On the surface, the Cleveland Indians‘ plan when it came to the return of starting pitcher Danny Salazar seemed to make sense. With no obvious candidate to bump out of the rotation, the Tribe would simply run with six starters and let things play out from there. Eventually, one would assume, there’d be a clear choice to make, and said player would be optioned or sent to the bullpen.
Last week, I made my vote for who should be be the unlucky pitcher – team lightning rod Trevor Bauer. Cleveland’s mercurial starter has had yet another uneven season, with his most recent outing at the time a 0.2 inning drubbing at the hands of the last place Oakland A’s. While he ended up slightly bouncing back against the Toronto Blue Jays last Friday, I still felt he was the clear choice to remove from the rotation.
And then yesterday happened.
In the final game of Cleveland’s series against the Los Angeles Angels, Bauer threw an eight-inning gem, completing a sweep and helping his team win its seventh straight. He pitched as though he knew his job may be on the line, and did everything he could to secure his spot.
Meanwhile, one pitcher who’d seemingly locked down his spot in the rotation – Mike Clevinger – was a mess on Tuesday’s 11-7 win in the same series. His erratic showing left some wondering if his recent string of impressive starts was merely a fluke.
Both of these performances made Cleveland’s choice in who to remove from the rotation a difficult one. However, the team has the benefit of not needing to make said decision immediately.
In fact, I’d argue the Indians shouldn’t be in any hurry to trim their rotation down to five pitchers. At this point, they might as well keep rolling with a six-man staff until they have a clear candidate to remove.
As mentioned, Bauer did everything he could yesterday to make the lives of Cleveland’s coaching staff difficult. The team couldn’t help but be impressed when he escaped a late jam in a tie game, forcing three straight outs after putting runners at second and third. In what seems like a rare feat these days, he made it all the way into the eighth inning, finishing the day with six strikeouts on 116 pitches.
For reference, it was four more pitches than he threw last Friday against Toronto. However, he only made it five innings in said game.
Likewise, Clevinger’s string of solid outings was snapped Tuesday despite being gifted a 7-0 lead to work with just two innings into the game. His control was all over the place, as he seemed easily rattled for the first time in quite a while. By the fifth inning, the Indians’ seven-run lead was trimmed to one.
In the span of two separate outings, Cleveland’s seemingly simple decision was turned on its head. Suddenly Clevinger looked less reliable, while Bauer turned into a model of efficiency in the blink of an eye.
However, these two outings also provide all the evidence the Indians need to realize their best option is to give the six-man rotation another run. Quite frankly, Cleveland needs to do so in order to find out which pitcher’s performance was a fluke.
Up until yesterday, flipping a coin seemed like the best way to determine which version of Bauer the Tribe was going to get on a given start. Likewise, Clevinger had gone six straight starts without giving up more than two runs before Tuesday’s messy showing.
As you can see, Cleveland is left to wonder if Bauer’s outing yesterday was simply lightning in a bottle, or if Clevinger’s rough start can be explained away as a night of bad luck.
Right now, odds favor Bauer’s outing against the Angels being tough for him to duplicate. He’s yet to follow up a strong start with yet another great showing, so it’s difficult to assume he’s finally turned the corner. Likewise, heading into Tuesday, Clevinger had been remarkably consistent, to the point where the idea of removing him from the rotation seemed ludicrous.
Through its first attempt to rely on a six-man rotation, Cleveland is still dealing with a level of uncertainty. It shouldn’t feel pressured to make its move now despite this. Unless forced to do otherwise, the Indians should play this out as long as they can until someone becomes a clear candidate for bullpen duty.