Sheldon Ocker

MINNEAPOLIS: Every baseball team is a work in progress, and the Indians have used the month of July as a testing ground to find a reliable fourth and fifth reliever.

The saving grace of the club has been the superb workmanship of closer Chris Perez, setup man Vinnie Pestano and seventh-inning specialist Joe Smith. But three is not enough.

Manager Manny Acta canít get by with so few dependable bullpen pitchers. To always have enough fresh arms to do the job, he needs at least four and preferably five relievers he can count on to keep leads in the last three innings of a game.

The best-laid plans of spring training didnít quite work out as hoped. Rafael Perez has been out for months with a strained lat, and Tony Sipp fell into a slump that has taken many weeks to shake.

But Sipp has begun digging himself out of his deep hole and Esmil Rogers, acquired from the Colorado Rockies for cash on June 12, has been a pleasant surprise.

ďItís gotten better,Ē Acta said of the search for consistent bullpen help beyond Chris Perez, Pestano and Smith. ďRogers has done a good job in stabilizing the bullpen and Tony has improved. The whole situation is much better.Ē

In the month of July, Rogers has made nine appearances, giving up four runs and eight hits in 11? innings (3.18 ERA). He has issued four walks and struck out nine.

He has virtually erased his reputation as a velocity machine who canít throw enough strikes to be effective, even though his fastball sits at 96 miles per hour. When he arrived in Cleveland, his ERA was 8.00-plus, but he has worked his way into pitching in close games with the lead.

Sipp has pitched nine times in July and allowed three hits and one run in 5? innings. His problem has been issuing five walks, though he has struck out eight.

Cody Allen, who was atop the food chain at Columbus, was summoned to the big leagues for the first time on July 20. Since then he has pitched three times and has yet to give up a run or a hit in 3Ĺ innings. He has walked three and struck out four.

Itís too soon to know if he can join the group of trustworthy late-inning relievers, but Acta should know more in another month.

Sheldon Ocker can be reached at socker@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Indians blog at https://ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.