November 25, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
33°F

Tribe notes: Bullpen stinks

By CHRIS ASSENHEIMER

Staff Writer

CLEVELAND — No one has experienced the fickle business of the bullpen like the Indians.

Cleveland’s relief corps, one of the majors’ best last year, has been one of the big league’s worst this season, despite the front office returning the bulk of it intact – with the addition of Far East import Masa Kobayashi.

“It’s more calculated luck than anything,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge of compiling a bullpen. “It’s quite an enigma, it really is. That’s why when you see (the consistency of) a guy like (Yankees closer) Mariano Rivera, that’s off the charts.”

Relief work wasn’t much of a problem in 2007 for the Indians, who posted the highest save total (49) in the American League while ranking fourth with a 3.75 ERA. This year, Cleveland’s pen, which has employed three closers since the release of ineffective 2007 AL saves leader Joe Borowski, entered Wednesday having converted just 17-of-32 save opportunities and ranked dead last in the majors with a 5.15 ERA.

A telling statistic had the Indians being outscored 40-19 in the ninth inning through Tuesday.

“Obviously our bullpen has struggled throughout the course of the year,” Wedge said. “But we still feel we have people down there that are capable of more than what we’ve seen.”

That would include right-hander Rafael Betancourt, who a year removed from serving as one of the majors’ top setup men has mirrored the rest of the pen’s unreliable ways — 2-4 record, 6.04 ERA in 45 games through Tuesday.

“He’s a perfect example of that,” Wedge said. “But he couldn’t have been any better than he was last year. We knew that (coming in). He’s just struggled to throw the baseball where he wants it.

“He may or may not get it this year, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to keep giving him opportunities.”

That goes for the rest of the relievers as well, with the Indians using the remainder of the season to evaluate potential candidates for next season.

“One thing we’re going to do is find out as much as we can about our guys,” Wedge said. 

 

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ON THE (THIRD) SPOT: Hitting in the high-profile third position in the order might be at the root of the funk that has engulfed Ben Francisco, who entered Tuesday mired in an 0-for-18 skid with his batting average at a season-low .269 through 73 games. “He’s been thrown into that just because of the success he had immediately when he got here,” Wedge said. “It’s probably unfair that he’s been there all year, but I felt like that was the best option and that he would gain from the experience. I think he has. I think he’s handled it well.” Since Travis Hafner went on the disabled list in late May, Francisco has been batting third on a consistent basis (44-of-67 starts). He was hitting .365 on May 25, but was at .228 (21-for-92) in 24 games since June 27.

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FINDING GROOVE?: Scuffling first baseman Ryan Garko has shown signs of life at the plate as of late, going 4-for-7 with a pair of doubles over his last two games entering Wednesday. It raised his season average from .236 to .244. “He’s turned it up a little bit,” Wedge said. “I like to see that. He needs to be a run producer. Hopefully that’s the start of something.” Of Garko’s last 11 hits through Tuesday, six were for extra bases. “It looks like I’m going to be in there every day with Casey (Blake) gone,” Garko said. “Hopefully I can get back and finish strong. I just have to stay confident and not worry about making the perfect swing.”

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MINOR DETAILS: Anthony Reyes got the win in his organizational debut Tuesday, allowing three runs in five innings of Triple-A Buffalo’s 8-7 victory at Durham. Reyes, who started and won Game 1 of the 2006 World Series for St. Louis, was acquired in a trade with the Cardinals on Friday. … LHP Zach Jackson, acquired in the CC Sabathia trade with Milwaukee, is 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA in six games (2 starts) since joining the Bisons. … Beau Mills, a first-round draft pick last year, went 2-for-3 with his 17th home run while padding his Carolina League-leading RBI total (73) with four in Class A Kinston’s 7-3 win over Myrtle Beach.

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ROUNDIN’ THIRD: Grady Sizemore’s four multi-homer games led the American League through Tuesday. … Jhonny Peralta had homered in six of the last 23 games entering Wednesday, with nine multi-hit games in his last 16.

Assenheimer may be reached at 440-329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.