The Indians have the core of their bullpen in tact: Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Nick Goody, Tyler Olsen, Zach McAllister and Dan Otero. Assuming Terry Francona begins the season with a five man rotation and a seven man bullpen, that leaves one spot open for a reliever.
Coming into camp the Indians had non-roster candidates like Alexi Ogando, Josh Martin, Cameron Hill, Neil Ramirez and Stephen Fife to battle minor leaguers in camp for those innings. They later signed Matt Belisle and Carlos Torres to further add to the depth that’s usually needed come later in the summer.
Knowing that not every man can make the opening day roster, the Indians wanted to bring in pitchers who would essentially compete for that final spot. The environment was created: “We have one spot – ‘duke’ it out.”
Through 12 games this spring, here are the finalists for the 7th man in the ‘pen and their numbers:
The name that sticks out to me is Alexi Ogando. His early spring training numbers are right in line with his career: strikes out a lot of batter but also walks his fair share. Although he’s made it clear that he wishes to be a starter again, he signed with the Indians knowing that his future with the organization is in the bullpen.
The team’s starting pitching depth is especially lacking at Triple-A, with Cody Anderson still recovering from Tommy John surgery and Julian Merryweather shut down because of a sprained elbow ligament. This may open the door for Ogando to re-establish his career as a starter at Columbus and be available as a spot starter as necessary. So far, though, he’s pitched well enough to earn a spot in the bullpen.
Belisle, who spent time as the Minnesota Twins closer last season, is an intriguing name. So far, he hasn’t given up an earned run in 2.0 innings pitched.
The day Belisle signed, Francona told TJ Zuppe of the The Athletic:
“The thing that really intrigued us, was of all the guys that we’ve talked to, he comes as highly regarded as a teammate. … Even before the last couple of years watching him in Minnesota, his reputation is just spotless, as a teammate, as a competitor.”
Last year, the 37-year-old posted a 4.07 ERA and 4.03 FIP in 60 1/3 innings. After the Twins dealt Brandon Kintzler at the deadline, Belisle stepped into the closer role, saving nine games and registering the second-highest strikeout rate of his career. His 62 appearances marked his most since 2014.
Still, parts of his 2017 season remain a bit perplexing. A few of the peripheral numbers didn’t necessarily line up with what you’d expect, but it’s tough to argue with the results that came after the first two months of the year. For example, in April and May, Belisle walked far too many and was well below the league average in stranding runners (52.2 percent). That’s hardly a recipe for success. His 8.66 ERA in that stretch reflects it.
A dark horse candidate and a guy we’ll hear more of as the summer rolls along is Cameron Hill. He, along with Ogando, are the only Tribe pitchers not to allow an earned run with as least 5.0 IP this spring.
According to David Freier of Did The Tribe Win Last Night, Hill:
“…uses a combination of fastball, curveball, and changeup to keep hitters off balance. His fastball sits in the 90-94 miles an hour range, but it is his shift in the mental aspect of the game that has really improved his effectiveness.”
In 2016, former Lynchburg Hillcats pitching coach Rigo Beltran told Freier that
“[e]arly in the season, he was not realistic as far as where his misses were,” said Beltran. “Now he’s starting to understand where he has to pitch to be successful. He’s made great mental adjustments and he’s starting to have more success.”
It looks as if the righty from Oklahoma is carrying over his success into the spring.
Earlier this week, I wrote that Ryan Merritt will (most likely) start the season as the bullpen’s “7th man.” Merritt is out of options and the Indians won’t let him leave town that easily – especially after what he’s given to the organization the past two seasons.
It’s still early and a lot can change between now and March 29th.