The Cleveland Indians – currently the least worst team in the AL Central – are in dire need of a boost. This is especially true after going 1-5 on a West Coast road trip against the bottom-feeding Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants. As a result of this dreadful set of games, the Tribe’s division lead has shrunk to just half a game.
Cleveland is hoping said boost is coming from the return of a familiar face this weekend. Pitcher Danny Salazar will be back in the rotation Saturday, throwing for the first time since heading to the DL back in early June. His past few rehab starts have the Indians hoping he can finally return to his All-Star form.
While getting solid starts from Salazar would be huge for Cleveland, it would also put the team in a bit of a jam. The Tribe would have six starting pitchers and only five available spots in the rotation. As a result, someone’s job is going to be on the line.
When it comes to determining the most likely candidate to lose his starting gig, look no further than the man who’s taking the mound tonight. Trevor Bauer, easily the most mercurial member of the Indians, has yet to shed his trademark inconsistency. As a result, his spot in the rotation needs to be on the line in tonight’s start against the Toronto Blue Jays.
In reality, Bauer is only one of two pitchers who should be concerned about their status moving forward. Yet another All-Star bid has made Corey Kluber‘s job beyond safe, while Carlos Carrasco is steady more often than not. Mike Clevinger may have originally been the most obvious choice to get bumped by Salazar’s return, but he’s suddenly become one of the team’s best starters. Removing him from the equation would arguably make Cleveland’s rotation worse.
This leaves Bauer and Josh Tomlin as the only real candidates for removal. Despite the fact the latter has had an uneven season, the former should be the one worrying about job security.
Yes, neither Bauer nor Tomlin are known for being reliable arms. Additionally, Bauer has a far more diverse arsenal of pitches, while Tomlin relies solely on control. This of course leaves him susceptible to giving up more than a few home runs.
However, over the past few seasons, Tomlin has given Cleveland exactly what it needs from him – inning-eating performances at the back end of the rotation. He’s a clubhouse favorite, always willing to do whatever the team needs from him in order to get the job done. While he’s good for a particularly rough outing every now and then, he’s shown a strong ability to recover by the time his next start comes around.
Bauer, on the other hand, seems to be the exact opposite of everything just mentioned about Tomlin.
While he has more weapons to work with, he’s constantly getting in his own way, turning 0-2 counts into 3-2 at an alarming rate simply by overthinking. Since joining Cleveland in 2013, he’s never been able to string together multiple quality starts without enduring an on-mound implosion. A seven-inning, two-run showing is just as likely as his getting chased before notching the first three outs of a game.
His personality within the club house seems to be at question from time to time, as well. Multiple rough outings have been excused as his opponent’s “getting lucky” or proof he “can’t be perfect all the time.”
As mentioned earlier, Clevinger would’ve likely been odd man out had this conversation been happening a month ago. However, having only given up two runs or more just once in his past seven starts, he’s more than earned an extended stay in the rotation. The idea of protecting an unpredictable Bauer by sending Clevinger to the minors despite how well he’s pitching would be a painfully bad move by Cleveland.
Neither Tomlin nor Bauer have had a season to remember. At the end of the day, though, Bauer appears to be more of a concern. His red flags – inconsistency and a lack of accountability – have been present for years now, and there’s no sign they’re leaving anytime soon.
If he puts forth yet another abrupt appearance tonight, it should put his place in the rotation in jeopardy.