GOODYEAR, Ariz. — When the regular season opens April 2 in Toronto, the “Bullpen Mafia” will have four new “made” men.
Mainstays Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith are almost certain to be joined by right-hander Matt Albers, who was acquired from the Diamondbacks in a three-team trade this offseason.
Albers is under a one-year, $1.75 million contract and is without minor-league options, almost guaranteeing himself a spot. Albers, 30, probably didn’t need the security blanket anyway. He pitched for Terry Francona and the Red Sox in 2011, and the new Indians manager liked what he saw.
“I like the fact that he’ll take the ball every day,” Francona said of Albers, who has made 300 relief appearances during a six-year career, going a combined 3-1 with a 2.39 ERA in 63 games for Boston and Arizona in 2012. “He’s durable. He can almost survive on one pitch, which is his two-seamer. When it’s good, it’s got so much life through the zone.”
The Indians have a couple other veteran relievers in camp in right-hander Matt Capps (3.52 ERA in 444 career appearances) and left-hander Rich Hill (4.59 ERA in 188 games/70 starts). But the wealth of candidates for the final three spots are young arms — right-handers Cody Allen (24), Frank Herrmann (28) and Bryan Shaw (25), and left-handers Scott Barnes (25), Nick Hagadone (27) and David Huff (28).
Shaw, who was acquired along with Albers, spent the bulk of his rookie season last year with Arizona, posting a 3.49 ERA in 64 games.
“Shaw’s got that cutter that really has a chance to be a pretty explosive pitch,” Francona said.
Though they weren’t around long enough to earn “Bullpen Mafia” status last season, Hagadone and Allen are no strangers to the Indians.
Hagadone was one of Cleveland’s most effective relievers for a spell in 2012 before struggling to a 6.39 ERA in 27 games — his season ending via a trip to the Minor League Disqualified list with a self-inflicted injury to his left forearm.
He’s made two scoreless appearances this spring, allowing a hit and striking out four.
“We talk about command, with his stuff, he just has to stay out of the middle of the zone and throw strikes,” Francona said of Hagadone. “He has more room for error than a lot of guys.”
Francona is also high on Allen, who started last season at High-Class A Carolina before ascending all the way to the majors, where he posted a 3.72 ERA in 27 games for the Indians.
“The good ones (can do that), guys that are kind of special and have the ability to not only have a good arm but to understand the game so it’s not speeding up,” Francona said, “all those things when you talk to Cody you kind of see.
“I would say he’s game-ready right now. He obviously knows he’s coming into camp with something to prove. It’s obvious that he worked hard and he prepared for spring training because his stuff is just electric right now.”
There are favorites to win spots and pitchers with edges, but just a week into the exhibition season, Francona isn’t close to making any decisions.
“I think we’ll let their pitching dictate that,” he said. “Certainly, as a staff, we sit down and we kind of know how we feel about guys, but we want to let them get some spring training in and let it play out. It’s way too early.”
Cleveland’s bullpen has been one of the best in the business the past two seasons. Despite the new faces that will be present, Smith thinks there is room for improvement.
“I expect us to have better numbers all-around this year than we’ve had the last two years,” he said. “We’ve added some veteran arms. Adding those guys into the mix that we already have, just makes us so much more confident.”