COMMENTARY | The Cleveland Indians entered the 2013 season greatly improved both in the everyday lineup and on the bench, and with a pitching staff having as many options as question marks.
Through the first month of the season, the depth of the roster has helped keep the Tribe afloat amid a steady rash of injuries. In fact, those who have filled in for missing starters have provided some of the biggest thrills so far this year.
Steady Rash of Injuries
The Indians began May 6 in third place in the American League Central at 14-14, four games behind front-running Detroit. Before its series opener that night against the Oakland Athletics, the club placed relief pitcher Vinnie Pestano on the 15-day disabled list with elbow tendinitis, making him the fourth Indians player currently on that list. Pestano is the first reliever to go down, and he joined starter Brett Myers, who went down April 20 with elbow inflammation. Myers may begin a rehab assignment soon. Myers' exit coincided with the first appearance of Scott Kazmir, who made the club out of spring training as the fifth starter and went right to the 15-day DL for a ribcage strain.
Backup catcher Lou Marson is already on his second stint on the 15-day DL. He first went down April 9 with a neck strain after a jarring home-plate collision with the Tampa Bay Rays' Desmond Jennings. Marson returned for only a few days before being again placed on the 15-day DL for shoulder inflammation.
The other Indian currently on the list is center fielder Michael Bourn, who has been out since April 15 due to a cut suffered on his right index finger when he was spiked diving into first base. Bourn is set to play a rehab assignment with the AAA Columbus Clippers, hopefully rejoining the Indians for their series at Detroit beginning May 10.
In addition to all these injuries, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (wrist), second baseman Jason Kipnis (elbow), first baseman Nick Swisher (shoulder), and catcher Carlos Santana (thumb) have each missed a few games with minor bumps and bruises. With so many holes steadily appearing in the lineup, several Indians have seized their opportunities to contribute, whether on the mound, in the field or at the plate.
Reserves to the Rescue
The vacancies in the starting rotation left by Kazmir and Myers have been filled by promoting Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber from Columbus. Both have made two starts and have kept the Indians in the game each time they've taken the mound.
Bauer, the highly touted prospect reeled in from the Arizona Diamondbacks in an offseason trade, has put up pretty good numbers, except for walks (1-1, 2.70 ERA, 10.0 IP, 3 H, 13 BB, 7 K). Kluber has shown improvement over his stint in the Indians' rotation at the end of 2012, allowing fewer base runners and easing the workload on the bullpen (1-1, 3.55 ERA, 12.2 IP, 12 H, 4 BB, 11 K).
The beating taken by Tribe catchers in the early going has unexpectedly pressed Yan Gomes into action, and Gomes has responded well. Acquired in an offseason trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, Yan has proved his value by handling the pitchers with confidence, playing errorless baseball behind the plate and gunning down three of five stolen base attempts. Also acquired in the Toronto trade was veteran utility man Mike Aviles, who has filled in at three infield positions while producing at the plate (.280 Avg., 2 HR, 12 RBIs).
Despite all these contributions, the backup player who has by far made the biggest splash for the Indians this year is outfielder Ryan Raburn. With Michael Bourn out of the lineup for three weeks, Raburn has thrived on the opportunity to play every day. The former Detroit Tigers outfielder has covered right field without committing an error, made great catches at the fence and displayed his arm in recording two outfield assists. On top of his terrific defense, Raburn has been locked in at the plate. His recent hot streak was capped by being named American League Player of the Week for April 29 through May 5 (.591 Avg., 4 HR, 9 RBIs).
No team has ever won a championship in the first month of the season, but there have been plenty of teams expected to contend that dug themselves such early holes they could not recover, such as the 2012 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Given all the early ailments that have beset the Indians, it would be understandable if they were to find themselves looking up from the bottom of the AL Central.
However, the mix of young talent and veteran role players on the roster have kept the Tribe in the thick of the race, and they've given fans a reason to believe the team can remain in contention as the starters get healthy and the season moves forward.
Matthew Frame is a lifelong resident of northeast Ohio, freelance writer, and baseball enthusiast. He has also been published locally in the Canton Repository.
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