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Tribe Happenings: Starting Rotation Shuffle

Tribe Happenings: Starting Rotation Shuffle
July 22, 2012
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That's right boys and girls, Tony Lastoria has finally agreed to take a much-needed break. Of course, on his way to that break, that didn't stop him from taking in a few Mudcats' games, but, it is what it is. With Tony strolling across a white-sanded beach, I've got the daunting task of filling in for a day with Tribe Happenings. Heaven Help Us All...

On Roberto Hernandez...

Roberto Hernandez has received a Visa from the U.S. Consulate in the Dominican Republic and will arrive in Cleveland on Saturday night, according to reports.

It was believed that Hernandez would avoid a suspension from major league baseball, thanks to a restructuring of his contract back in March. Unfortunately, that report turned out to be false. The office of the Bud Selig dispensed a three-week suspension for age and identity fraud. His suspension begins today, and will last until August 10th.

Hernandez is eligible for a rehabilitation assignment to a minor league affiliate during his suspension. It’s believed that Hernandez will throw a bullpen session this weekend, then follow that up with at least four starts as his “spring training.” If all goes well, Hernandez will join the Indians and their rotation in mid August.

Hernandez, the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona, has been fighting to get back his visa after he was caught lying about his identity. It turned out the 28-year-old Fausto Carmona, was neither 28, nor was he Fausto Carmona. Carmona is really the 31-year old Roberto Hernandez Heredia. He was arrested in the Dominican in January. The Dominican authorities dropped charges in February after he completed a work program in which he discouraged young Dominican baseball players from changing their name to play in the U.S.

The Indians then re-structured Hernandez ‘s multi-year contract. Instead of making his scheduled seven million this year, he will make $2.5 million in base salary, with the potential to make $2.7 million more in incentives that include innings pitched, starts and days on the 25-man roster. The Indians also took away one of his option years, and lowered next year’s option to six million, with the potential for three million more in incentives.

For those thinking that Hernandez might not be starting because of past inconsistencies, get that out of your head. He’s a starter…period.

I’ve speculated over the past few months on what may happen when Hernandez returns. In every interview since his arrest, Hernandez has discussed the relief to finally have that off his chest. He admitted that he’s wanted to tell the Indians for years that he’s not who he says he is, but was afraid that he’d get in trouble. Well, he was definitely right about that. With that said, Hernandez has that off his chest, and you have to wonder if that stress played a part in his struggles over the years.

Might he return, stress free, and resembling his 2007 form? That would be incredibly optimistic, and a long road back, but it’s not out of the question that Hernandez turns into something better than the past four years. The only question, in my mind, is whether or not he has time this season to be a factor. Sure, he’s been throwing in the Dominican, but that’s a whole lot different than live, major league hitting. The mystery will continue for Carmona until Mid-August, when he rejoins the Tribe.

On the Starting Rotation....

What does that mean for the Indians’ rotation going forward? You can pencil in Hernandez into the #3 slot into the rotation, as long as there aren’t any more moves with regards to trades or injuries.  It absolutely should put Josh Tomlin and Derek Lowe on notice, and to a certain extent, Zach McAllister. All three will be pitching for their respective lives going forward. If there’s another trade, those three could be pitching for one slot. As it stands now, there are three starters, and only two slots.

I have to believe that Zach McAllister is safe. He hasn’t been perfect, but he’s been absolutely more consistent than Lowe and Tomlin. What scares me about McAllister is that while I believe he’s the best option, he also represents a guy with only 12 starts under his belt, who the Indians and Manny Acta may feel is easier to send down than Tomlin. Lowe, well, he’s another story.

Lowe has been absolutely dreadful since his brilliant month of April. His ERA in April was 2.27. His ERA in May was 4.30. His ERA in June was 6.49. His current ERA in July is 9.00. This mirrors his struggles from a season ago…well…to be honest…this makes his splits from a year ago look brilliant. His ERA between May and August weren’t great, but they were between 4.41 and 5.86. His worst month was his September implosion, when he went 0-5 with an 8.75 ERA. It’s hard to believe he was worst last year, then this. I can’t fathom that Lowe can do anything to stay on this team. Still, stranger things have happened. It’s possible that Acta wants Lowe for his veteran presence. I know, that would be insane, but this is Indians’ baseball.

Josh Tomlin is as consistent as half-cooked oatmeal. I like Tomlin and his mentality, but sometimes mentality just isn’t good enough. His ERA over the last month is 6.65, although he has pitched better over his last two starts. I still have to believe that Tomlin is ahead of Lowe. With that said, I don’t think that Tomlin is the type of starter that helps you win championships. He could be acceptable as a #5 starter, but having more than one Tomlin-esque pitcher in your rotation is a sign that your rotation isn’t very good. With Lowe and Tomlin, this rotation isn’t very good.

But, the wildcard in all this chatter is Jeanmar Gomez. He has been dominating in Columbus once again, which really isn’t any different than any of his other stints with the Clippers. Gomez has made four starts with the Clippers, and while he’s gone only 2-2, he’s been phenomenal. In his three best starts, he’s gone 23 innings, giving up 22 hits and four runs (two earned), while walking two and striking out 20. Overall, his ERA is 1.86.

Plus, if you look at Gomez in his last few bad starts in Cleveland, he wasn’t as bad as it appears. On May 19th, Gomez had an ERA of 3.19. In his next start, he gave up six runs against the White Sox. At the end of the fifth inning, the score was 3-2 Chicago before he gave up three runs in the sixth inning and was pulled after throwing 110 pitches. In his next start against the Royals, he gave up five runs…two in the third and the fourth, and a single run in the fifth. He gave up six runs against the Tigers to follow that up, but entered the fifth inning leading 8-2 before giving up four runs and getting pulled after only making 66 pitches. He had a good start against Cincinnati, in which he only gave up a couple of runs, and one earned, but followed that up by giving up eight runs against Pittsburgh. He entered the fifth inning with a 4-3 lead before the six run fifth inning that was helped out by an Asdrubal Cabrera error (he had three that game). His last start was against the Astros, and he gave up five total runs, but had a 1-0 lead heading into the fifth inning. He was sent down after the game, and his ERA was two runs higher than it was on May 19th, at 5.18.

As you can see, Gomez entered the fifth inning in four of his five bad starts during his last month of baseball, Cleveland was either in the lead, or down by a run. In all four of those starts, he got lit up in the fifth or sixth inning. The only exception to that rule was the Kansas City game. Now I’m not saying he wasn’t scuffling in those starts, but I AM saying he was getting through it. The problem would come during the second or third time through the lineup, when major league hitters figure things out. Great pitchers either have overpowering stuff, or alter their approach. Gomez doesn’t have overpowering stuff, so he clearly wasn’t altering his approach, and perhaps having stamina problems. He’s a battler, and it’s one thing to do it against Triple A pitching, and another thing to do it against major league pitching.

Is it possible he’s a “Quad-A” pitcher? Sure. It’s also just as likely that he’s on a learning curve, and will be even better than he was during his next go around. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Of course, the wildcard in this chatter is the actual trade front. McAllister is clearly going to be on the radar of teams in which the Indians contact for a deal. He’s a 24-year old right hander with a great four-seam fastball, and curve. When he’s on, as he was on Saturday against the Orioles, he’s very, very good. He was living in the 93’s with that four-seamer, and he touched 95 several times. The curve is deadly as well, and when he’s throwing strikes with both, he’s nearly impossible to hit. The Indians shouldn’t trade McAllister. There likely isn’t a starter out there that can pitch as well as he can going forward.

It’s possible that Tomlin would get included as a trade, as he would provide some value as an innings eater, but he would be a secondary guy, a throw in at best. The Indians will TRY to throw him into a deal. If not, he’ll end up back in Columbus or in the bullpen. I would take him over Accardo in that role, as long as Perez and Allen were still there as well.

Gomez is also an intriguing option to include in a deal. He’s not a high velocity guy, and rarely throws the ball above 90-91. He can locate though, and when he’s on at any level, he’s tough to hit. His value is somewhere between Tomlin and McAllister, so it’s possible that a team looking for immediate pitching help would value him in a deal. A team like the Cubs or the Mariners, or even the Twins might value him slightly above most teams. Again, Gomez isn’t the main piece of any trade, but he’s an extremely valuable piece as a secondary guy…who can immediately fill a hole in a rotation.

The Indians have been getting good starts from several pitchers in Columbus, so they definitely could afford to include a guy like Gomez or Tomlin in a deal. If it’s the right deal, McAllister isn’t off limits. It just doesn’t seem to make sense to deal a guy who’s pitching as well as any in your rotation for a starting pitcher. I know McAllister is the unknown because of longevity, but he just reminds me of a right-handed Cliff Lee.

It will be interesting to see what this rotation looks like on August 15th. My guess is it’s going to look a whole lot different. I just hope the Indians are still a player in the chase by then.

On Cody Allen...

Speaking of pitching, how about the rise of Cody Allen. Cody Allen’s rise to the Indians has been nothing short of meteoric. On June 6th, 2011, Allen was a college student. He had just completed his junior season of college baseball, when the Indians re-drafted in the 23rd round on June 7th.

He’s been very, very good.

He started off the 2011 season in short season Mahoning Valley, pitching in 14 ballgames over 33 2/3 innings. He gave up only 21 hits and nine walks, but struck out 42 hitters. His velocity was off the charts, but the Tribe scouts weren’t surprised. He was on their radar as a back-end reliever, and he proved them right out of the gate, popping the gun at 95 and above with regularity. He moved to Lake County for seven appearances there, and was even better in his 17 innings, giving up 10 hits and five walks, while striking out 28 batters. Allen would get a game apiece in Kinston and Akron. For the K-Tribe, he made a three inning, near-perfect appearance, giving up only one hit while striking out three. In Akron, he would have his first rough outing, giving up three hits and two runs, but that was a blip on the radar.

He started of the 2012 season with the Carolina Mudcats. I was at the first two games he pitched, and it was clear his velocity was better than anyone else on the mound those nights. The Indians immediately bumped him up after those two appearances in Carolina. He went four innings, giving up all of one hit, while striking out eight. In Akron, it was five more appearances over 7 2/3 innings. He gave up two hits and a run, while striking out ten. Before May, he was in Columbus. He struggled in May, but righted the ship quickly. His ERA in May was 4.26, but it dropped to 1.64 in June, and was a 0.00 in July.

He was off to Cleveland.

His overall numbers in the minors were spectacular. He went 8-3 in 54 total games, with an ERA of 1.74. He pitched in 98 innings, giving up only 60 total hits, and 19 runs. He walked 23 batters, while striking out 128. His WHIP was 0.847 for his career, and was never above 1.00 at any stop. In other words, he’s as dominant a reliever as any in the system.

Vinnie Pestano was 7-10 with a 2.55 ERA over 173 innings. He walked only 60, and struck out 185. His WHIP was 1.168, and was never BELOW 1.00. Great numbers, but they don’t touch Allen’s.

Chris Perez went 6-2 with a 2.62 ERA in his career. He pitched in 113 1/3 innings, walking 75 and striking out 151. His WHIP was 1.200, and never lower than 1.1.

Pestano pitched in parts of three season in the minors, while Perez pitched in parts of four. Allen pitched in parts of two season…barely over a year as a professional.

His rise has been meteoric, and there’s no way the Indians, as good as they were in scouting him, could see this happen. He really leans on that four-seamer, and while he’s throw his slider and curve, he really rests his laurels on the heat. He lives at 95 MPH, and can touch 97…and often does. In other words, he’s devastating. There’s no doubt that he’s going to be a guy that pitches in the eighth or ninth innings down the road.

The question is, for which team will he be pitching? There is no doubt in my mind that Allen is a guy that is immediately behind Francisco Lindor on the trade front. I have mixed emotions about Allen. His clear talent would make him a hard loss in any sort of trade, but, the Indians do have relief pitching depth. While there aren’t any relievers as good as Allen in the system, there are several right behind him. Chen Lee was generally regarded as the best reliever in the system before he got hurt this year. Shawn Armstrong and Grant Sides are also making quick work of the minors in their own right. Tyler Sturdevant and Bryce Stowell also have big arms, and have been touted as back-end bullpen options, although injuries have slowed down both.

Point being that Allen is outstanding, and I hope he’s closing for Cleveland for years to come. With that said, if he can bring us a major part to this team, include him in the deal. But if you deal him, you better make sure that the piece we are getting back is a big one, and you better make sure that THIS team can get to the playoffs, and win.

Allen is that good.

On Carlos Santana...

I do want to address my thoughts on Carlos Santana. He’s been terrible. Sure, he’s stepped up his game defensively, but isn’t that what Lou Marson is here for? Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that Santana is an improved defensive player, but he’s up here to be a middle of the order bat. Right now, he’s not even a major league bat.

I have to question whether or not he’s right in the head, and I don’t mean that as a rip. A lot of folks are conveniently forgetting that he had a pretty severe concussion in June. He’s back, but is he really? His last home run was on May 15th. He took the foul ball off his mask on May 25th. There’s no doubt he was struggling in May anyways, but his numbers in June fell off the chart once he returned. He’s returned a bit to form in July, but there are times when he just looks lost at the plate.

There’s been a call for him to get sent down to the minors, or move to first base. I don’t know that I necessarily agree with either move unless he’s still struggling from that concussion, or if the actual act of catching is affecting his offense. Listen, he’s been a catcher his whole career, and I find it intensely hard to believe that he’s all-of-the-sudden going start struggling offensively because of his defense. Sure, you could expect a bit of a drop-off with the improved defense, but nothing like this. I just don’t buy the move him to first base, even with Marson playing well, unless you deal for a catcher who can hit the ball. Then, by all means, move him to first base full-time. Just don’t tell me that the move alone is going to improve his offense.

The real question for me is whether or not he’s right after that concussion. I don’t believe he is. Anyone who knows anything about concussions know that there’s more to it than tests. His performance has dropped off immensely, and perhaps keeping him playing major league baseball wasn’t the route they should have gone. I’m sure Santana was chomping at the bit to play, and I’m equally sure that the front office was chomping at the bit to let him. The tests cleared him, and he was back. I don’t fault ANYONE for playing him.

But…aren’t there moments when you step back and say, “something’s not right?” Folks, something isn’t right. Carlos Santana isn’t Manny Ramirez offensively, but there are similarities in their rainman-esque offensive capabilities. If Manny slumped like this, which never happened, as far as I can remember, and it followed a concussion, do you think there would be any doubt?

I do see signs of improvement, but it’s slow…so…

If a move to the minors or a stint on the DL would improve his ability to play, DO IT. In all honesty, bench Hafner and let him DH, if you really want to put him in a position to focus on that offense. Hafner is a human hole on offense right now, and Santana is a commodity for the future. Hafner isn’t.

On our contract extensions...

The Indians are middling, and Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera are scuffling. Santana is hitting .250 in July, and hit .161 in June. Cabrera is hitting .194 in July. The Indians signed both to extension this offseason. Oh Joy…

Have a great end of your weekend everybody…and rest assured, Tony will return next weekend!

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

July 23, 2012 - 1:21 PM EDT
Yogi Berra and Dale Murphy could hit the ball where it was pitched and although they could hit home runs, they learned how to go with a pitch and dink the ball when a dink was called for. Santana looks like he is always looking for a certain pitch. If he doesn't get it he appears somewhat paralyzed. Either walks or strikes out. I'm no psychiatrist, and I didn't sleep at the Holiday Inn last night, but I have spent time in prison- where you have to read people pretty quick to stay safe- there's something OCD about Santana's approach. I like the kid but he can't seem to relax and focus enough to do see the ball/ hit the ball effectively. He had 3 hits last night but the most important AB he was paralyzed- struck out on 5 pitches. Either hire a behavior specialist /coach to work with him or get another catcher. DH'ing or playing first base is not going to help him hit- it may actually make him worse because his mind will wander more.
July 23, 2012 - 1:36 AM EDT
Concussions and all head injuries can be devastating.
Been there in football, basketball, work.
Seen it as teammate, coach, friend.
Santana, however, is just too good a hitter, potentially, to waste at a position that ruined Bench (Check his early stats.).
Dale Murphy was moved, Yogi played a lot of 1B or LF, and a lot of others have been moved. Santana is a DH-1B, emergency catcher next year, and it's about time to establish that fact now as the Indians fade away from contention.
Outstanding article.
July 22, 2012 - 9:35 PM EDT
Personally, I think this is one of your best writes Jim. I don't know if the tribe can hold it together until the middle of August with the current pitching staff and bottom of the order but if they can, I would still like to see them pick up Marlon Byrd for this year and next. I know he is a stupid junkie as you eloquently stated but that has never been a disqualification for playing the OF in Cleveland. He would be a fine 4th OF with no player or money cost.

We see the same problems but do not have the same concerns all the time. I worry far less about Santana and Cabrera who can actually hit the ball when things are going right than I do about the legion of position players who cannot hit. You have Cunningham, Damon, Hafner, Hannahan, Duncan and Kotchman who are beyond their hitting prime or never had one. Just not ML worthy no matter how well they defend. Even if Sizemore returns healthy and in form (very unlikely IMO) there is just too many holes to fix by end of the month. IF they can trade for someone of value beyond this year, I am all for it. Not in favor of giving up valuable prospects for a temporary fix when there are so many weak areas.
July 22, 2012 - 5:18 PM EDT
I just watched Carlos Santana called out on strikes- with the bases loaded and 2 out in an Indians down 2-0 ballgame in the 6th inning. He didn't swing the bat once, NOT ONCE. How many times has he done this? Too many to keep track of. I don't think the concussion has anything to do with it. He's been a space case at the plate for 4 years. I think he is mentally incompetent to be a productive everyday hitter at the major league level. The guy is too freaky and unresponsive to instruction to learn to be a productive big league hitter. And I don't think he is very tradeable with the contract Antonetti gave him. I would just fire him. Why did Antonetti give him a big contract? Why did he trade Drew Pomeranz and Alex White for Ubaldo when Ubaldo couldn't throw strikes in Denver? Why did he sign Derek Lowe when his arm was dead and his eyes were bloodshot? Yes , they're all rhetorical questions. Please one of the Dolan kids, get conservatorship of the old man's affairs. First thing you do then is go get John Farrell to G.M. the team- give him a piece of the ownership if necessary. And maybe bring Jose Bautista with. Break this losing culture from the top down.

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