The Cleveland Indians gave up eight runs on Friday in a loss against the Kansas City Royals, and they did it in an unexpected way. It would be reasonable to think starter Carlos Carrasco held the Royals in check before Cleveland’s largely anonymous bullpen served as a sieve. But that’s not what happened. Rather, Carrasco departed in the first after yielding six earned runs. Terry Francona’s bullpen then held the Royals to one earned run the rest of the way.
In fact, despite being questioned all winter long (by us included), Cleveland’s bullpen has pitched well to date, entering Saturday with a 1.93 ERA that stands as the third-best mark in the majors. It’s early and a lot can happen, but has Cleveland somehow found a bullpen that works?
At minimum, Cleveland has validated that having a good rotation can cover for a shaky-looking bullpen. Consider that Cleveland’s rotation entered Saturday having accounted for 63 percent of the club’s innings pitched. The bullpen, conversely, ranked 25th in innings — and yes, this was even after they nearly pitched the entirety of Friday’s game.
Starters working deep into games benefits the bullpen in other, perhaps less obvious ways, too. So far, Cleveland’s relievers have combined to appear on zero days’ rest twice, the second-fewest in the majors. What’s more is that Adam Cimber was responsible for both of those appearances; everyone else in Cleveland’s bullpen has had at least one day of rest each and every time they’ve gone to the mound, meaning fatigue hasn’t been a factor.
That will change in due time, and at that point we’ll be better positioned to decide whether Cleveland’s group is tolerable after all. For now, though, we wanted to touch on the seven main relievers in the bullpen and how they’ve pitched thus far:
Closer Brad Hand has been as good as usual (a 1.42 ERA and 4.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 6 1/3 innings). He’s the most reliable quantity Cleveland has, and for as long as he stays healthy Francona should feel good about the ninth inning.
The aforementioned Cimber has been used almost exclusively as a right-handed specialist — a role he was born to fill. He’s averaging a hair more than two batters faced per outing. He’s held right-handers to a 1-for-12 start. (Lefties are 0 for 2.)
Dan Otero is missing fewer bats than before, which is a wee bit concerning given he never missed many to begin with. One item of note: Otero has thrown nearly as many changeups against same-handed batters this season (eight) as he did all of last (12).
Consider it a minor miracle that Jon Edwards has permitted just one run to score. He’s walked five, beaned two others, and allowed four hits in five innings of work. That’s 11 baserunners out of 25 total batters faced. Woof.
Neil Ramirez has the highest strikeout percentage of any healthy Cleveland pitcher. He’s never had issues racking up Ks, so it’s a matter of whether he can throw enough strikes and avoid enough barrels.
Oliver Perez has faced lefties just a quarter of the time. He’s a left-handed specialist through and through, so it’s gone about as you would expect.
Then there’s Cleveland’s other side-arming lefty specialist, Tyler Olson, who is sitting around 87 mph but has found early success by spamming the opposition with his sweeping curveball.
Does that look like an elite unit on paper? Not particularly. Weird things can happen in baseball, but don’t get fooled by a small sample and a few quality arms: Cleveland’s bullpen should remain an area of concern until further notice.