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Victim of His Own Success

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A recurring theme lately among the comments is the usage of the back-end relievers, most notably Bob Howry. Because Howry has been used almost every day for the month of September, the argument goes, he's losing his effectiveness.

Howry has been the team's best reliever all season, and is now the team's only setup man thanks to the absence of Arthur Rhodes and Matt Miller. In today's game, Howry appeared in his 75th game, a record for an Indian right-handed reliever.

In many respects, Howry has been used similarly to the Yankees' Tom Gordon. "Flash" has appeared in 75 games as well, and has pitched 10 more innings than Howry. The only difference is that the Indians have a much better ensemble in the bullpen than the Yankees do, but Gordon and Howry are both  used extensively in high-leverage situations, bridging the gap between the starter and the closer, or appearing in games where the score is tied (non-save situations).

In fact, Wedge mirrors Torre in that he'll use relievers in strictly defined roles, and won't move relievers to more high-pressure situations unless forced to. And for much of this season, that has worked extremely well, because the bullpen had consisted of seven quality relievers, all of whom could be trusted in their roles.

But as the summer wore on, that reliever core has been diminished by injuries (Miller), family issues (Rhodes), and ineffectiveness (Riske). That has left Wedge with four relievers that he trusts when the team is ahead in the late innings: Bob Wickman (who is only used in one-inning save situations), Scott Sauerbeck (used against left-handers), Rafael Betancourt (used in the sixth and seventh innings) and Bob Howry (used in the eighth inning as well as tie games). And because the Indians have been in almost every game they've played, there have been few opportunities to rest those four, especially Howry.

Which brings me to getting around to providing alternatives to using Howry so much. Fernando Cabrera, who is inexperienced but talented, needs to be used more often, allowing Betancourt to sub for Howry. Of course we don't know how Cabrera will react to these high-leverage situations, and in fact it may be too late to find out, since the season has but six games remaining. But it cannot be understated that the goal here is to win, and since Howry has and should be the best pitcher in the bullpen, he will be used.