TORONTO — The Indians are carrying eight relievers into today’s opener against Toronto at Rogers Centre. Three of them have defined roles. The other five will jump every time the bullpen phone rings.
Closer Chris Perez and setup men Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith know what is expected of them. Smith pitches the seventh inning, Pestano the eighth, and Perez works the ninth for the save.
They are the big reason the Indians, despite losing 94 games last season, went 24-12 in games decided by one run. It was the second-best winning percentage in the big leagues.
Where does that leave Rich Hill, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Matt Albers, and Nick Hagadone?
“When they give you the ball, you go out there and pitch with conviction,” said Hill. “It doesn’t really matter when they give it to you. The point is, if you’re concerned about where you’re being used, you’re missing the whole point of playing baseball.
“You’re there for the team.”
Hill, Allen, Shaw, Albers, and Hagadone are opening the season for the first time with the Tribe. Hill, 33, made the club as a nonroster free agent. Shaw and Albers were acquired in a December trade with Arizona. Allen and Hagadone appeared in the Tribe pen last year.
It usually takes four to five weeks for a bullpen to get itself in order. Sometimes it can happen faster, but usually not with as many new arms as there is in the Indians’ pen.
“With eight guys down there, we could be used in a lot of different ways,” said Allen.
Hill and Hagadone are the two lefties in the pen. Hill pitched for manager Terry Francona in Boston, and Francona hinted how he’d used him on Monday while talking to reporters at the Rogers Centre.
“Rich Hill, in my opinion, is the guy facing a left-handed hitter in a leverage situation,” said Francona. “I think Rich can do way more than that, but if there’s a situation like that in the sixth or seventh innings, that where we want him.”
Lefties have hit .209 (74 for 354) against Hill in his career.
“After that we have a collection of guys with pretty good arms, and we’ll try to use that to the best of our advantage,” said Francona. “We’re not gong to pigeonhole these guys, especially early in a season. All teams have guys coming out of the game earlier than normal because they haven’t settled in to where you're comfortable letting them stay out there for a long time. Especially, if they have men on base.”
Francona, like most manager, loves the idea of having eight relievers. The luxury won't last long because a move will have to be made when Scott Kazmir is activated Saturday to start against Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field.
“It’s going to be a hard move to make because I like the idea of going with eight,” said Francona. “We don't have a typical long guy, and that's by choice. If we get a situation where we [need a long reliever], we’ll just piece a game together.”
Hagadone, Shaw, and Allen have options.
“There are innings to be won down there,” said Allen. “There are innings to be won and earned, but we really won’t know that until a couple of weeks in.”
To put it simply, the relievers who are relieving the best will pitch the most. It’s always been that way.
Early in spring training the Indians had two injury concerns in the bullpen with Smith (oblique) and Perez (right shoulder). Smith has been healthy for a while, but Perez made just five appearances in spring training.
“Chris handled himself really well,” said Francona. “He got it under control. He listened to the medical people. Not only is he ready to go pitch, but he’s ready to go pitch and be effective.”