DETROIT — Cliff Lee’s got the name, but Aaron Laffey will get the nod.
With the Indians needing a fifth starter for the first time in a while on Saturday, Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said Tuesday that the team would go with the unheralded Laffey over the more experienced Lee against the Royals in Kansas City.
Both were in line to make the start, but Laffey has pitched better than Lee, a staple of Cleveland’s rotation the past three years who was demoted to Triple-A Buffalo after struggling in 16 outings (5-8, 6.38 ERA) for the Indians this season.
“It’s more about Laffey,” said Wedge of the 22-year-old right-hander who made a pair of effective spot starts for Cleveland in early August. “Cliff’s going to be up here at some point in time, but ultimately, we want to do what’s best for the team.
“Obviously we’re pleased with what (Laffey) did up here, but as much as anything, it’s been what he’s done (in the minors).”
Laffey, who was named the International League’s pitcher of the week (Aug. 13-19) on Tuesday, began the season at Double-A Akron, going 9-3 with a 3.08 ERA in 16 games (15 starts) for Buffalo. He has won nine consecutive decisions and hasn’t lost in 13 starts, with his last loss coming on May 28.
Lee, a former 18-game winner who signed a contract extension worth $15 million over four years in August of last season, has produced acceptable numbers at Buffalo since his demotion — 0-2, 3.46 ERA in five starts — but has struggled with control. He’s walked 18 batters (nine in his last two starts) and allowed 18 hits in 26 innings.
Lee is expected to rejoin the Indians at some point this season — possibly during the September call-up period — with Wedge saying the decision to promote Laffey did not affect the left-hander’s future.
“We’re talking about right now. It doesn’t say anything about his future,” Wedge said. “He’s going to have a bright future.”
With the Indians?
“Yeah, I hope so,” Wedge said.
Laffey’s breakout season caught the Indians by surprise, with the 16th-round draft pick in 2003 beginning training camp behind a number of starters in the big league pecking order.
“We knew that he could potentially make himself an option,” Wedge said. “That’s what he did.”
Wedge would not confirm that Laffey would remain in the rotation after his start against the Royals.
Travis Hafner said an ailing left hamstring that sidelined him for four games is improving.
“It’s doing good,” said Hafner, who entered Tuesday batting .235 (4-for-17) with two doubles and an RBI in five games since returning to the lineup. “I feel like I’m running closer to normal.”
A big three
Though it is rare, Wedge is placing extra significance on his team’s three-game trip to Detroit, which entered the series trailing the first-place Indians by 1½ games in the Central Division standings.
“I look at this as an opportunity,” he said. “It’s late in the season and we’re playing the team we need to play well against. That’s where we are.”
Should Detroit and Cleveland finish the season in the top two spots in the division, it would be the first time the teams accomplished as much since the Tigers finished first in the old American League East in 1940, a game ahead of the Indians.
Cleveland’s top prospect, right-hander Adam Miller, has returned to the mound for Buffalo after missing a month with inflammation in his pitching elbow. Miller, who has endured another injury-plagued year, pitched a scoreless inning Sunday and is 4-3 with a 5.03 ERA in 14 games (11 starts) for the Bisons.
• Class A Kinston swept the Carolina League’s weekly awards (ending Aug. 20), with first baseman Matt Whitney hitting .417 with four homers and seven RBIs to earn player of the week honors, while right-hander Frank Herrman won pitcher of the week by winning both his starts and allowing just a run in 15 innings.
The Indians will play a traditional doubleheader in Seattle on Sept. 26, not the previously-scheduled day-night twin bill. The doubleheader, which is part of a makeup game from Cleveland’s snowed-out home opening series with the Mariners, will begin at 7:05 p.m.
• The Indians hit better during their three-game trip to Tampa Bay, batting .303 to win two of three against the Devil Rays.
• As was expected, the Tigers activated hard-throwing reliever Joel Zumaya from the disabled list prior to the series opener. Zumaya has been sidelined since May 3 with a ruptured tendon in his right middle finger.
Contact Chris Assenheimer
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