Cleveland baseball weekly: crawling toward opening day

Jim Piascik

Opening Day is only 12 days away, meaning that spring training is almost through. With the team leaving Goodyear, Ariz., soon, decisions have to be made on who will make the big league club to start 2013. Indians manager Terry Francona and company began making those choices this past week, starting in the bullpen.

Roster additions

The composition of the Opening Day roster came a little more into focus this past week with the news that Cody Allen and Rich Hill will be in the bullpen. Until this past week, four bullpen spots were up for grabs, with only Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith locked into the roster.

Allen is the exciting addition here, as the 24-year-old right-hander started last year with the High-A Carolina Mudcats before rocketing through three levels of the minor leagues to debut last July. A 2011 draft selection, Allen reached the major leagues in his first full professional season and was the second member of the draft class to make it to the big leagues (with the newly-acquired Trevor Bauer being the first).

There are still some issues in Allen’s game — he’s walked 15 batters in 29.0 major league innings — but he has the look of a significant bullpen contributor. It is not hard to see Allen closing games for Cleveland a few years down the road and fans will get to see a preview of that at Progressive Field in 2013.

Hill is a more mundane reliever, but the left-hander will fill a pivotal role out of the bullpen. As of right now, Hill is the only lefty on the pitching staff, meaning he figures to be called on frequently to get left-handed hitters out. Another lefty may make it into the bullpen (Nick Hagadone and Scott Barnes are still fighting for spots), but Hill should be someone Francona turns to often late in games.

Roster subtractions

A few notable names were removed from consideration for the Opening Day roster Monday, with starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and reliever Matt Capps being given the choice of sticking around and starting the season in the minors, or taking their chances elsewhere.

As of writing this, Matsuzaka seems to be staying, while Capps might be leaving. Matsuzaka’s pitching is still not all that good — possibly a byproduct of him still recovering from Tommy John surgery — so other teams may not want to add him at this point. Matsuzaka also pitched under Francona in Boston, so he may want to stay under a familiar manager.

Capps could still stay, though the market for a reliever with 138 career saves may develop. His shoulder injury could scare teams off — enough teams stayed away to the point where Cleveland signed him to a minor league contract this offseason — but he may be able to find a job with a different major league team.

Do the Harlem Shake

If by some chance you missed it, the team released its own version of the Harlem Shake last Wednesday. The video really is a good time and includes, among many other great outfits, Francona dressed up as a big baby.

The whole Harlem Shake craze seems to be on its last legs, and Cleveland’s contribution does not likely mean much in the big picture. Yet it could still end up being a big moment for this club.

Championships are not won in March — and especially not with dance videos featuring Jason Giambi in a skin-tight Green Man suit — but team chemistry can be built up and solidified. The reports coming out of Cleveland last year involving Manny Acta and the clubhouse were far from glowing, so it is nice to see the team bonding this year.

M*A*S*H Report

Frank Herrmann’s worst fears were realized last Wednesday when we underwent Tommy John surgery, officially ending his 2013 season. The right-hander was unlikely to make the Opening Day bullpen, but he was a strong depth option for later in the season. Herrmann will now focus on rehabbing his elbow with eyes on making a comeback in 2014.

On a more positive note, Chris Perez’s recovery from a shoulder issue is going well, and he is expected to be ready for Opening Day. This is the second consecutive spring training in which Perez has been injured, but for now, it looks like this will also be the second consecutive year he overcomes the injuries to be ready for the start of the season.

Contact Jim Piascik at [email protected].