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Cleveland Indians

Laffey assigned to save bullpen

By Sheldon Published: May 6, 2009

With few moves to make and lots of holes to fill in the Indians' bullpen, General Manager Mark Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge are using the creative approach.

Why not ask a starter to become a reliever, at least temporarily, or maybe not. At this point, nobody can say when the bullpen crisis will end, or how it will turn out. 

"He's been doing a good job as a starter, but we feel he can also do it in the bullpen,'' Wedge said Wednesday. "He keeps the ball on the ground, and he doesn't take a long time to warm up when he starts. He's athletic, and he's a competitor.'' 

Who is Wedge talking about?  Aaron Laffey, the Tribe's newest reliever. But for how long?

"We're just looking day to day right now,'' Shapiro said. ""Clearly, we have a sense of urgency about the bullpen right now.''

And with good reason. The aggregate record of the relief corps is 4-7 with a 6.47 earned-run average, a fugure that ranks 13th in the American League. 

The situation reached critical mass Tuesday in Toronto, when the relievers gave up seven runs in the seventh inning to wipe out a 6-3 lead and hand the Blue Jays a 10-6 win.

"We have to address this, both short term and long term,'' Shapiro said. "Consistency in the bullpen continues to be a problem. We have to examine it all, from selection of the players to the coaching, everything.''

Shapiro was asked if the firing of long-time bullpen coach Luis Isaac could be a factor.

"I don't think that has anything to do with it,'' the GM said.

Shapiro has been talking to other general managers about a deal for a reliever, but he did not sound optimistic for two reasons: the Tribe needs more than one pitcher to turn the bullpen around, and the availability of quality relievers is scarce.

The Tribe's problem is no secret, so is Shapiro being besieged by GMs trying to unload inept pitchers?

"My phone tends not to ring at all,'' he said, smiling. ""I've learned that's what happens when you go into (a skid) like this. I'm talking to GMs; I'm initiating the calls. But there are other teams carrying 13 pitchers, so we're not the only team with bullpen troubles.''

"It's also early to be making a trade, and teams don't have a lot of (bullpen) depth. So the reality is that the answer is going to have to lie internally.''

That means unless Shapiro can pull off a trade, the current group of relievers (including Joe Smith, on the DL) will have to fix themselves or risk wasting a season.

"There really are no answers at Triple-A,'' Shapiro said. ""We have to push the envelope internally, because we can't turn over the whole bullpen.''

To take Laffey's place in the rotation, Jeremy Sowers has been called up from Columbus and will start Thursday. His Triple-A numbers: a 1-1 record and 2.25 ERA in 24 innings (four starts). He gave up 23 hits, five walks and struck out 22. 

In addition, Matt Herges was summoned from Columbus, and Rafael Perez was optioned back to Triple-A. Herges, 39, made 11 appearances for the Clippers and posted a 5.40 ERA in 10 innings. 

Perez has been a big part of the problem. Wedge counted on him and Jensen Lewis to become a formidable setup tandem. Instead, both have been vulnerable, with Perez compiling a 15.19 ERA in 13 appearances, giving up 19 hits and nine walks in 10.2 innings.

It would not have been inappropriate for Perez to be sent to Columbus two weeks ago or more, but Shapiro said, "He deserved a certain respect'' what he had done the past two years.

"We've reached a point the last five to seven days that we have to make moves to right the bullpen now,'' the GM said. "We still have respect for what guys have done, but feelings can't be involved anymore.''

Laffey got stuck with the short straw, despite going 2-0 with a 4.09 ERA in four starts.

"He doesn't deserve to be pulled out of the rotation,'' Shapiro said. ""But we're asking him to do something for the team.''

Indians deep thinker had discussed turning Laffey into a reliever at other junctures in his career.

"He was a great teammate about doing  this,'' Wedge said. ""He said, "I'll do anyting to help us win a ballgame.' ''

In the 2007 League Championship Series against the Red Sox, Laffey worked 4.2 scoreless innings in relief. He also was used sparingly in the bullpen as he came up through the farm system, mostly at the Class A level.

GOOD NEWS FOR HAFNER -- Travis Hafner and head trainer Lonnie Soloff returned from Monday's examination by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., with a positive prognosis for the Tribe designated hitter.

"The soreness that Travis experienced  is not uncommon after the procedure that Dr. Andrews performed,'' Soloff said. ""He is optimistic that Travis can return to game activities when his 15 days (on the DL) are up or shortly thereafter.''

Hafner underwent an MRI scan in Cleveland before seeing Andrews, who used the tape to help reach his conclusions.

After undergoing surgery to repair his shoulder last October, Hafner reported to spring training pain free. He remained that way until a few days before he went on the DL April 29.

"Since he went on the DL, he's shown significant improvement,'' Soloff said. ""My feeling is that by this weekend or the beginning of next week he can start swinging a bat.''

Soloff said it had not been determined whether Hafner would have to go out on a rehabilitation assignment.

STILL A BELIEVER -- Even though Rafael Perez has been woefully ineffective, Wedge has few doubts that the left-hander will return to the form that made him a lethal late-inning reliever.

"He was throwing the ball well before he went to the WBC and after he came back,'' the manager said. ""He just got out of the gate slow, and he's struggled ever since.

"Perez needs to go down there (Columbus) and pitch a couple of innings (at a time), throw 30-40 pitches so he can work on things. I think he'll be back up here pretty quickly. He's as good as anybody when he's right.''

WHAT IF? -- With the bullpen in disarray, is it time for Wedge to use closer Kerry Wood for more than one inning?

"If I do that, I might have to shut him down for a of couple days,'' Wedge said. ""If he sticks to one inning, maybe he can go three games in a row. I'd also like to keep (Rafael) Betancourt to one inning. He's pitched better that way, but it's a fine line there.''

Wedge used Betancourt for two innings Monday night against the Blue Jays and he allowed just two hits, striking out three.

FARM FACTS -- Matt Brown had two hits and three RBI, and Lonnie Chisenhall had two hits and two RBI, but Kinston lost 11-9 to Salem...T.J. McFarland yielded one run and four hits in five innings, but Lake County dropped a 2-1 decision to Hickory.

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