The biggest question mark for the Indians going into the season was starting pitching. But who could have anticipated that after only eight games, the rotation would be in total disarray.
It all started with a harmless game of catch. Scott Kazmir made one throw and felt a twinge in his right side. Turns out that Kazmir strained his rib cage and was placed on the disabled list until at least April 17.
There were three candidates to take his spot in the rotation: Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber and Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Tribe’s deep thinkers opted for upside potential and picked Bauer, who started against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field and walked seven in five innings, including the first four batters in the first inning.
The next day, last Sunday, Bauer was back in Triple-A. But that was OK, because Carlos Carrasco was on the active roster and almost through serving a two-year-old suspension for throwing at Billy Butler of the Kansas City Royals.
Carrasco was assigned to start the second game of the series against the New York Yankees on Tuesday night. In addition to giving up seven runs in 3⅔ innings, he yielded a home run to Robinson Cano, then hit Kevin Youkilis in the shoulder and was ejected.
How do you come off a suspension for purposely hitting a batter and do it again before you’ve pitched four innings? Only Carrasco knows, though both he and Indians manager Terry Francona insisted that Carrasco didn’t hit Youkilis intentionally, that he slipped during his delivery, ruining his aim.
Maybe, but I watched the replay three times and could see no reason why Carrasco’s command would suffer because of losing his balance. The men in charge of disciplining miscreants at the commissioner’s office didn’t buy Carrasco’s excuse, either, and handed down an eight-game suspension.
At any rate, Carrasco was optioned to Triple-A Columbus on Wednesday. Why? Not to teach him a lesson, at least not ostensibly, even though that would have been a dandy idea.
The reason given is that Brett Myers had to take one for the team and pitch the rest of Carrasco’s start, so he was unable to take his regular turn Wednesday night. With the rotation one pitcher short again, Kluber was summoned from Triple-A (What does that say about Dice-K?), but he didn’t pitch because the game was rained out.
Where does all of this leave the rotation? The starters are Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Zach McAllister and Myers, who has been stung for seven home runs in 10⅓ innings, including his relief appearance. Because of an off day and the imminent return of Kazmir, Kluber is not needed and was sent back to Triple-A.
It’s comforting to see that everything is under control.
However, there is one other complication: When a player is optioned to the minors, he cannot return to the big leagues for 10 days unless he replaces an injured player. So Carrasco and Bauer are frozen at Columbus for at least a few more days.
That shouldn’t be an issue. After all, what could happen to make their return necessary? Enough strange things have happened already to make that a stupid question.
When so many things go wrong so quickly, it seems appropriate to blame someone. But who? Kazmir for playing catch? Bauer for being a kid not yet prepared for major-league competition? How about Carrasco? Now there’s a thought.
Carrasco can be held culpable for risking another suspension, but he pitched so poorly he might have earned a ticket back to Columbus, anyway.
All the crazy stuff has obscured the fact that the rotation has been far too erratic. I know that we’re talking about a miniscule number of games, but what if the starters’ current performance level turns out to be the norm? After all, this is not supposing something that is off-the-wall nuts.
Masterson has made two effective starts. No real surprise. There never was any question about his talent, only his ability to harness it, and maybe he has found a way to do that.
Jimenez has had one good start and one bad start, in which he was throwing 88-mph fastballs. Coming off a season in which he established himself as one of the worst pitchers in the American League, it should be no surprise when he struggles.
McAllister has come as advertised on the basis of the big jump in proficiency he made last year. But McAllister still is young and subject to the usual ups and downs that accompany the learning process.
We haven’t seen Kazmir. We don’t know if he will be a stabilizing influence on the rotation. In spring training, he looked like a man ready to make a serious run at the Comeback Pitcher of the Year Award, but we’ll have to wait and see.
In two appearances — one a start, the other in long relief — Myers has resembled the same pitcher he was in spring training, and that is not something to look forward to if you are an Indians fan. In 10⅓ innings, he has giving up more home runs (seven) than the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers and Yankees.
Myers is a veteran, so maybe he’ll turn it around. If he doesn’t, how much rope will he be given by Francona and General Manager Chris Antonetti, who invested $7 million in him?
Carrasco was awful in his first start in more than 20 months. During this period, he underwent elbow reconstruction surgery that obviously didn’t diminish the lightning in his arm (he was throwing 96-97 mph Tuesday night). But with all that down time, he needs to remember how to pitch again. That could take three months or more.
Bauer is a work in progress. Most scouts I’ve talked to (who don’t work for the Tribe) believe it will take him most of the season — if not longer — to learn command of the strike zone. When he gets there, they think he can become a high-impact starter.
In the meantime, the Indians must struggle through the current awkward period hoping that Kazmir can return quickly and slow down the Cleveland-Columbus shuttle.
That won’t solve all of the rotation’s problems, but at least Francona and Antonetti will be able to focus on the right questions without having to worry about hiring a defense attorney every time Carrasco gives up a home run.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.