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Tribe Happenings: Indians left-handed relief is letting them down

Tribe Happenings: Indians left-handed relief is letting them down
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Left-handed relief problems

The Indians starting rotation has really turned a corner over the past five or so weeks. The offense has had its ups and downs, but for the most part has been an above average unit all season. And the right-handed relief options with Cody AllenBryan ShawJoe SmithVinnie Pestano and Chris Perez leading the way are about as deep a group of right-handed relief you will find on any team.

But the one glaring weakness at the moment for the Indians is left-handed relief pitching.

The Indians have used four left-handed relievers so far this season, and here are their numbers:

Rich Hill 7.04 5.15 1.76 .843 5.9 11.7
Scott Barnes 7.27 6.98 1.27 .918 3.1 10.4
Nick Hagadone 6.75 4.19 1.50 .685 6.8 9.5
David Huff 15.00 2.31 2.67 1.033 3.0 15.0

It no doubt has not been pretty from the left side of the mound for the Indians bullpen unit this season. While the lefties have done a nice job racking up strikeouts as a group, they have also given up way too many free passes and left-handed hitters are making good, solid contact against them much too often.

The Indians have primarily used Rich Hill as their main left-handed relief option. While he has had a few good nights, of late he has been rather ineffective and has had trouble avoiding walks. He has also not had much success against lefties as they are hitting a solid .258 off of him with a very high .830 OPS. If Hill wants to continue to be manager Terry Francona’s main left-handed matchup option, he is going to have to turn things around quickly. That begins with being more aggressive and more consistently pounding the strike zone.

 Nick Hagadone has been given the second most opportunities in left-handed relief, and his performance has been spotty.  He has great stuff with a mid-90s fastball and very good slider, but his main problem has been command. In fact, it has really been his only problem. He is walking hitters at a high rate, but so far he has been the Indians’ most effective lefty reliever against left-handers as they are only hitting .227 with a .701 OPS off of him. If he can find a way to find his command which has suddently disappeared this season, he has shown he has the goods to be a very good lefty option in the pen.

 Scott Barnes and David Huff have been used sparingly in the bullpen. Huff has since left the organization and is now pitching in the minors for the Yankees, but before he departed he had a few opportunities in Cleveland this year but just could not capitalize on them as lefties are hitting only .200 off of him but have a 1.133 OPS. Barnes has been up and down between Triple-A Columbus and Cleveland, and in limited time he has held lefties to a .200 average but they have a 1.133 OPS against him (most of that coming from his disastrous outing on Friday night).

 At the moment the Indians do not have any left-handed relief options in their system they can turn to. Triple-A Columbus lefty Giovanni Soto would have probably already been called up by now, but he has been battling a lower back injury all season, has been on the disabled list twice, and is currently out. Columbus lefty T.J. House is a starter, though if the Indians get desperate enough they could look at him in such a role – though it appears unlikely.

Beyond those two, the Indians really don’t have another lefty relief option in the minors, which means the trio of Hill, Hagadone and Barnes are going to have to turn it around quickly, or the Indians are going to have to make a trade. The Indians believe in Hagadone and are hopeful he can turn things around, and Hill was pitching well earlier in the year until recently.

Bottom line, if the Indians want to have sustained success this season they are going to need to be able to matchup late in games to get tough left-handed hitters out in key situations. Some of their right-handers like Allen and Shaw perform well against lefties, but you still prefer a matchup lefty there to make the hitter more uncomfortable.

 All-in on Ubaldo

 I’ve been one of right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez’s harshest critics, and deservedly so for the way he pitched since joining the Indians and up through his first few starts this season. But he appears to have turned things around and I am completely on his bandwagon and believe we are now finally seeing the pitcher the Indians thought they were getting when they traded for him almost two years ago.

Jimenez got off to a rocky start this season when he allowed seven runs in two of his first three outings, and it looked like he hit rock bottom as an Indian in his start against the Red Sox on April 16th when he lasted just 1.2 innings and allowed seven runs on two hits and five walks. But to his credit, he has since turned his season around.

Over Jimenez's last eight outings since that debacle against the Red Sox he is 4-1 with 3.21 ERA and has averaged six innings a start and over a strikeout an inning (9.3 K/9).  Aside from a hiccup in Detroit on May 22nd when he allowed six runs in four innings, he has been very good in six of his last seven outings allowing two runs or less in those other six starts.

Jimenez no longer has the dominant fastball he had in his days with the Rockies, but he looks like he is becoming more of a pitcher than just a thrower. There is a key difference there with a guy that just winds up and fires the ball as hard as they can with no clue where it is going versus a pitcher that knows how to use his stuff and setup his pitches even though he might not throw as hard.

The turnaround has come thanks to the work he and Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway have put into his side sessions and in the video room to try and get his mechanics ironed out. They appear to have found something as Jimenez has been able to more consistently repeat his mechanics, which in turn has drastically improved his command, location, and the quality of his stuff. Most importantly, it appears that Jimenez has bought into what Callaway has been telling him and has been open to the adjustments suggested.

The result is Jimenez over his last eight starts is close to the pitcher he was in 2009 and 2010 with the Rockies. The velocity is nowhere close to what it once was, but he is striking out almost two more batters per nine innings this season as he has a 9.1 K/9 this season compared to a 7.3 K/9 last season. He is also putting the ball on the ground at a more consistent rate as he has a 48.4% groundball rate this season compared to 38.4% last season.

The much improved strikeout rate and increase in his groundball rate show that Jimenez is getting more swing and miss with his stuff and he is better locating everything down in the zone.  On top of the improved mechanics, Jimenez has also changed up his repertoire and pitch sequences.  Check out his pitch type usage this season as compared to 2012 and in his career:

Pitch Type 2012 2013 Career
Fastball 57.50% 53.70% 62.50%
Slider 15.80% 19.10% 14.90%
Changeup 13.00% 13.00% 12.80%
Curveball 8.80% 4.60% 8.40%
Splitter 4.90% 9.70% 1.50%

Jimenez is throwing less fastballs this season, by far the lowest percentage in his career. His fastball velocity continues to deteriorate as it is down to an average of 92.1 MPH this season compared to the 92.5 MPH it was at last season and 93.9 MPH the season before that. With his lack of velocity the Indians and Jimenez have made the correction to not feature his fastball so much and instead rely more heavily on his deep mix of quality secondary offerings.

The result has been a bump in the usage of his slider and splitter, and the biggest change is how he has tabled his curveball this year in favor of his splitter as his main fourth pitch. The splitter is a pitch he rarely threw in his career prior to this season (1.4% of the time) but he is throwing it almost 10% of the time now and it may help explain why he has seen his strikeout rate jump this season.

Is Jimenez’s rebound the real thing or just a mirage? Who knows. But I now have confidence in him to go out and give the Indians a chance to win each time he pitches. He is eating innings, putting up quality outings, and most importantly looks confident again on the mound. He has become a formidable option for the Indians in the middle of the rotation and has been one of the biggest keys to the Indians’ success this season.

MLB Draft Primer

The 2013 MLB Draft will descend upon us in four days when it commences on Thursday June 6th. As usual, the IBI will be all over the draft with draft capsules and information on every player the Indians select as the picks happen and will have tons of exclusive quotes, comments and information from scouts from the Indians and other organizations.

For the first time the draft was moved to Thursday this year and will once again take place over three days. Here are the times for all three days:

Thursday 6/6: Rounds 1-2 at 7 PM
Friday 6/7: Rounds 3-10 at 1 PM
Saturday 6/8: Rounds 11-40 at 1 PM

Thursday’s action can be seen and heard live on MLB Network and they will also have a preview show that airs at 6 PM. Friday and Saturday’s action can be seen and heard live on as the format will return to the usual conference call setup.

The Indians have the #5 pick but do not pick again until the third round at #79 because they lost their second round pick and competitive balance pick they earned last summer when they signed free agents Nick Swisher andMichael Bourn. The Indians bonus pool for the first ten rounds is $6,188,800.

We will have several articles leading up to the draft. Jeff Ellis will update his big board and also post another mock draft, and he has a few other things in the pipeline as well. I have a long, detailed article coming this week from a one-on-one conversation I had with Brad Grant a few days ago, so be on the lookout for that as well.

Then on Thursday we will have a running live blog to post any news and updates as news and rumors come up with anything regarding the first five picks in the draft or related to the Indians. After the Indians make their first pick we will post lots of information and analysis in a player capsule and then I will have my usual Day 1 rundown piece the next morning.

On Friday and Saturday we will post the picks as they happen and provide all of the information, video, and analysis that we can find, and then after each day I will have my usual rundown piece full of exclusive goodies from the draft.

Once the draft is over, I will have a detailed post-draft conversational piece up with either Brad Grant or John Mirabelli to get their thoughts on things and some of the players. And of course, I will be providing daily updates on the signing process.

The draft marks the busiest time of the season for the IBI, so things over the next five months with the draft and signing process along with the start of short season leagues are going to make things very busy…..but we will continue to stay on top of things during this exciting time when 20-30 new players are making their way into the organization!

Marson on comeback trail

The Indians activated catcher Lou Marson on Wednesday and sent him on a rehab assignment to Double-A Akron. After sitting out on Thursday he was reassigned to Triple-A Columbus on Friday and played that night before getting the night off on Saturday. In his two games with Akron and Columbus so far he is 1-for-5 at the plate.

Marson, 26, is expected to play every other day for a few more days before the Indians increase his workload as he settles in.  Major League position players are afforded up to 20 days on a rehab assignment, and he will probably use the majority of his 20 days since he has not played much the last two months nor this season and almost needs to go through a mini-spring training again.

Once Marson’s rehab expires, or the Indians decide to activate him before it ends, they will need to make a decision with their roster. One thing is certain and that is Yan Gomes is not going anywhere. He has earned the right to stay in Cleveland and the Indians would be crazy to send him down now with the impact he has made both offensively and defensively.

One option the Indians have is they can add him back to the 25-man roster and use him as a third catcher in order to allow Yan Gomes and Carlos Santana be used as the designated hitter on a more regular basis. This would cut into Jason Giambi’s playing time some, but as I noted last week I think Giambi has been playing too much and he has shown he is useful more as a pinch hitting option and once or twice a week starter.  With the starting rotation settling in over the past month or so, the Indians probably don’t need eight relievers anymore so Marson could replace one of them on the roster.

The other option the Indians have is Marson does have one option remaining so they could just option him to Columbus when the rehab expires; however, there is one little hump they would have to get over before they could make such a transaction. Since it has been more than three years since Marson was first optioned to the minors,  he would first have to clear what is called optional waivers.  Optional waivers are like normal waivers, but they are revocable so the Indians could pull him back if they wanted to. In any case, there is a decent chance he would clear given his injury history this season and poor play offensively in his career.

If I had to make a guess right now, Marson will be optioned to Columbus. You never like to see a player lose a job because of injury, but in this case his injury opened the door for Gomes to come in and show what he can do and he has made good on that opportunity – and then some. With Marson making $1 million this season and set to earn a pay raise next season, I find it hard to believe the Indians will keep him around for that amount of money as a third catcher, so his days are numbered as an Indian.

Be honest with yourself

Back when spring training just ended and the season was just beginning to start and people were making their predictions on the season, if you were to be told the Indians would be 30-25, five games over .500 and a half game out of first place you would have been elated. And several of you might have laughed at the suggestion.

But, for as up and down as the Indians have been this season and the struggles they have had of late, that is exactly where the Indians come into play today.  Sometimes that is the objective outlook you have to take sometimes, especially when they are going through a tough stretch as they have of late. Sometimes we focus so much on the immediate results and forget to take a step back and look at things collectively.

The highs when a team is going well are euphoric. It makes you think the team is always better than it is.  The same happens when you go through the lows of a tough losing streak as you never think the team will win again and you make the team out to be worse than it really is.  That’s baseball.  It is why I love this game. The highs and lows that the rollercoaster of emotions bring throughout the season are unmatched in any other professional sport.

This is a good baseball team with good people throughout the coaching and player ranks.  They have their warts for sure, but barring injury, this is a team that should at least win 82-85 games and then depending on consistency and health of their key players and how the rotation holds up, they could maybe come away with 88-92 wins.

So just enjoy the ride and jump on board and quit bailing on this team at the first sign of trouble. This is a team that is worthy of getting behind. They have good chemistry, are likeable, and have some talent.  This is the first year of what has been an incredible turnaround.  It is not all going to come together as much as we want it to overnight, but they could surprise and definitely look to be on the right track and I can’t wait to see what they do the rest of this season and going forward in future seasons.

Parting shots

On Monday right-hander Chris Perez was placed on the disabled list with right arm soreness. They will reassess him later this week to see how his arm feels, but at the moment it is not expected to be a serious issue that keeps him out long.  … Right-hander Chen-Chang Lee was activated and assigned to Low-A Lake County on Monday. He is on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery last summer. He should move quickly to Double-A Akron or Triple-A Columbus and could be an option for the Indians later this summer. … Shortstop Asdrubal Cabreracontinues to soldier through a right quad issue that has bothered him since late-April. It flares up a little from time to time, but it is nothing that has kept him out of the lineup. … Right-hander Brett Myers has been out with right elbow tendonitis since April 20th and recently had his rehab assignment halted on Monday because of some soreness in the elbow. He has been shut down for a week and should be reevaluated early this week; however, the setback will probably delay his return at least another week or two. … The Indians signed right-handed pitcher Chris Jakubauskas to a minor league deal and assigned him to Columbus.


Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

June 3, 2013 - 1:08 AM EDT
Kazmir has made 8 starts total so far with 6 of those 8 being pretty good - bad ones being his first of the year on 4/20 and then vs SEA on 5/20. I'm not trying to discard his clunkers so much as saying that a BOR starter having decent games 75% of the time is better than having a matchup lefty. His sample size should more than double between now and the All-Star break, so we'll see.
June 2, 2013 - 5:09 PM EDT
Time to quit using our lefties in close situations. They are killing us.
June 2, 2013 - 2:10 PM EDT
Don't think you have your numbers right. Kazmir's given up 15 runs in 32 innings in his last 6 starts. Or you are just discarding his bad games? If you ignore his horrible outings, then yes he's been good, but that would go for any pitcher in baseball. He's averaged 5 innings per start on the year. He's looked good at times, but really struggled with pitch counts and consistency. Unless he really turns it on in the second half he's not getting a big contract. They certainly shouldn't dictate their decisions based on what's good for Kazmir's next contract anyway. He probably wants to start, but he might be better served career-wise to go to the bullpen. Closers make good money. Have a hard time believing Kazmir won't burn out as a starter again, his career may be extended significantly by going to the bullpen now. He's been dominant in a few games so I would probably like to see whether he can work as a starter, but the left-handed relief has also been a disaster and is costing them wins. If Kazmir can only go 5 innings (and that's his average in his first 4 and last 4 starts), they might have trouble winning the games no matter how he pitches, with the state of their bullpen
June 2, 2013 - 1:53 PM EDT
I don't think Kazmir would welcome a non-injury related move to the bullpen since he's trying to rebuild his value heading into FA this off-season. Not to mention he's the only lefty starter and has gone 5+ IP in 6 of his 8 starts with a 3.18 ERA, 9.26 K/9, and 2.65 BB/9 over 34 IP in those games.
June 2, 2013 - 1:00 PM EDT
The most encouraging thing about Ubaldo I have seen was the huge grin on his face the other night. I have never seen him look so happy. Good for him and good for the Tribe!
June 2, 2013 - 12:04 PM EDT
Think the Indians would at all consider moving Kazmir to the pen? He's been intermittently good as a starter, and could be more valuable there, but he also has, and has always had, issues going deep into games. They could more easily replace him in the starting rotation than get a good left-handed reliever (though Carrasco and Bauer have struggled lately, not sure what's up with that. As long as they are healthy, they should still be options). Rich Hill seems to be broken, Hagadone & Barnes make Sipp and R Perez look consistent, which is hard to do. Other than Kazmir, it may be tough to fix the problem internally unless Hagadone finally figures things out. I think Kazmir would be a dominant reliever
June 2, 2013 - 11:19 AM EDT
LH relievers are having issues everywhere......The Braves lost both of their's Ventors and O'Flarety to TJ......with that said, you have to have a couple in the pen to force oppo managers to make moves.
June 2, 2013 - 11:04 AM EDT
If the Indians stay in contention I can definitely see them trading for a proven left-handed reliever. I don't think they trust Hagadone, Hill or Barnes to come in and face a tough left-handed hitter with runners on base in the heat of a pennant race.

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