CLEVELAND: The man who might save the Indians’ free agent investment in pitcher Brett Myers is the most anonymous member of manager Terry Francona’s staff.
Anyone who had heard of bullpen coach Kevin Cash before perusing this space may have been a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays or Boston Red Sox. Cash was the Jays’ opening day catcher in 2004 and personally handled Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in 2008.
Otherwise, Cash held the title of Blue Jays advance scout in 2012 and spent parts of 12 seasons with six organizations from 2002-10, appearing in 246 major league games. His bio seems the epitome of thankless service.
Cash’s 20 games with the Houston Astros in 2010 could be the key to straightening out the struggling Myers. That’s because Cash caught Myers during those 20 games.
When Myers discussed the stunning improvement he made during Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Progressive Field, he lauded Cash for the “extra set of eyes” he provided.
Going into Sunday, Myers had done nothing encouraging in spring training or in his first start with the Indians. He was 0-1 with a 12.19 ERA, which included a long relief appearance against the New York Yankees on Tuesday. That night, called on when pitcher Carlos Carrasco was ejected, Myers gave up three home runs.
In six spring appearances he wasn’t much better, going 2-3 with a 9.00 ERA. It seemed that he would never find the right location on his fastball.
“The last couple outings I knew why I wasn’t getting outs,” Myers said. “The ball was not down. When you live up in the zone, big-league hitters feast on it.”
I had lost all faith in Myers, and I wasn’t the only one. He was getting battered on sports talk radio. It appeared the Indians had wasted $7 million on the 32-year-old right-hander, who was supposed to be the reliable veteran in the Tribe starting rotation.
I was ready for the Indians to give up on Myers, as misguided as that seemed after only 10 games, when a player’s shortcomings are magnified.
Now after one good day, I have hope.
And Cash, more than new pitching coach Mickey Callaway, seems to deserve the credit for work done in the bullpen after Myers’ last outing.
Myers agreed that Callaway is an encouraging coach, but said he and Callaway “might be the same age.” He wasn’t far off. Callaway is 37; Myers is 32. That’s why he pointed more to the familiar Cash than Callaway.
“Cash caught me in Houston and he knows where I’m supposed to be and where I was in 2010 to where I am now,” Myers said. “It’s good to have a guy who caught me and know that I’ve got another set of eyes helping me out.
“Mickey knows me from spring training. It’s hard to adjust to me and to what I need to work on to get better and to get the ball down. So having Cash here and Mickey working together to find something out … Cash might tell him something like ‘This guy, he never did that before.’ Then it was a little bit easier to fix.”
Inside the Indians’ organization, the bullpen coach may not be as unknown as it would seem. Luis Isaac saved many a pitcher during his Tribe tenure from 1988-91 and 1994-2008. But even then the Indians might not have realized what they’d lost until Isaac was gone, sent packing after an apparent falling out with then-manager Eric Wedge.
If Cash continues to be the right voice in Myers’ ear, or in Callaway’s ear in regards to Myers, the Tribe’s chances of making the post-season improve dramatically.
Against the White Sox, Myers gave up two runs on six hits in six innings, walking one and striking out four. His ERA dropped to 8.82. One pitch hurt him, a fastball in to Paul Konerko that Konerko blasted to left field for a two-run homer in the sixth inning.
Asked if he’d been concerned about Myers, manager Terry Francona said, “I’m supposed to be concerned about everything. But I believe in him. I thought he needed to do some things better and he showed that today. We don’t want to run from our guys, we want to help them get better.”
Myers seemed relieved.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve had years where I’ve struggled pretty bad,” Myers said. “It’s one of those things where you just have to figure it out quickly before it could get to one of those All-Star break things before you figure it out.”
The notion of an “All-Star break thing” left me shuddering in horror.
Perhaps thanks to a coach no one knew, Indians fans may have been spared the torture of finding out how long Myers would have been allowed to test the Tribe’s patience.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.