CLEVELAND: The last two seasons, the Indiansí bullpen has been arguably the teamís most reliable strength. And no manager has gone to his relievers or leaned on their consistency more than Terry Francona.
Through the first month of this season, though, thereís been a glaring difference in the effectiveness of the bullpen from two years ago. Itís brought up questions of whether the Indiansí high usage of its relief pitchers the last two seasons has caught up with them.
Itís also warranted a great deal of frustration.
The Indians led the majors the last two seasons in total relief appearances (540 in 2013, 573 last year) and have been in the top 10 each year in innings pitched (ninth in 2013 with 516? innings, fifth in 2014 with 513? innings).
Last year, they became the first American League team to have four pitchers make at least 70 appearances, as Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski and Scott Atchison all reached that mark. Their combined ERA of 3.12 last season was the seventh-best rate in baseball.
This year, itís been a different story. The bullpen has an ERA of 4.59, ranked 28th in the game.
Francona isnít sure if all the innings and mileage put on their arms is catching up with them. But if it is, heís taking responsibility for it.
ďIf thatís the case, thatís directly on me,Ē Francona said Wednesday. ďThe last two years, our bullpen has been a huge part for us at points winning or hanging in there. Is this a byproduct of them throwing a lot? If it is, I have to take responsibility for that.Ē
Frustrations reached a high point Tuesday night. The Indians took a 5-3 lead against the Kansas City Royals only to have the bullpen surrender six runs the next inning in an 11-5 loss. Atchison said Tuesday night that none of the relievers felt tired at the end of the last season. But the members of the bullpen know that things have to turn around soon if the Indians want to correct what has been a frustrating April.
ďI think everybody is frustrated down there,Ē Atchison said. ďWe can sit here and say itís early all we want, but itís time to get going. We need to take that upon ourselves as a group in the ípen and as a team all together. Itís frustrating after the offense comes back and really battles and does a great job tonight, for us to let it go.Ē
Ryan Webb called up
The Indians on Wednesday purchased the contract of relief pitcher Ryan Webb from Triple-A Columbus and designated outfielder Jerry Sands for assignment.
Webb, 29, signed with the Indians after he was out-righted by the Los Angeles Dodgers and opted for free agency. He had been acquired by Baltimore four days earlier.
Webb had a 1-1 record and an ERA of 1.13 in five games for Triple-A Columbus. He has a career 3.38 ERA in the majors between stints with Baltimore, Miami and San Diego.
Sands was hitting .348 in 23 at-bats with the Indians. He would have almost surely been designated for assignment once outfielder Nick Swisher is able to come off the disabled list.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.