laffey, Joe Martinez, or any other player you could readily replace him with. Time to move on to someone who actually has some upside, i.e. Carrasco or Bauer.
April 23, 2013 - 1:26 PM EDT
I'm thinking that Ubaldo is such a head case that he makes me yearn for the relative equanimity of the pitcher formerly known as Fausto. I have no faith that Jimenez will ever be anywhere near consistent again. I think Bauer is up once it makes sense, I think Kluber may not be great but it would be hard to be as erratic, flighty, and awful as Ubaldo is 75% of the time.

April 23, 2013 - 1:23 PM EDT
A good detailed look at where we stand presently. And it's not good. Matthew, you are right on with your thoughts. After Masty and McAllister, prognosis is not good. On a best case scenario, Kazmir works out OK. But that's it. Ownership/Management threw a lot of big $$$ for free agents to make this team competitive, but injuries, suspensions and poor performances have slowed the process. Injuries will work themselves out, suspensions will be served, but overcoming poor performances will take some work, especially the pitching. The suspension has to be dealt with quickly, so Carrasco can get back in the rotation.(Keep up Charlie Sheen visits) Bauer should be ready to go after a few more AAA starts, service time be damned ! The last solution is a deal. Perez remains shaky, and Asdrubal is off to a slow start. Better to deal them now when they still have value, versus their having a bad year and having to settle for diminished returns. It is still only April, so there is time, but come May and June and these issues remain, it will be a lot tougher.
April 23, 2013 - 12:46 PM EDT
I'm excited about Salazar, but I can't imagine he'll be ready this season. If he can stay healthy all year, he'll be a great candidate for the 2014 rotation.

The problem becomes if both Kazmir and Ubaldo have to be discarded. At that point, we'll need Carrasco and Bauer, and still have to trot out Kluber or, gulp, Huff every 5th day.

This rotation is nowhere near sufficient. That's why I believe we have to very seriously consider moving Asdrubal, Perez, and maybe even Reynolds at the deadline for young arms. We need an infusion of 3-4 FOR/MOR arms in the system if we're going to be a playoff team in the Bourn/Swisher window (2014-2016).
MT88 in WI
April 23, 2013 - 12:41 PM EDT
Just a thought from the cold north woods area (yes we got more SNOW today). Maybe the Tribe should activate Carlos Carassco during the roadtrip right ahead of the Yanks makeup games in May. Give Carlos a start in that series then have him drop the appeal and start serving time his time.

Since its an 8 game suspension, the Double header vs the Yanks next month would burn up 2 games in 1 day.

Additionally, MLB rules allow for a 26th player to be added to a roster when playing a double header. Having Carlos serve the time then isnt as tough because we get an extra guy during that day (& 2 games).

Considering how other things have gone with the rotation, getting Carlos back as a viable option as taken on added significance.
April 23, 2013 - 11:49 AM EDT
I'm with you, Matthew. After Carrasco and Bauer, there's Danny Salazar. Scraping the bottom of the barrel after that.
April 23, 2013 - 11:27 AM EDT
Good comprehensive look at the options the Indians have in 2013. Right now our 5-man rotation is:


Kluber is ok for a few spot starts, but he's never shown he can consistently be even a #5 starter at this level. Kazmir is a big MAYBE after that first start. Hopefully he can pull it together and at least be serviceable, but there's no guarantee. Myers is likely done for the year. I know they're not looking at surgery yet, but a UCL strain for a 32 year old pitchers is no bueno. Ubaldo is a disaster. 5 innings and 4 earned runs against the Astros is basically his ceiling.

Carrasco's suspension needs to be dealt with immediately. I understand that he's in the doghouse, and that having him with the team for 8 games but unavailable is difficult. However, he's one of only 2 legitimate internal options and we have 2-3 black holes in the rotation. Carrasco is not a luxury, he's an absolute necessity.

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