Apr 9, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (47) stands on the mound against the San Diego Padres in game two at Progressive Field. San Diego won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Bauer, Tomlin Look Like Better Options Than Carrasco, Salazar

Is the Indians Starting Rotation in Need of Change?

I really hate it when people do this.  It shows a lack of understanding of the nuances of baseball to call for big changes in response to a couple of games.  These guys have talent, after all, or they wouldn’t have made the team to begin with.  Over the course of a season, everyone has slumps, but they generally revert to the form they have shown over the long run, so you just need to be patient.

But dammit, you can’t burn up the bullpen and put the offense in a five run hole twice every trip through the rotation.  That is essentially what has happened to the Indians in every game started by Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco.

I was keeping track of Salazar’s most recent start against the Royals while watching Trevor Bauer pitch for Columbus at Huntington Park.  While Salazar seemed to have no backup plan when the Kansas City hitters figured out his fastball, Bauer was in command throughout.  He mixed his pitches well, was efficient (101 pitches in 6.2 innings, 63 strikes), and kept the hitters off-balance throughout the game.  Most importantly, there were a couple of times where Bauer would lose his mechanics for a couple of pitches and he would start to look like he did last year, but he found it right away and avoided any damage.  In other words, he did what Salazar and Carrasco have been unable to do this year.   I realize he was not facing major league hitters, but he also looked good in a spot start for the Indians.

So what do you do if you are the Indians?  Josh Tomlin is also pitching well in Columbus, on the heels of a strong spring training.  Tomlin also has a track record of major league success.  Remember when he was automatic for six innings every time he started?  That would be pretty nice right now.   It is easy at this point to assume that the rotation would be better with Tomlin and Bauer than with Carrasco and Salazar, but making hasty moves like that is risky.  For one thing, if Bauer or Tomlin comes up and fails, you really have no options unless Salazar figures things out in a hurry in Columbus.   For another, it would look like a panic move, which makes the entire team uptight.

Personally, I thought Tomlin should have made the team at the start of the season.  They can talk all they want about Carrasco’s potential, but the guy is 27 years old, with nothing in his track record to suggest that he can be a capable major league starter.   Does anybody see a scenario at this point where Carrasco gets released, goes somewhere else, and wins fourteen games?  I think the guy is what he is – he can look spectacular for an inning or two, but he doesn’t have the makeup to sustain whatever he needs to do it for six or seven innings.   If they want to put him in the bullpen and see what happens, fine.  But I can’t take having my stomach in knots every five days because I never know when he will implode on the mound.   Tomlin isn’t going to win a Cy Young, but he will give you six innings and keep the game close on a consistent basis, which is as good as any other fifth starter in the AL.

As it happens, Tomlin is on the same schedule at Columbus as Carrasco is for Cleveland, as long as there are no rainouts.  So in theory, Tomlin would be ready to start in San Francisco Friday night if the Indians wanted to make the decision quickly.   My guess is that Carrasco makes that start, but if he struggles and Tomlin is effective, Tomlin will start against the Angels next Wednesday.

Bauer has been pitching in Columbus on the same days as Salazar, so their fates are probably linked in the same way as those of Tomlin and Carrasco.   This is a tougher call, because Salazar was so spectacular last year while Bauer was prone to unraveling.  The bigger difference is that, whereas expectations for Carrasco and Tomlin are somewhat limited, you can picture both Salazar and Bauer as aces someday, so this decision needs to be made with more in mind than winning games in April.   The bottom line will probably come down to whether the Indians believe that Salazar can develop and trust his secondary pitches while facing big-league hitters.   He will probably get a few more starts to show that he can do so, but it is hard not to believe that Bauer would give the Indians a better chance of winning games right now, and that has to be part of the decision.

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  • fresser

    Salazar should relieve as he is lights out once throught the lineup. He would be a good candidate for closer if Axford ever reverts to 2012 form. I know we gave up a lot for Carrasco, but it is time to ship him out until he grows a brain.

  • Gary

    I agree with most of your points.
    Carrasco is not a starter. I don’t know why people say he has the stuff. No he doesn’t or he wouldn’t get lit up after going through the lineup. I think he is best suited for the bull pen. 1 or 2 innings would be ideal for how he pitches.
    Salazar will be a good pitcher one day. The time is not now. He has a blazing fastball, but once through the order he has no control over his second or third pitches. Which is mostly a changeup and slider. He constantly leaves them out over the plate and opponents hit the crap out of them. Once he learns to hit his corners and mix up his pitches more, he will do just fine.

  • Avory

    Well, I hope tonight’s outing puts to rest the “he’s only good the first time through the lineup and should be in the bullpen” nonsense. Carrasco’s value is as a starter, period. Relievers grow on trees; big, strong guys with deep arsenals do not. As for the assertion that there’s “nothing in his track record to suggest that he can be a capable major league starter” that’s just plain wrong. In fact, the ONLY time in his short major league career that Carlos Carrasco has pitched when completely healthy, took a regular turn for more than a month, and had a chance to develop confidence, he most certainly DID look like a capable major league starter. I suggest you look at his eight consecutive starts in late May and June 2011 when he went an average of seven innings, had a WHIP of 0.94, and lowered his ERA from 5.00 to 3.54, all after struggling through a fitful April and May as a young 24 year old. Immediately after this stretch he got hurt, pitched the rest of July with a throbbing elbow, then gutted out a 7 inning, 3 run performance in Fenway and shut it down after that brave outing for elbow ligament surgery. It’s really easy to consign a guy to the scrap heap because of various simplistic perceptions; the tough thing is to have the courage of your convictions in the face of public impatience. I’m pleased the Tribe is trying to get Carlos back to where he was in the summer of 2011 when he showed so much promise before an unfortunate injury derailed a career that was clearly on the rise.

    • Gary

      Since his last victory, he has gone 0-12 with a 8.09 era in 17 starts.
      How does this make him more valuable as a starter? What he did in 2011 means nothing today.
      The past is just that. He isn’t cutting it after all the chances Cleveland has given him. Time to put him in the pen and move on.

    • Avory

      You say 2011 is in the past, yet you quote outings going all the way back to 2011 when he was hurt, then you add in a sprinkle of starts two years later when he’s trying to come back from elbow ligament surgery…you think that’s easy? Then you add in his few starts this year. C’mon, your statistics are completely disingenuous to the point: you cannot evaluate a player without giving him a full shot under consistent circumstances. Or, are you evaluating Danny Salazar for what he’s done this year? Or did you evaluate Ubaldo Jimenez for what he did last September? I’m certainly glad your shortsighted thinking is not guiding the Cleveland Indians; we cannot afford to have a kneejerk reaction to stats that cover time periods that need to be analyzed and considered in light of the circumstances, not reacted to emotionally. That’s not a professional approach, that’s a fan’s approach.

    • Gary

      I stand by my comments. If you don’t like them, don’t read them.