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Friday, May 30, 2008

Tribe: The bullpen is exploding; is there help on the horizon?

Posted By on Fri, May 30, 2008 at 12:55 PM

With Rafael Betancourt behaving like the new Joe Borowski, who will become the new Rafael Betancourt?
"It's nothing I haven't said to him, or Carl [Willis, pitching coach] hasn't said to him, 100 times. So I'm saying it to you. The bottom line is until he has enough trust and passion about throwing the ball inside, they're going to go out there and hit it. "There's no excuse for it. There's nothing he can say that can make any sense. What you're seeing and what's happening is real. He has enough command with his pitches where he can throw the ball to both sides of the plate. Obviously, he's throwing away to right-handers and away to left-handers. So he can do the same thing the other way around." That was Eric Wedge’s reaction after Rafael Betancourt came into a 5-3 game with men on first and second in relief of Rafael Perez in the 7th inning and promptly gave up consecutive doubles to A.J. Pierzynski and Carlos Quentin. The 5-3 lead had turned into a 6-5 deficit by the time Raffy B. got out of the inning – a situation, combined with the postgame comments by Wedge and the fact that Paul Hoynes said Raffy was heard throwing furniture in the clubhouse, that basically solidifies his fall from the most dominant relief pitcher of 2007 to just another dude with a metal plate and six screws in his elbow. .... Raffy’s 2008 stats are depressing: 22.2 innings pitched, 29 hits, 1.50 WHIP, 5.56 ERA, and a horrendous split -- .262 BA and .629 OPS for lefties, and a .360 BA and 1.018 OPS for righties. And he’s the latest member of the Cleveland ‘pen to explode. The same happened to Joe Borowski, the same happened to Jorge Julio, and the same will happen to the next guy to step onto the mound with a lead and walk off of it with a deficit. The difference is that Betancourt is the lynchpin of the bullpen – the guy who was expected to be the most consistent and the most dominant, even if his 2007 1.48 ERA and .485 opponents’ OPS fell back to earth. We expected Borowski to behave like an unstable, vodka-chugging old Polish guy, but Betancourt was supposed to be the model of consistency. Instead, he refused to throw inside, piled up ugly numbers, and got publicly berated by his manager in the media. That magnifies everything else, especially when guys like Craig Breslow, Julio, Jensen Lewis, and Borowski pitch like they’re capable of –with little to no regard for the health of the baseballs they heave. As currently constructed, there are exactly 2.5 arms that Wedge probably feels confident using out of the pen: Masa Kobayashi (2.73 ERA, 1.14 WHIP), Rafael Perez (3.33 ERA, 1.36 WHIP), and Borowski, who despite his early season implosions seems like a godsend compared to the arms that languished in his absence on the DL. Meanwhile, the rest of the pen is approaching levels of atrocity usually reserved for Tribe hitters. Breslow sucked and was sent to Buffalo, Julio sucked and was DFA’ed, Jensen Lewis never regained his 2007 form and was sent back to Buffalo, and it’s only a matter of time before Edward “Younger Jorge Julio” Mujica and Scott Elarton follow in those footsteps. While Mark Shapiro will certainly be looking for an arm to add to the bullpen as the trade deadline nears, one person is not going to turn around the staff. Help is going to have to come the same way it did last year when guys like Jensen Lewis and Rafael Perez surprised at a very young age and invigorated the club. With that in mind, here’s a short list of pitchers from Buffalo and Akron who could conceivably give the bullpen a shot in the arm as the season progresses. With a little investigation of my own and a chat with Tribe minor league guru Tony Lastoria from The Cleveland Fan and Sportstime Ohio, here’s the rundown: Jensen Lewis –Lewis, who sported a nifty 2.15 ERA in 2007, performed badly enough to start the 2008 season that he was sent down to Buffalo to regain his form. Only 24 years-old and with a half-season of playoff-level baseball under his belt, Lewis should trend back toward his ’07 numbers. In his only appearance since returning to the Bisons, Lewis went two innings and gave up two runs on two hits. Jeff Stevens – Currently in Akron, Stevens was the player to be named later in the Brandon Phillips trade. Here’s Tony’s profile on Stevens from last month , an explanation of why Stevens could be in Cleveland by the end of the year. Cliff’s Notes version: He’s in Akron because of the log jam of relief pitchers in Buffalo, but could leap frog them for a midseason call up because he’s absolutely filthy -- currently dominating Double-A hitters to the tune of 2.70 ERA, 5-1 record, 32 Ks to just 9 BB in 26.2 innings. Says Lastoria, “From what I am hearing, Jeff Stevens is likely to be the first guy to be called up.....and it may happen VERY soon.” Rick Bauer – Who would think that a dude who has been floundering in the minors for 11 years would suddenly come into his own as a closer and make a strong case to make a trip to The Show? Bauer has a 1.61 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 14 saves for Buffalo. Even though he’s 31 years-old, Bauer could finally make an impact this year, but will have to continue to put up ungodly numbers like that for Tribe brass to give him a call. Randy Newsom – First and foremost, this guy’s a genius: He was the brain behind the company that planned to sell stocks in minor league baseball players, a scheme that ultimately didn’t pass the sniff test from Major League Baseball. Nevertheless, Newsom throws submarine style, has been racking up saves in Akron, sports a beautiful 0.83 ERA (that’s two ER in over 20 innings), but does have only 13 strikeouts compared to 12 walks. Not a good ratio, but if he continues to put up numbers like this, he, like Bauer, could get a look from the Tribe. According to Lastoria, however, “Newsom is an option, although for whatever reason an afterthought in the organization.” Oneli Perez in Buffalo and Brian Slocum also make Lastoria’s top five options for bullpen call-ups in the coming months. Perez is a righty the Tribe claimed off waivers from the White Sox last week, and while his initial numbers in Buffalo are decent (8 K, 3 BB, 3.00 ERA in 6 innings) his stats in Charlotte were not so good (9.53 ERA, 17 innings pitched, .359 average against). Hopefully, one of these guys can be the savior of the Tribe’s pen. Otherwise, there’s going to be a lot more furniture flying around that locker, and a lot more frustration flying from Wedge’s mouth. – Vince the Polack

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