CLEVELAND — Indians manager Terry Francona loves to use his bullpen, making a major league-high 318 pitching changes over the first 90 games.
Not surprisingly, three Tribe relievers rank among the top five in the American League in appearances. Cody Allen and Marc Rzepczynski are tied for second with 44 and Bryan Shaw is fifth with 43, even though all three have switched roles throughout the season.
“Your bullpen might have to evolve, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be good,” Francona said Thursday before Cleveland’s four-game series finale against the New York Yankees. “Coming into the year, I thought there would be some challenges — there always are — but if I’m not confident in the guys, how are they supposed to have confidence in themselves?”
The Indians lost four key members of their bullpen over the winter in Joe Smith, Chris Perez, Rich Hill and Matt Albers.
Free agent John Axford was signed to take over as the Tribe’s closer, but faltered in the role, prompting Francona to shuffle the deck with Allen and Shaw taking over the late innings. Journeyman Scott Atchison has also been surprisingly effective earlier in games.
“When we went away from Ax, it made sense for me to sit down with all the guys,” the skipper said. “I told them we can still have a good bullpen, but things might be fluid. I also assured them that they all were still going to pitch, which they have, a lot.”
Cleveland’s calls to the bullpen have numbered 20 more than National League leader Colorado’s 298, while the next-highest total in the AL is 281 by Tampa Bay.
Most of those moves haven’t been in desperation, either, as Indians relievers have the best record in the AL at 20-11 and own a sparkling 3.05 ERA.
“Sometimes, veterans kind of get etched into what innings they pitch, so you don’t have much flexibility,” Francona said. “But in our case, it’s been helpful that the guys have been able to move around on the fly.
“It’s been successful, so there is really no reason to change what we’re doing now.”
The wait is over
Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall has finally reached qualifying status for the AL batting leaders, entering the list in fifth place with a .325 average. Players must average 3.1 plate appearances per game played by their team.
Chisenhall entered this season with a .244 career average over parts of three seasons with the Tribe.
“It’s kind of a good story,” Francona said. “Last year, he was given the job and he played his way out of it all the way to Triple-A. This year, he was given nothing, but he’s played his way into a starting position.”
Chisenhall’s emergence has allowed Carlos Santana to slide over to first base on a semi-permanent basis. Santana played catcher in 2013, but began this spring as the Tribe’s starter at third.
While Chisenhall has made a team position-high 12 errors at third, Santana has yet to commit a miscue in 297 total chances at first base.
“I think Carlos has fun at first, and he’s obviously doing a great job there,” Francona said. “In my opinion, all the work that he did at third in spring training has really made him an active first baseman. He’s been all over the place, making plays for us.”
- Right-hander Toru Marata allowed two runs in 7⅓ innings as Triple-A Columbus lost 3-1 to Pawtucket. Center fielder Tyler Holt, who spent two days with the Indians this week, went 0-for-3 in his return to the leadoff spot.
- Shortstop Francisco Lindor and catcher Tony Wolters each had two hits for Double-A Akron in a 5-2, 11-inning win over Richmond. Shawn Armstrong earned the win with two scoreless innings, while Louis Head picked up the save.
- Michael Peoples struck out eight in 6⅔ innings for Single-A Carolina in a 5-4 victory over Lynchburg. Shortstop Erik Gonzalez had a single and double to raise his average to a team-high .283.
- Center fielder Josh McAdams whiffed three times in four at-bats as Single-A Mahoning Valley was routed 11-3 by Hudson Valley. Catcher Francisco Meija added an error and passed ball.
The Indians and White Sox begin a three-game series tonight at Progressive Field. Tribe right-hander Corey Kluber (8-6, 2.86 ERA) takes on Chicago right-hander Hector Noesi (3-5, 4.13) at 7:05.
Saturday at 3:05 p.m., Cleveland righty Zach McAllister (3-4, 5.89) challenges White Sox righty Scott Carroll (3-5, 4.52). A roster move must be made in order to promote McAllister from Triple-A Columbus.
Indians righty Trevor Bauer (3-4, 4.23) faces Chicago left-hander John Danks (8-6, 4.15) in the final contest before the MLB All-Star break Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
- White Sox pitcher Chris Sale won the on-line fan balloting for the final spot on the AL All-Star team. Kluber finished fourth in the five-man field, but could be added as an injury replacement for the squad.
- The Tribe’s 5-4, 14-inning home loss to the Yankees drew a season-high 10.2 local television rating on SportsTime Ohio. It was the most-viewed television program in Northeast Ohio on Wednesday.
- Cleveland is guaranteed of having the worst road record in the AL going into the All-Star break at 18-28.
Contract Brian Dulik at email@example.com.