GOODYEAR, Ariz.: It started early Friday morning with a row of pitchers lined up behind white pitching rubbers, simultaneously throwing baseballs to catchers lined up about 60 feet away.
As different groups of pitchers took their turns throwing their bullpen sessions, an audience including Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti, manager Terry Francona, pitching coach Mickey Callaway and pitching instructor Charles Nagy congregated nearby, watching intently.
Occasionally Nagy and Callaway stepped in with a suggestion or two to a pitcher between group changes. But Francona just hung back and watched. Focusing his attention on his team’s pitching corps is one of his luxuries during the early portion of spring training. That serves a couple of purposes.
“One, I never really get that view,” he said. “When the position players get here, you get caught up in that part of the day. I rarely get to see the pitchers throw from right behind them, so I want to take advantage of it.
“Two, you want to see where they’re at. Everybody comes in in a little different shape, a little different arm strength. [They] may tell you one thing, but I want to see it for myself where I think they are. We’re not evaluating, but evaluating if they’re game ready, how many bullpens they need, how long until they can they pitch in a game.”
There are 31 pitchers in camp, 23 on the 40-man roster and eight spring invitees. It might seem like a large group to manage, but Francona would have it no other way. And when it comes to relievers, he can never have enough.
“When I was a young manager, I found out the hard way that when you don’t have pitching, you end up looking for a job,” Francona said. “You just can’t win that way. The best way to derail your team is to beat up your bullpen.”
Would Francona even go as far as to carry three left-handers in the bullpen this season?
“Sure,” he said, albeit with a caveat, “but that third lefty better be able to get some righties out or be able to pitch more than an inning.”
Jokingly asked if the Indians’ bullpen would be eight- or nine-men deep this season, Francona said: “Or 10.”
Francona even pokes fun at himself, admitting his affinity for pitchers has become a running joke. Just the previous day, Antonetti kidded that left to his own devices, Francona’s roster would have “nine position players and the rest pitchers.”
“I just always feel better when that bullpen is full, man,” Francona said. “That’s a good feeling.”
That explains why the Indians have a long line of relievers in camp who are conceivably fighting for just two, perhaps three bullpen openings.
Francona is in no hurry to start making roster decisions.
“There’s no reason to define roles [when] we haven’t even played a game yet,” Francona said. “Let’s let them pitch this spring. Even early in the year a lot of times [pitching roles] are still being defined. But the sooner we define them, that means guys are throwing the ball consistently.”
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