By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
The Indians’ bullpen should have been in dire straits going into the final game of the trip to Minnesota, Oakland and Anaheim.
Instead, after Justin Masterson did his job by pitching 6⅔ innings, the relievers — Rich Hill, Cody Allen, Chris Perez — finished the game, even earning style points: Allen struck out the side in the eighth, and Perez whiffed two batters in the ninth.
“For Cody to hold his stuff the way he did was impressive,” manager Terry Francona said. “Chris felt OK. We called down there in the fifth to make sure.”
But you could almost feel the sigh of relief from Francona after the 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels.
During the nine-game trip, the bullpen pitched 29 innings and posted a 1.24 ERA. The relievers had to endure two extra-inning games, including Tuesday night’s 14-inning marathon.
Two hours before Wednesday’s game, Francona wasn’t even sure whose arm felt strong enough to pitch.
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “Mickey [pitching coach Mickey Callaway] is out there finding out. But it’s nice that everyone wants to be available.”
Francona and Callaway don’t take for granted that their relievers are always ready to perform.
“They talk to us every day and ask if we’re good to go,” Bryan Shaw said.
For the first time in his career, Shaw pitched four days in a row, including 1⅓ innings Tuesday night.
In the four outings, he threw 3⅔ innings, gave up no earned runs or hits and used 53 pitches, 66 percent for strikes.
“It’s August, everybody’s tired anyway,” Shaw said. “So Thursday’s off day is huge for the bullpen.”
How was Shaw’s arm holding up after his heavy work load?
“It feels fine,” he said. “Actually, it feels better than I thought it would.”
Not just an arm
Besides the lightning Danny Salazar carries in his arm, he always seems to be relaxed and content when he’s pitching, no matter the situation.
“He said that he’s worked so hard, when he gets to the mound, he really feels at home there,” Francona said.
You won’t see Salazar log 120 pitches or even 100 in any start this season. In deference to elbow reconstruction surgery three years ago and because his pitch counts were kept to 75-80 at Triple-A, Francona is not going to push him.
“I think I have a responsibility to him and the organization to handle this appropriately,” Francona said. “It’s hard, but I’m not saying it’s bad.”
The Indians are reporting that their ratings on Fox SportsTime Ohio are up almost 30 percent compared to the same number of games last year.
There was a year-to-year gain of 33 percent for games in July, and so far in August, the increase has been 168 percent.
Ratings on the Tribe’s flagship radio stations WTAM (1100-AM) and WMMS (100.7-FM) have shown combined gains of almost 40 percent from 2012.
In the 18-34 demographic, there has been an increase of 50 percent on TV and 70 percent on radio over last season.
Warming to the task
As a starter now shifted to the bullpen, does Carlos Carrasco need more time to warm up than a career reliever?
“I don’t know if it takes him longer,” Francona said, “but we give him more cushion, because he has that starter mentality.”
Finding a home
Daisuke Matsuzaka signed a one-year contract with the New York Mets and will start against the Detroit Tigers tonight.
Reportedly, the Mets plan to use Matsuzaka and Carlos Torres on the mound tonight, inasmuch as two Mets starters have recently gone on the disabled list.
Matsuzaka spent the entire season at Triple-A Columbus after signing a minor-league contract with the Tribe in spring training. He asked for and was granted his release Tuesday.
Joe Wendle hit his 13th home run of the season and Jordan Smith had three hits in Carolina’s 5-3 loss to Lynchburg in the first game of a doubleheader in Class A. Wendle also homered in the second game, a 5-4 Carolina loss. … Dylan Baker gave up two runs and six hits in six innings, as Lake County lost to Dayton 4-3 in Class A.
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.