DETROIT — Stay the course is still the mantra for the Cleveland Indians as they seek to systematically rebuild to the form that brought them six Central Division championships from 1995-2001. But their growing pains have been significant, and that course might now have to include a detour or two.
Since the Tribe started saying good-bye to a lot of its mature and high-priced talent such as Jim Thome, Bartolo Colon and Manny Ramirez, the plan has been to build from within, nurture the cache of young talent, and win enough games in the interim to keep the fan base content.
But as the Tribe hitters have struggled to come through in the clutch, and the Cleveland bullpen has been rocked on a somewhat nightly basis, the Indians' brass has gone to calling an audible less than a month into the 2004 season.
In the 20 days since the Indians started the season, they have made six roster moves — all involving relief pitchers. General manager Mark Shapiro said this weekend that after calling up relief pitcher Kaz Tadano from Buffalo that it appeared that all other options on the pitching front would come from “external sources.”
Shapiro pulled the trigger on one of those outside deals yesterday, picking up veteran right-handed pitcher Rick White from Los Angeles. Cleveland sent minor league outfielder Trey Dyson, who was playing at Single-A Kinston, to the Dodgers.
White, 35, is 28-40 over his big-league career with 12 saves and an ERA of 4.17 in 390 appearances over eight seasons with Pittsburgh, Houston and the White Sox. In six games with Triple-A Las Vegas, he did not allow a run in 112/3 innings.
To make room for White, a native of Springfield, Ohio, the Indians put catcher Josh Bard on the 60-day disabled list.
After calling up Tadano, Shapiro hinted at some degree of desperation. The Cleveland staff is last in the American League in ERA at 5.57, due mostly to the bullpen's 7.62.
“What we need right now is a reliable strike-thrower,” Shapiro said.
“There's pressure on everyone, and ultimately how they handle adversity mentally is how they'll separate themselves from the rest. But after Tadano, most of the alternatives are external.”
Later yesterday, the Indians reacquired free-swinging outfielder Russell Branyan from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for a player to be named.
Branyan, expected to report to Triple-A Buffalo today, began his career with the Indians in 1994 and spent seven seasons in Cleveland's organization before being traded to Cincinnati in 2002 for first baseman Ben Broussard.
Branyan appeared in 11 games this season for Triple-A Richmond, batting .179 (5-for-28) with one homer and four RBIs.
He had his best season with Cleveland in 2001 when he batted .232 with 20 homers and 54 RBIs in 113 games.
RODNEY UPDATE: The Tigers are anxious to get 27-year-old reliever Fernando Rodney back to work somewhere in their system, but he is being nursed along with considerable caution as he prepares for a rehab stint in the minor leagues — possibly with the Mud Hens. Rodney has not pitched in a game since mid-March because of an elbow sprain.
He has thrown a couple of simulated games in the past week and his velocity is up to about 90 miles an hour. But Rodney's fastball has yet to reach the mid-90s as it had prior to the injury. He did experience some pain in the elbow last week when he tried to find his top speed again.
The Tigers have adopted a wait-and-see approach before committing to any timetable for Rodney to rejoin the bullpen. Rodney was 1-3 with a 6.07 ERA in 27 games with Detroit last year. He was 1-1 with a 1.33 ERA in 38 games in Toledo.
TIGERS TRIVIA: Detroit's 11 wins mark its most in the month of April since the 1999 season. The Tigers, 11-8, were 11-12 in April 1999. The last time Detroit won more than 11 games in April was in 1993, when it went 15-7.
RUN COUNT: With their five runs Saturday against the Indians, the Tigers have scored five or more runs in 14 of their 19 games this season. They've exploded for 10 or more runs four times. Detroit leads the American League with 115 RBIs.
TAKE A WALK: Last year at this time, the Indians had walked only 55 batters.
Cleveland has issued a league-high 82 walks this year.
STREAKS END: Yesterday's 3-2 loss to the Indians signaled the end of a two-game winning streak for the Tigers, and the end of the 10-game hitting streak of former Mud Hen Brandon Inge.
The Associated Press contributed to this notebook.