CLEVELAND: Indians manager Terry Francona loves a deep bullpen.
When the Tribe announced its 25-man roster for the American League wild-card playoff game Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays, it wasn’t a big surprise that it included 11 pitchers.
In addition to starting pitcher Danny Salazar, starters Scott Kazmir and Corey Kluber also made the roster. Other available arms in the bullpen were right-handers Matt Albers, Cody Allen, Justin Masterson, Chris Perez, Joe Smith and Bryan Shaw and left-handers Rich Hill and Marc Rzepczynski.
As for position players, the roster included the usual starters along with reserves Jose Ramirez (infielder) and Matt Carson (outfielder).
Somewhat surprising was the decision to keep Perez on the roster after he was demoted as the team’s closer following another rough outing last Thursday in Minnesota. Francona clarified during a pregame question-and-answer period Wednesday that Perez didn’t “bail” on his team as it might have come off to some. He said Perez told him “he didn’t want to cost the team,” and was willing to do anything in any role to help the Indians down the stretch.
Since Perez’s demotion, the Indians have gone with a closer-by-committee approach.
In the event of a close game, Francona had a number of options. Oddly enough, his best bet as closer might be Opening Day starter Masterson, the team ace, who is in the bullpen after returning from three weeks on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle.
More traditional ninth-inning options were usual set-up men Allen and Smith.
Who’s on third?
Francona opted to give Lonnie Chisenhall the start at third base Wednesday over veteran Mike Aviles, who had been getting a handful of recent starts.
Aviles was 0-for-7 lifetime versus Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb, Chisenhall was 1-for-3 in a smaller sample. However, Chisenhall’s .583 slugging percentage against right-handed pitchers in September was best on the team.
“[Chisenhall’s] got a little bit of a history,” Francona said. “And the way they match up, it gives us some balance where they bring in a lefty, we’ve got to be able to fit in there.”
Rays manager Joe Maddon believes postseason baseball requires managers to simplify matters and not bombard players with too much pregame information.
“I learned my lesson years ago with that,” he said before Wednesday’s game. “I remember the Angels in the late ’90s, we were knocking on the door a couple times and we sent out some extra advance scouts and had all kinds of stuff coming in. It was the worst thing we could have possibly done, trying to give guys more detail. They don’t need that. They need a nugget.
“You need to disperse the nuggets that might help in a tight moment in the seventh inning versus a certain hitter. Even beyond the pitcher knowing it, just so the catcher knows it. All the things we do benefit the pitcher and the defense. The hitter is really just reacting. If you can train your guys to breathe and keep it simple in the moment, you have the best chance of winning.”
Francona believes the Indians wouldn’t have made the postseason without the aid of veteran player Jason Giambi, 42. The part-time designated hitter’s contributions on the field included a club-record tying three pinch-hit home runs. He also has shown leadership in the locker room.
“Even organizationally, he’s made everyone better,” Francona said. “We’ve leaned on him more than is fair. He’s been a blessing to everybody, myself included.”
With all Giambi has done to help the Tribe, the congratulatory hug that General Manager Chris Antonetti received from the muscle-bound slugger after Sunday’s wild-card clinching victory in Minnesota meant so much — even if hurt a little.
“I think I broke a rib from G’s hug,” Antonetti said, rubbing his side.
For the second consecutive night, the best one-liner of the day belonged to Francona. Asked if he ordered two pints of ice cream again like he did the night before Sunday’s wild-card clincher, he quipped: “I didn’t go the ice cream route, I went the gummy bear route — and it was not a pretty picture.”
Wednesday’s game was the 123rd game Maddon and Francona managed against each other, including the postseason. … Pressure? What pressure? A handful of Indians players tossed a football around before batting practice. A little later, some Rays players kicked around a soccer ball and threw a Frisbee. … Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president for baseball operations, and former Cavaliers coach Mike Fratello were spotted together on East Fourth before the game.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.