CLEVELAND: In the middle of a long second inning Friday night at Progressive Field, Indians manager Terry Francona already was thinking about the next night’s game.
He knew his bullpen would have to carry more than its share of the load as starting pitcher Zach McAllister labored through an eight-run inning. With closer John Axford already out of the mix while working through mechanical issues, Francona was worried about the state of the bullpen for Saturday and today.
“When you have early exists, your wheels start spinning early in the game,” Francona said. “One, you’re trying to manage the bullpen where we can win tonight, but not put yourself in a disadvantage moving forward … but if we had an early exit [Saturday] for some reason, it’d be nice to have some length.”
So Francona put in motion a plan to add a rested arm to the bullpen (Triple-A left-hander T.J. House was called up) while still paying attention to the action in front of him. House not only provides protection in case of another active bullpen night, but also puts him in a major-league surrounding that makes things more familiar the next time he’s called up.
“Most likely, he’s a potential starter this year as things unfold because of the way he’s pitching,” Francona said. “So it allows him to get here and see the atmosphere and get the newness out of the way. That can only help [in the future].”
Francona’s moves were also calculated with an eye to the future when he called on newcomer left-hander Kyle Crockett to make his major-league debut in relief for the struggling McAllister. It allowed Crockett to work out some jitters in no-pressure innings instead of adding unneeded mileage to one of the team’s veteran arms.
“I wish we were up 9-1 instead of down, but it’s good [Crockett] didn’t sit here for three days and not pitch,” Francona said. “Now, he’s got the first [major-league appearance] out of the way. He’s still gonna be new, but he can start to be a part of what we’re doing and try to help us as opposed to not knowing things.”
Later in the game with the Indians trailing by 10 runs, Francona made a couple of defensive changes as he thought a little further into the future. Mike Aviles is the Indians’ versatile utility man, but he had never before played center field in a major-league game. Young first baseman Jesus Aguilar, who was called up a few days earlier to make his major-league debut, was asked to take over at third base for the first time.
“Every single night you try to turn something into a positive,” Francona said. “Like Aviles going to center. At some point, Mikey may have to go to center field to help us win a game. So, you give him a couple innings out there.”
Such a move helps the Indians’ regulars, as well. Center fielder Michael Bourn was able to rest his nagging hamstring for a few innings and catcher Yan Gomes caught two fewer innings to help save his knees.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.