CHICAGO: Eric Wedge doesn't get it. The manager of the Indians fails to understand why so few among the 19 pitchers who have tried to find employment in the bullpen have fallen short.
Rafael Betancourt is not one of those. He returned Thursday after spending more than five weeks on the disabled list with a strained groin.
Wedge is planning to use Betancourt in setup role but probably not immediately.
"Obviously, I want him in the eighth inning,'' the manager said. "I don't know if that will be right away, in fairness to him. I'll see what he thinks about it.''
It's been awhile since Wedge could count on a steady hand to hold leads in the eighth inning. Jensen Lewis and Rafael Perez (and sometimes Betancourt) were assigned that job when the season began, but their inconsistencies triggered the bullpen's general ineffectiveness, a problem that still gnaws at the club.
"It's been ridiculous how many pitchers we've had this year,'' Wedge said. ""Guys should be frothing at the mouth to get in there. This is such a great opportunity.
"You have one good day, then two then three and the next thing you know, you're starting a career or resurrecting a career.''
But so far, few pitchers asked to step into a relief role have succeeded. Greg Aquino, Luis Vizcaino, Matt Herges, Vinnie Chulk, Zach Jackson, Masa Kobayashi and Rich Rundles have come and gone. Some of these pitchers still are laboring at Triple-A; a few have been excised from the organization.
Perez and Lewis, both of whom have the ability to be in the big leagues, were banished to Columbus to figure out what they were doing wrong.
Mike Gosling, Jose Veras, Tony Sipp, Chris Perez and Winston Abreu hold roster spots but have not pitched enough for Wedge to know where, or if, they fit in.
"This is not something you want to have happen as manager,'' Wedge said. ""I just can't get it out of my head. This is such a great opportunity for these guys. Not just for our team. There are so many teams looking for pitching.
"If someone is at Triple-A complaining (about being in the minors), all he has to do is look in the mirror. If he's not up here, there's a reason.''
Wedge was asked if he thought bad pitching can be contagious.
"This is the big leagues not little league,'' he said. "You can't go around thinking you're going to pitch bad because the guy before you did. That's just being soft.
"My theory is that momentum -- the contagious part -- has to be only on the positive side. You have to separate from the negative things.''
SOWERS GETS SHORT STRAW -- To make room for Betancourt on the roster, Jeremy Sowers was optioned to Columbus, where he will be part of the Clippers' rotation.
"He'll get a little time off and start after the break,'' Wedge said. ""Right now, we are thinking that he can be a starter for us.''
Sowers will make his first Triple-A start July 19 and be a candidate to start for the Tribe July 25, the first time after the All-Star Game that Wedge will need a fifth starter.
Wedge seemed to be leaning toward making Sowers a reliever, but that plan has been delayed if not halted entirely. Why?
"One thing is that we need starting depth,'' the manager said. ""Jeremy also has shown the ability to be pretty good for four or five innings. If we had more guys who were going six, seven or eight, we could live with that, but we haven't gotten that.''
Sowers has repeatedly run into trouble in the fifth or sixth inning after controlling the game in earlier innings.
"Hopefully, he'll go down there and become better in the middle innings,'' Wedge said. ""He just needs to maintain the life on his fastball later in the game and maintain his command.''
NINE IS TOO MANY -- Wedge won't carry nine relievers indefinitely, but when will he cut back?
"We've been talking about that,'' he said. ""At some time, we will have to go back to four position players on the bench (and seven relievers. But we still have to utilize the time before the break to look at some of these guys in the bullpen.''
TO THE RESCUE -- Toma Ohka already has rescued the rotation by filling in for other starters. He will do it again on Sunday against the Tigers, making a start originally belonging to Sowers.
FARM FACTS -- Wes Hodges had two doubles and a single in Columbus' 2-1 win over Indianapolis... Chris Nash had two hits and three RBI in Lake County's 8-4 win over Hickory. Bo Greenwell had three hits and one RBI...Marty Popham (2-0, 1.57 ERA) threw seven scoreless and hitless innings, striking out nine, as Mahoning Valley defeated Auburn 6-1. Jordan Henry and Kyle Smith each had three hits....Trent Baker tripled twice and singled, driving in three runs, as the Arizona League Indians routed the Dodgers 13-0. Jesus Brito had two hits, including a double.