CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Indians fans have become accustomed to having a strong bullpen to be able to turn to in close affairs, and in 2013, that trend should continue for a team looking to get back into contention in the AL Central.
Some felt that the team was setting up moves this offseason to try to move closer Chris Perez, but thankfully, the move never happened. Let’s face it, Perez is one of the best closers in the American League.
Last season he was an All-Star with 39 saves, good for 4th in the American League. He had hiccups at the start and end of the first half, but was nails throughout the season in a year that got away from the team starting in late July.
He only blew four saves, and at the end of the day, this team is much better with him coming out in the 9th inning than without him.
Then there’s Vinnie Pestano, who some felt would get his shot at the closer role and were convinced that Perez would be moved. It didn’t happen, and Pestano will be back in his role as the 8th inning setup man.
Last season Pestano was 3-3 with a 2.57 ERA in 70 appearances. He recorded 36 holds, good for second most in the American League, and while he admitted struggles down the stretch, he’s still one of the best setup men.
“Vinnie has turned into a dominant pitcher,” Indians manager Terry Francona told Paul Hoynes.
The final for sure in the pen is Joe Smith, who seems to have found his niche as the 7th inning man out of the pen. Smith has been very good since coming over from the Mets in 2009.
Last year he was 7-4 with a 2.96 ERA. He allowed batters to hit just .213 against him, and like Pestano seems to be well entrenched in his role to be the guy who gets the ball in the 7th.
While Perez, Pestano and Smith are set in their roles in the Indians pen, there’s other spots wide open, as who Francona will lean on will be fought out through the spring.
Some names will be familiar to Indians fans – Cody Allen, Frank Hermann, Nick Hagadone and Scott Barnes. Then there are new names that the club hopes will be able to fill some voids – Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw, Matt Capps and Rich Hill.
This past offseason, the team said good-bye to Tony Sipp in the Shin-Soo Choo trade, and did not bring back Rafael Perez. They feel that the two relief pitchers acquired from the D-Backs in Albers and Shaw both have a lot of upside that can be a big asset in the pen.
Capps could be the most interesting name, a thrower who last season saved 14 of 15 games with the Twins. The 29-year-old has 138 career saves in 444 appearances for Pittsburgh, Washington and Minnesota.
He could be one of those ‘diamond in the rough’ players who the Indians only had to give a minor league deal to in order to get him on the team. He’s already got one fan on the team in Smith.
“We’ve got Matt Capps on a minor league deal because of his shoulder issues last year,” Smith said to Hoynes. “He’s a guy who has pitched in the postseason. He’s pitched in All-Star games and he’s been a closer. Me and him could be splitting the seventh inning with Vinnie and C.P. at the back end.”
The 32-year-old Hill has pitched the last three seasons with the Red Sox, and Francona knows what he can bring to the table. He threw only 19 innings last season, but like Capps, the reward could outweigh the risk as he joined the team also on a minor league deal.
Last season Hill returned to Boston from Tommy John surgery in April and had a 1.83 ERA. Injures stopped his season though, as he went back to the disabled list in June with an elbow strain and did not come back until September.
In the end, this is the strength of the Indians as they continue to train and get ready for 2013. Bullpens have a tendency to be great unknowns from year to year, but if history has anything to do with it, the Indians 2013 pen could possibly be the best in the American League.