By CHRIS ASSENHEIMER
CLEVELAND â€” No one has experienced the fickle business of the bullpen like the Indians.
Clevelandâ€™s relief corps, one of the majorsâ€™ best last year, has been one of the big leagueâ€™s worst this season, despite the front office returning the bulk of it intact â€“ with the addition of Far East import Masa Kobayashi.
â€œItâ€™s more calculated luck than anything,â€ said Indians manager Eric Wedge of compiling a bullpen. â€œItâ€™s quite an enigma, it really is. Thatâ€™s why when you see (the consistency of) a guy like (Yankees closer) Mariano Rivera, thatâ€™s off the charts.â€
Relief work wasnâ€™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, Clevelandâ€™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.
â€œObviously our bullpen has struggled throughout the course of the year,â€ Wedge said. â€œBut we still feel we have people down there that are capable of more than what weâ€™ve seen.â€
That would include right-hander Rafael Betancourt, who a year removed from serving as one of the majorsâ€™ top setup men has mirrored the rest of the penâ€™s unreliable ways â€” 2-4 record, 6.04 ERA in 45 games through Tuesday.
â€œHeâ€™s a perfect example of that,â€ Wedge said. â€œBut he couldnâ€™t have been any better than he was last year. We knew that (coming in). Heâ€™s just struggled to throw the baseball where he wants it.
â€œHe may or may not get it this year, but that doesnâ€™t mean weâ€™re not going to keep giving him opportunities.â€
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.
â€œOne thing weâ€™re going to do is find out as much as we can about our guys,â€ Wedge said.Â
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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. â€œHeâ€™s been thrown into that just because of the success he had immediately when he got here,â€ Wedge said. â€œItâ€™s probably unfair that heâ€™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 heâ€™s handled it well.â€ 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. â€œHeâ€™s turned it up a little bit,â€ Wedge said. â€œI like to see that. He needs to be a run producer. Hopefully thatâ€™s the start of something.â€ Of Garkoâ€™s last 11 hits through Tuesday, six were for extra bases. â€œIt looks like Iâ€™m going to be in there every day with Casey (Blake) gone,â€ Garko said. â€œHopefully I can get back and finish strong. I just have to stay confident and not worry about making the perfect swing.â€
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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 Buffaloâ€™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. â€¦ 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. â€¦ 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 Kinstonâ€™s 7-3 win over Myrtle Beach.
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ROUNDINâ€™ THIRD: Grady Sizemoreâ€™s four multi-homer games led the American League through Tuesday. â€¦ 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.