TEMPE, Ariz.: The Indians’ pitching staff would be well-advised to be in midseason form when the season starts April 2.
The Tribe schedule goes into overload immediately. Starting with the season-opening game against the Blue Jays, the Tribe plays 13 days in a row and 22 of the first 23.
Because of the scarcity of off days, manager Terry Francona has been considering expanding the bullpen for the first two or three weeks in April. That would mean eight relievers instead of seven.
Picking an extra pitcher for the bullpen probably isn’t the biggest problem. Deciding whether to carry an additional pitcher is.
There is no way to predict whether a seven-man bullpen will fall victim to the kind of fatigue that would force Francona to seek help. The burden of seeing that the relief corps remains fresh rests with the rotation. If the starting pitchers can get through the sixth inning or later the vast majority of the time, the relievers won’t need to keep an oxygen tank in the bullpen.
But the Tribe rotation is the biggest question mark, as the club heads into the latter stages of training camp. In recent outings, Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister and Ubaldo Jimenez — who have jobs reserved for them in the rotation — have pitched relatively well. Brett Myers, the other preordained starter, has not.
Scott Kazmir, the favorite to win the fifth spot, has been the club’s most consistent starter all spring, and Carlos Carrasco delivered a strong performance in his last start.
All of that adds up to very little. Spring training is a notably unreliable setting in which to evaluate players. In other words, Francona will have to make an educated guess whether to keep seven or eight relievers.
Other considerations include who to leave off the roster for two or three weeks. If it’s a player who has options, he cannot be recalled for at least 10 days. If it’s a spring training invitee — Jason Giambi, for example — no roster move would be necessary. Invitees have minor-league contracts and can start the season in the farm system without procedural problems.
“Everything you bring up is something we have to talk through and see what makes sense,” Francona said.
If Francona does add a pitcher to the bullpen temporarily, who might it be? Keep in mind that the proficiency of the candidates will be a factor, as well as whether they have options.
Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith and Cody Allen already are on the list of those with secure spots in the pen. Nick Hagadone and Rich Hill are close. Matt Albers might be the favorite to win the seventh job. That leaves David Huff, Bryan Shaw and Jerry Gil.
One thing you might not see this year is a hitting coach trying to overhaul the swing of a position player. The previous regime, headed by Manny Acta, strongly suggested that Carlos Santana cut down the movement in his swing and forgo lifting his leg. But the new swing never took.
“You try to simplify a swing, but you have to understand that hitting is hard,” Francona said. “As long as a guy can repeat his swing, he probably shouldn’t change. When a hitter is up there thinking about it — thinking about something else besides the pitcher — it’s kind of like chasing your tail.”
Jason Kipnis, who has made a practice of holding his bat in a horizontal position before getting into his swing, has tempered that habit. The difference is that Kipnis decided to do it.
“You have to be careful about guys changing,” Francona said. “Unless they buy into the change, don’t do it.”
Trevor Bauer took the stage during and after he pitched in the Indians’ 6-5 loss to the Angels on Wednesday at Diablo Stadium.
Bauer got through three innings, giving up four runs (three earned), five hits and three walks then told a gathering of media that he felt fine.
Asked about issuing the walks, he said: “The ball was not in the strike zone, obviously. I’m trying to work on stuff. I’m making a lot of changes in my mechanics. I drifted into some bad habits.”
How long have the bad habits been part of his delivery?
“I’m trying to change neuromuscular programming that I’ve had for eight or 10 years,” Bauer said. “It’s for my command and my health, among other things. I’ve been trying to do it all offseason.”
Bauer said he had to wait for a hamstring strain to heal completely.
Asked if he is getting help from pitching coach Mickey Callaway, Bauer said, “It’s stuff I’ve done on my own, but everyone in the organization is on board with it.”
Mike Aviles, who played for WBC runner-up Puerto Rico, was scheduled to return to Phoenix late Wednesday afternoon.
“I told him he had tomorrow off,” Francona said. “He’ll be in there Friday.”
There was no information as to when Carlos Santana, catcher for WBC champion Dominican Republic, was due back, but Francona was grateful that the tournament was over.
“I’m glad for the players, but it seemed like every time we were trying to do something — bunt players, first to third plays — we didn’t have our catcher,” Francona said. “He probably caught more there than he would have here. It’s just that we want everyone on the same page on how we’re going to give signs, things like that.”
No word yet on whether Matt Capps will accept a minor-league assignment or become a free agent, but as long as he is here, he will be in major-league camp.
The Indians travel to Scottsdale today to play the Diamondbacks this afternoon. Carlos Carrasco will start against Ian Kennedy. The game will be televised by SportsTime Ohio at 4 p.m.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. 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.