November 28, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
25°F

Tribe’s Jake Westbrook still not back, but close

CLEVELAND — Forced into the role out of necessity, Jake Westbrook hasn’t been much of an ace as the Indians’ No. 1 starter this season.

Westbrook

Westbrook

That’s evident by his 2-3 record and 4.78 ERA in 10 starts. What he has been is a pitcher that appears on the right track to recovering from Tommy John surgery and finding the form that made him a quality arm in Cleveland’s rotation for years.

Right now, that’s good enough for Westbrook and the Indians.

“He’s close,” said manager Manny Acta, who with few other options, named West­brook as his opening-day starter just months after being hired to replace Eric Wedge. “He’s dependable. At least we know he’s going to go out every five days and give us a chance.

“We’re satisfied with where he’s at right now, coming from where’s coming from.”

Most importantly for West­brook, he’s been healthy. The elbow surgery sapped close to two years from the right-hander’s career, but he hasn’t endured a setback since last season.

“I feel great,” said Westbrook, who averaged 30 starts and 197.4 innings as a starter from 2004-07 before the elbow injury struck shortly into the 2008 season. “I feel strong. I think the biggest thing for me is just being consistent each time out. That’s something I haven’t been able to do.

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“I think I’ve only been a part of a couple wins, and I haven’t been able to help the team win ballgames. That’s been the most frustrating part of it for me.”

Westbrook, 32, has run the gamut of pitching performances this season.

He’s been bad, as he was against the Rangers in the season opener (five runs, four walks and four wild pitches in four innings) and the Blue Jays on May 4 (four runs, five hits and five walks in 3 2/ 3 innings).

He’s been average on most occasions, and he’s been top-shelf on others, as evidenced by a two-start stretch this month in which he allowed two earned runs over 15 innings, capped by a complete-game, eight-strikeout victory over the Orioles on May 16.

The ability is obviously there. It’s just taking a while to harness it on a regular basis, which is understandable for a pitcher in Westbrook’s spot.

“It’s just little things and being comfortable back on the mound every five days,” said Westbrook, who said he agrees with Acta’s assessment that he’s close to finding his old form. “I have to believe it’s going to get better as the season progresses.”

Though he was an all-star in 2004, Westbrook was never an ace before the elbow injury, and few were expecting him to pitch like one in a comeback year this season.

What the Indians are hoping is that Westbrook is past the elbow ailments for good and that he can return to being the dependable starting pitcher and valuable veteran clubhouse presence he’s been before.

“We think he is close to being that guy again,” Acta said.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.