In addition to selecting the right players, manager Terry Francona and General Manager Chris Antonetti had a two-part dilemma: How to make room for an extra reliever because of the crush of games at the outset of the season, and how to allow Carlos Carrasco to serve a six-game suspension without having it cost him a start.
The solution: Carrasco will open the season on the 25-man roster but won’t pitch. After the sixth game has been played, he will be optioned to Columbus and Scott Kazmir will be added to the roster, but whose place will he take?
Fortunately for the Indians, Jason Giambi’s back began to ache in time to make the plan work. Giambi will be placed on the 15-day disabled list to enable the Tribe to add an eighth reliever to the bullpen.
Giambi is eligible to come off the DL April 9, but he can remain there longer if Francona feels he needs the additional protection in the bullpen.
The Tribe begins the season April 2 in Toronto and doesn’t have its second off day until April 25.
Kazmir might take the roster spot belonging to the extra reliever. Or maybe someone besides Giambi will sustain a timely injury. In any case, Carrasco will have to remain on the roster through April 7.
Carrasco’s suspension dates to 2011, just before he suffered an elbow injury that required reconstructive surgery. Consequently, he has not pitched in a big league game since.
The battle for the fifth position in the rotation came down to either Kazmir or Carrasco.
Kazmir has been seeking to re-establish his career after four years of struggle that took him finally to an independent league team in Sugar Land, Texas, last year.
“We thought that Kazmir pitched better,” Francona said. “Organizationally, we’ve created some depth, which is good. There were a lot of things. I don’t think it was just one thing. Through a series of common-sense conversations this is what we came to.
“We thought enough of Carrasco to eliminate this suspension hanging over his head, where it could get in the way at some future date.”
Asked if he expected Giambi to be ready to play when he is eligible to come off the DL, Francona said, “We think so. He seems to be optimistic, which makes us optimistic.”
Added Antonetti, “We wanted to stay ahead of this thing.”
Not surprisingly, Kazmir was thrilled to win a roster spot after coming to camp on a minor league contract.
“I definitely feel that way, especially considering where I was a couple of years ago and where I am now,” he said. “I’m very proud of the fact that this has happened. It’s very exciting. I’m happy to be an Indian, to be starting the season with these guys.”
Until his last start against the majors, when he gave up 13 hits in four innings against the Seattle Mariners, Kazmir had been surprisingly consistent, inasmuch as he did not pitch either in the majors or for a legitimate minor league team last year.
Nevertheless, Kazmir was concerned that his one horrid start might hurt his chances.
“We’re competing out there,” he said, “anything can happen. I just wanted to perform well every time I went out there, knowing that one start could make the difference.”
Better balance in 2013
The Indians will start the 2013 season with more left-right balance, more speed and more power than the 2012 club. The bullpen promises to be proficient again, but the rotation will be a question mark.
“This will be interesting,” Francona said. “This will be the one area you don’t know about until the season starts. We’re confident in this group. It’s going to be fun to watch how good we can get.”
In addition to Kazmir, the rotation includes Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Zach McAllister and Brett Myers.
Closer Chris Perez, setup man Vinnie Pestano and seventh-inning specialist Joe Smith form the foundation of the bullpen. Other members will be Cody Allen, Nick Hagadone, Matt Albers, Rich Hill and Bryan Shaw.
Which reliever is most vulnerable when it’s time to pare the bullpen to the usual seven pitchers? That undoubtedly will depend on performance and which pitchers have options remaining.
The everyday lineup will be composed of Nick Swisher at first, Jason Kipnis at second, Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop, Lonnie Chisenhall at third, Carlos Santana at catcher, Michael Brantley in left, Michael Bourn in center and Drew Stubbs in right. Mark Reynolds will be the designated hitter.
Until Giambi returns, the bench will be short-handed. Lou Marson will back up Santana; Mike Aviles can play second, third, short and the outfield; and Ryan Raburn will be available to play left field or second base.
The guy who ended up on the short end of the stick was infielder Cord Phelps, who was optioned to Triple-A.
“He couldn’t have played better, and that was the message we gave him,” said Francona of Phelps, who batted .375 with four doubles and three home runs in 48 at-bats. “He was a tough one for us. Cord’s future is really bright, and I think he’s a smart enough kid to appreciate that.”