KANSAS CITY, Mo.: Take a good look at them now, because they probably won’t all be around in 24 hours. How long can the Indians keep nine relievers in their bullpen?
That’s two above the norm, though the way Tribe manager Terry Francona has been able to juggle the roster, he might establish a standard for a new normal.
When the Tribe added an eighth reliever to the bullpen, it was considered temporary. But that was several weeks ago, and none of the eight sat on the bench, their skills rusting away from underuse.
When Michael Bourn was placed on the paternity list on Sunday, Nick Hagadone was recalled from Triple-A Columbus to make it nine relievers. Don’t believe it? Here’s the list: Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Matt Albers, Rich Hill, Joe Martinez and Hagadone.
Surely, there won’t be 10, though Francona wouldn’t shoo any of them away if there were.
“I would have 12,” he said, laughing. “It was always a running joke with Theo [Theo Epstein, Francona’s general manager in Boston]. And it’s getting to be the same with Chris [Antonetti]. With our team’s versatility, we can get away with it.”
That is, the three guys on the bench — Mike Aviles, Jason Giambi, Yan Gomes — can cover all the positions. Actually, Aviles is responsible for playing just about every infield and outfield position. Giambi could play first in an emergency, and Gomes is the backup catcher.
“I feel like a more relaxed manager, and I can handle our guys [relievers] better when there are extra pitchers in the bullpen,” Francona said. “It allows me to use people like Shaw and Allen more in games instead of getting them up in the pen. This way, they do their pitching on the mound.”
In other words, Shaw and Allen don’t put extra wear and tear on their arms by getting loose in the bullpen only to sit down when a potentially dire situation cools down.
Francona has plenty of other pitchers he can play matchup with or get through one inning or four batters.
“A lot of matching up depends on how guys are throwing, the situation in the game, who’s going to hit,” Francona said. “If a hitter is coming up who can change the game with one swing, why not get a guy like Cody or Bryan in there?”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.