GOODYEAR, Ariz.: It’s almost if Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti is trying to corner the market on relief pitchers.
Even after jettisoning Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp over the winter, the stockpile of relievers in training camp is impressive. So beyond closer Chris Perez, setup man Vinnie Pestano and seventh-inning specialist Joe Smith, the competition to fill the remaining four spots seems to be wide open, or at least close to it.
Certainly, manager Terry Francona has an idea of who is likely to leave Arizona with the team, but he’s not ready to reveal his thoughts, and more than likely, he has an open mind.
But after agreeing that only three pitchers have a lock on bullpen jobs, he didn’t want to go further.
“I don’t think I want to do that,” he said Tuesday. “Let their pitching dictate that. I want to let them get through spring training and have it play itself out.”
Handicapping the bullpen contenders is difficult, inasmuch as at least nine pitchers have an arguable chance to win a spot.
Matt Albers, 30, is a veteran who came to the Indians along with another bullpen contender, Bryan Shaw, in the deal for Trevor Bauer. Last year, he compiled a 2.29 ERA in 40 appearances with the Boston Red Sox but ended up with the Arizona Diamondbacks, for whom he posted a 2.57 ERA in 23 games.
In 2010 and ’11, he pitched for Francona in Boston, compiling a two-year ERA of 4.62 in 140⅓ innings.
Albers is out of options, so if he doesn’t make the team, he will have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors. It’s unlikely that Antonetti and Francona want to lose him. Consequently, his track record and his option status make Albers a prime candidate to join Perez, Pestano and Smith.
In the 4-1 loss Tuesday to the Kansas City Royals, Albers gave up one run, two hits and a walk in one inning. The run scored on a bloop single to center.
“I think you’ll see when he gets into it a little more, he’ll have more life in the zone,” Francona said.
At the other end of the spectrum is camp phenom Cody Allen, who made his major-league debut last year and posted a 3.72 ERA in 27 appearances (29 innings). Allen’s rise to the big leagues capped a season in which he climbed three levels of the farm system (Carolina, Akron, Columbus) before taking the final step on July 20.
Allen was so imposing in one of his early outings, a visiting scout said, “Cleveland really has something with this kid.”
Francona seems to agree.
“I would say he’s game ready right now,” he said. “He came to camp with something to prove, and he came ready to go. His stuff is just electric right now.”
Francona was asked about the difficulty of moving up from “high” Class A to Double-A to Triple-A then to the majors in 3½ months.
“The good ones can do it; guys who are special,” Francona said.
It would be a surprise if Allen were left off the 25-man roster. More than likely, seven pitchers will vie for the final two bullpen jobs, and none has a clear advantage.
Seven candidates, two jobs
Nick Hagadone might have the best stuff among this group, and he is left-handed.
Francona said earlier that he would like to have a left-handed reliever, but his priority is picking pitchers most likely to get batters out, regardless of which arm they throw with.
Hagadone, 27, made 27 appearances last year and posted a 6.39 ERA. He walked too many (15 in 25⅓ innings), but he struck out 26.
After a bad outing July 6, Hagadone punched an immovable object in the clubhouse and broke a bone in his left hand. Antonetti put him on the disqualified list, which meant he forfeited his salary and major-league service time until he was reinstated. He is back on the roster, but a grievance by the players union is pending.
In his first full big-league season last year, Shaw racked up a 3.49 ERA in 64 appearances (59⅓ innings). He still has options, but he also has a real opportunity to join the bullpen crew.
Not long ago, Matt Capps was a feared closer, but injuries began to cut into his effectiveness. He struggled in his first spring appearance Monday, but that means little at this point. If he is healthy, it’s likely that he will return to being a guy who gets virtually everyone out.
Nobody knows whether David Huff is still regarded as a starter, but it’s likely that he is being viewed as a left-handed reliever. If he pitches well in exhibition games, he could get a shot. Scott Barnes is young and left-handed but has yet to prove he can be effective on a consistent basis.
Frank Herrmann throws hard (94 mph) but needs a second pitch. Late last year, he began throwing a curveball instead of a slider. Maybe that will put him over the top. Rich Hill is a matchup lefty who delivered a 1.83 ERA in 25 outings for the Red Sox last year.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.