When the Indians traded for Boston Red Sox’s utility man Brent Lillibridge last week, the Aeros took another hit.
While the Indians “only” had to part ways with a Double-A player for the rights to the big-league reserve, that player — reliever Jose De La Torre — was a big piece of the Aeros’ success this season.
De La Torre, 26, was 7-1 with a 2.80 ERA in 45 appearances as the Aeros’ long man out of the bullpen. He was a slow, deliberate pitcher who could have given former Tribe manager Mike Hargrove a run for his money for his nickname during his playing days as the Human Rain Delay.
A few days after the trade, 6-foot-3, 250-pounder Jose Flores filled De La Torre’s place on the roster. Flores joined the Aeros from high Class-A Carolina, where he was 1-2 with a 2.37 ERA in 36 appearances for the Mudcats.
“He’s a big guy with pretty good arm strength,” Aeros manager Chris Tremie said. “He’s got good velocity and pretty much goes after batters, from what I understand.”
Such is life in the minor leagues, where teams routinely lose players for various reasons throughout the season, forcing them to depend on unproven players they hope can settle in and hold their own.
Before the loss of De La Torre, the Aeros maintained the best record in the Eastern League with a 64-42 mark, despite the earlier loss of several key members of the bullpen.
Gone are Matt Langwell and Bryan Price to Triple-A Columbus. Cody Allen was with the team briefly before jumping two levels and making his major-league debut with the Tribe. The Aeros have lost Bryce Stowell to injury twice this season.
“We’ve lost a lot of good arms in the bullpen from the beginning of the year and still managed to stay pretty consistent in that area,” Tremie said. “That’s something to be very proud of because it’s not easy to do.”
As for Flores, Aeros pitching coach Tony Arnold has seen him pitch only briefly in spring training. So he’s not yet familiar with his new pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses.
“I just know he’d been throwing the ball well down there and closing for them for the most part,” Arnold said. “He’d been going short stints, his last three or four outings just one inning or less.”
With Preston Guilmet firmly entrenched as the Aeros closer since the start of the season, Flores isn’t likely to see regular time in the ninth inning. Rather, he’ll log time in the back end of the Aeros’ bullpen come the seventh or eighth innings.
“Guilmet’s our closer and he’ll continue to be our closer,” Arnold said. “But just like it’s gone all year long, other guys will get opportunities, depending on how much [Guilmet’s] worked. If the opportunity arises, I’m sure Tremie will have no problem letting Flores go out and get three outs in the ninth.”
With Friday’s scheduled doubleheader interrupted by heavy rain, the Aeros found themselves faced with another twinbill Saturday.
The regulars in the bullpen took care of the first game with new long man Toru Murata getting the win after allowing one run in three innings, Rob Bryson stepping in for two scoreless innings and Guilmet notching his 18th save after tip-toeing around trouble in the ninth in the Aeros 3-2 victory.
In the second game, starter Steven Wright earned the win with 6-plus innings of 1-run ball. And Flores finally saw his first action with the Aeros in getting the final three outs of the seventh inning to secure the 6-1 victory.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Aeros blog at www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.