The Cleveland Indians’ bullpen has become tighter now with some recent additions and moves; however, it has a way to go before it instills the same fear in Major League Baseball as it did even a year ago.
Brad Hand has officially been named the closer for the Tribe, which is the complete opposite from the platoon of pitchers last year. Now that the starters and closer are established, the middle relievers need some attention.
One way to shore up the bullpen is to hire a solid veteran arm. Doing just that, the Indians signed journeyman Tyler Clippard to a minor-league contract. Clippard has been on twelve different teams in eight years, keeping respectable numbers everywhere he goes. He spent the entire year in Toronto with a record of 4-3, an ERA of 3.67, seven saves, and a WHIP of 1.17. A deceptive and deliberate hurler, Clippard does not throw very hard, but he relies on his change-up to keep hitters off-balance. Clippard has a relatively friendly contract as well. He will make $1.75 M if he makes the team, and up to $1 M in bonuses throughout the year.
Right-hander Adam Plutko does not have a definitive record of what he can do in the Big Leagues, so Manager Terry Francona is going to do with him what managers usually do to get a better look at a pitcher: start him opening day of Spring Training. Plutko commuted up and down I-71 a few times between Cleveland and Columbus, maintaining a record of 4-5 with an ERA of 5.28. While not great, the inconsistency being in multiple places plus not having a defined role last season should be considered when trying to find a spot for Plutko in the bullpen.
Clippard and Plutko are not the only pitchers working things out, and every pitcher is working on his game. Carlos Carrasco is said to be continuing to integrate the slider that helped him dominate last year. Shane Bieber wants to improve upon his breakout year by working counts and getting deeper into games. Even highly-touted draft pick lefty Sam Hentges is wanting to become more than a “power lefty”.
If the bullpen can gel quickly, and these pitchers can achieve what they set out to accomplish, Indians’ fans might not need to worry about the bullpen as much as they though they might this season.