Indians general manager Mark Shapiro and his staff aren't ready to push the panic button just yet, despite the Tribe starting the season 4-9 and sitting in last place in the America League Central Division. However, he expressed real concern during a teleconference Monday afternoon during the team's off day while touching on a handful of hot topics.
* First, Shapiro shared his thoughts on Sunday's controversial pinch-hit home run by Yankees catcher Jorge Posada.
While the STO replay from behind home plate made it look as if a fan interfered with Tribe rookie outfielder Trevor Crowe as he went up for the ball, the YES Network's feed from the outfield fence shows more clearly the ball sailing over Crowe's outstretched glove.
"I think they got the call right," Shapiro said. "But we didn't win that game because we didn't execute situational hitting and our bullpen did not execute. It's an excuse to focus on that one play."
* When asked about the struggling bullpen, Shapiro took a broader approach to his discussing his team's problems:
"What I'd like to see is our club play more consistently. There's a lot of positives to come out of the last eight games after five difficult games. What we haven't done is execute on all facets of our game consistently. We need to put that all together."
* Shapiro was just as evasive when queried about the possibility of sending reliever Rafael Perez, who is 0-1 with a bloated 16.71 ERA in seven appearances, to the minors in an effort to help regain the form that once made him one of the best set-up men in the league.
"Not to speak specifically about Perez, but we would consider any move that we were assured would make our team better. We're looking at every alternative at this point. Unfortunately, at (Triple-A) Columbus, no one has made themselves a clear better alternative to the guys who are up here."
"We have a multitude of guys in our bullpen who have not contributed positively. Save for (closer) Kerry Wood, it's been marginal to poor performances from everybody else. It's not been one guy."
* When asked point blank if Perez is healthy, Shapiro said:
"I have no reason to believe anybody's not healthy in our bullpen. I can only work off the information provided to me from our pitching coaches to our training staff."
* How much of the blame does Shapiro place on the shoulders of the slow start from the starting pitchers?
"There is definitely a correlation between (the struggles of the starters and the bullpen). The guys we feel can be dependable relievers for us have had to carry an unfair burden. Especially this past week, as they've had to rack up the innings and pitches that they wouldn't normally have to rack up. That work load has paid a price."
"There's been games the bullpen has concerned me more and games the rotation has concerned me more. Right now, the pitching in general is a concern. Not a red flag that we're not going to get righted. But right now we need to establish more consistency."
* Can the move to Arizona from Florida for Spring Training be a part of the problem for the slow start?
"That's possible. But there are 13 other teams that trained down in Arizona this year, too. I'm just not willing to accept that as a blanket excuse for what we're going through."
"I think a bigger part of our problem is obviously the first couple times through the (starting) rotation we only got six innings a couple times, and other times five or less. That put a huge burden on our bullpen with no off days along with some bad and inconsistent performances and that just snowballed."
* Changing gears a bit, Shapiro was asked what positives he'd seen so far:
"With the team in general, there's been a lot of positive trends. Certainly the offense, and the starting rotation as well as we've seen some positive momentum from Cliff (Lee) and Carl (Pavano). Laffey's initial start was a good one and hopefully Fausto can build off his last one as well."
"There's been some pretty encouraging offensive trends as well. This is a team that's capable of scoring a lot of runs and probably will score quite a few runs this year. Two of the biggest alarm signals sent throughout spring training was the health of Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner, and could these be productive? Clearly they both are back and capable of having productive years. Everybody else has contributed at times or consistently since spring training. And a lot of them haven't even hit full stride yet."
* On the performance of Eric Wedge under pressure:
"One of Eric's strengths is his consistency. He doesn't panic. He stays strong and he stays consistent with what he believes makes for effective teams and players. And the players around him know how much he believes in them. It's something we look to test by adding these types of April, but during rough spots it gives Eric's strengths time to shine even stronger than they do at other times. And that's particularly behind the scenes and internally."
* Despite given the outlet, Shapiro refused to blame his team's slow start on things such a longer spring camp and missing players die to the World Baseball Classic:
"Everybody had the same spring. And neither Eric nor I believe in taking excuses."
* Is the GM worried about falling so behind early that he'll have to sell off big-name players mid-season like he was forced to last year in trading left-handed pitcher C.C. Sabathia to Milwaukee for young prospects?
"That is a danger. But look at the trend. After an 0-5 start, we've played eight games where we've certainly played a lot better."
"No one's distancing themselves in the division. We're aware of where we are and where we have to play. Over the last few games we're trending better, we just have to continue putting things together more consistently. If we do that, we're right in the thick of things and it hasn't gotten away from us...As of yet, we haven't dug ourselves a hole, we've just dug ourselves a little bit of a rut."
"We have the players. We have the talent. We just have to get some things straightened out and play more consistently."
* Shapiro admitted he was surprised how little the new Yankee Stadium played during the recent series that saw 20 home runs fly out the park.
"There were balls off the bat that I thought were clearly going to be fly balls that carried to the wall or out of the ballpark...It reminded me of watching Camden Yards the first couple years before they moved the fences back in the alleys."
* Shapiro also chimed in on right-hander Carl Pavano's solid start Sunday back in front of the rabid New York fans.
"I thought it was a tremendous performance in a situation where, talking to (assistant GM) Chris (Antonetti), it's remarkable what a difficult time he was given for four straight days with all the scrutiny on him - to be able to go out there and maintain his poise and confidence. To execute the way he did was outstanding. I have a lot of respect for him for the way he's handled himself from day one here."
* Shapiro closed his talk with this summary:
"Obviously there's some things we're concerned about and legitimately so. But there's also been a lot of positive trends over the last eight games. Now we have the opportunity to be home and hopefully build off that and build off some positive momentum and play above .500 on this home stand and get back on track."
"There's a lot of things that go into that, but we need to get the starting pitching and the bullpen successfully working together. If we can do that, we have a chance to string a real nice summer together."