April 24, 2014

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Indians: Rotation expected to be an issue and it has

Sure, starting pitching was supposed to be an issue for the Indians at some point, but less than two weeks into the regular season?

That’s how long it took to lose fifth starter Scott Kazmir to an injury, for $7 million man Brett Myers to debut with two pitiful performances and for Carlos Carrasco to be suspended — again.

Oh, and second starter, right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who gave the Indians reason for optimism this spring and with a sparkling season debut in Toronto, looked like the same old guy we’ve seen since he arrived in the middle of 2011 in his next outing.

Hey, it’s not all bad. Ace Justin Masterson has been awesome.

No team is going to contend without starting pitching, and outside of Masterson, the Indians have shown little of it through the first nine games of the season. Yes, it’s early, but that’s the point. This was the biggest question mark for the Indians coming in and the rotation has sputtered out of the gate. That’s alarming to say the least.

After all, the trading deadline is over three months away. There is still Daisuke Matsuzaka, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and David Huff in the minors, but Cleveland is going to have to live with what it has in the starting department, and there has been little reason for optimism thus far.

The Indians need a big season from Jimenez, and he gave them reason to believe that was possible when he and new pitching coach Mickey Callaway appeared to locate something in Jimenez’s mechanics that had everyone feeling positive.

It appeared that vibe had been affirmed in an impressive debut for Jimenez, who was pumping fastballs in the 94-95 mph range to shut down a vaunted Blue Jays lineup — something that hasn’t been seen since his days in Colorado.

His next time out, Jimenez barely broke 90 mph and returned to his usual Cleveland form.

Jimenez’s explanation was that when he got to the mound, he had nothing, no fastball, no breaking ball — nothing. Every pitcher comes to the mound without his best stuff on occasion, but to have nothing so early in the season is strange to say the least and certainly an indication that the Indians could be in for more of the same where Jimenez is concerned.

Now, on to the guy following Jimenez in the rotation, Myers.

His first two appearances of the season couldn’t have gone any worse. With his fastball topping out at 90 mph and little to no movement on it, the right-hander has allowed 14 runs on 18 hits over 10 1/3 innings. And get this, he’s served up seven home runs. That’s hard to do.

The guy is throwing batting practice while earning more money than pretty much everyone on the team.

The contract and guaranteed spot in the rotation that went with it was a surprising move by the Indians, but there was little on the market this offseason. The result is Myers, a proven big-league starter, but one that spent last season in the bullpen and at least thus far, has struggled with the transition.

We’ll see.

If the Indians are hoping to find refuge in the guy behind Myers, fourth starter Zach McAllister, that’s a tall order.

While the 6-foot-6, 240-pound McAllister is a promising young pitcher, the early returns seem to indicate that he is not destined for top of the rotation status. He looked all right in his debut and could be a solid third or fourth guy, but McAllister isn’t going to carry a starting staff anytime soon.

Cleveland still hasn’t seen what it has in Kazmir, who won the fifth spot this spring, then strained his rib cage — playing catch of all things, a day before the season opened.

Still, we’re talking about a guy that has made one big-league appearance over the past two seasons and spent last year pitching independent ball for the Sugarland Skeeters.

Thanks to Kazmir’s injury, the Indians already had to promote phenom Trevor Bauer too soon — his debut was less than stellar — and after Carrasco was roughed up, ejected, sent down and suspended, they were in line to use a seventh starter (in nine games) had they not been rained out against the Yankees on Wednesday.

The Indians finally have an offense. It’s starting pitching that everyone thought could hold them back this season. Nothing has happened to change that mindset thus far.

 

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.