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The Final Spots: Rounding Out The Rotation

Ten pitchers made starts for the 2010 Cleveland Indians and eight of them are still with the organization. Jake Westbrook, the 2010 opening day starter, was traded to St. Louis after 21 starts and he resigned with the Cardinals in the offseason. Aaron Laffey, the starter in five games last season, was shipped to Seattle a few weeks ago. All the rest (Germano, Carmona, Carrasco, Masterson, Talbot, Tomlin, Huff, and Gomez) will have a chance to pitch in Cleveland this season.

If health holds, the first three out of the gate will likely be Carmona, Masterson, and Talbot. Carlos Carraco earned the fourth spot with a strong performance during his September call up, and Talbot's spring performance may end up poor enough that Carlos gets to go third. The fifth spot in the rotation is up for grabs. Initially framed as a wide open contest among all comers, the competition has narrowed of late, with Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister heading to Columbus, Joe Martinez appearing exclusively out of the bullpen, and Anthony Reyes still struggling with injury. That leaves the usual suspects:

  • Jeanmar Gomez (10.0 IP, 4 BB, 5 K, 6.30 ERA) Gomez's appearance in Cleveland last season was a surprise—he'd started the season as a 22 year old making his AAA debut as a mid-rotation starter and ended it in the major league rotation. Gomez was never an elite prospect and his aggregate numbers in Columbus last year were lousy (worse than his numbers in Cleveland, in fact). Some think Gomez's secondary stuff still needs work, an argument bolstered by the beating he took after the league had time to get a look on him. Right now, his final starts in Cleveland and his spring performance point towards Gomez as depth starter, stashed in Columbus. There's still room for him to become more, but there's also a chance he never appears in the majors again.
  • David Huff (9.2 IP, 2 BB, 5 K, 7.45 ERA) As Adam has reminded us, Huff was not supposed to be battling for a fifth rotation spot at this point in his career. A lefty with a strong repertoire, coaches have located Huff's problems between his ears and it's impossible to tell what strides he's made on that front. His performance thus far would indicate there's still something wrong with Huff, mental or otherwise. Spring numbers are meaningless and, if possible, they're even more meaningless for pitchers, but it's hard to imagine winning a fifth starter's job with Huff's line. He was better early in camp before getting roughed up by the Padres and Phillies. Also in Huff's favor, Acta has said the decision isn't going to be based on a few bad innings. Huff's new tattoo is not yet considered a factor in the contest:

"It's a samurai warrior slaying a three-headed dragon," said Huff. The new tattoo is mixed in with an old one of Japanese lettering. Asked what it meant, Huff said, "It's an old nickname. The silent assassin."

  • Josh Tomlin (8.0 IP, 1 BB, 4 K, 1.13) Tomlin keeps getting outs despite his pedestrian stuff. Probably more importantly, he's earned a reputation as a strike-thrower, posting the second highest K:BB among Indians starters last season. The coaching staff, like pretty much any group of baseball coaches, seems to really appreciate guys who pound the zone—see Tim Belcher's comments on STO during a Masterson start last week for confirmation of this—so, I'm sure they've taken a real shine to Tomlin. Weirdly, Tomlin appeared in a B game the other day against Reds minor leaguers but, wherever he's pitched this spring, he's been effective.

On March 10, Bastian wrote that Acta anticipated giving each of these guys one more start before cutting the competition down to two pitchers. Since then, Huff and Gomez each pitched poorly, against Philadelphia and Oakland respectively, and Tomlin pitched well in the B game. Gomez and Huff both go again today and I suspect one will be eliminated from the competition on the basis of today's games. Jeanmar is three years younger than his 26 year old co-combatants, so, as mentioned above, there might be value in shipping him to Columbus to see if he can develop further. In contrast, Tomlin and Huff have both experienced extended success at AAA and any further development will likely need to happen in the majors. I'd bet on Tomlin winning the job.

UPDATE: Gomez and Huff both pitched poorly against the Royals today (3/18)—Gomez went 4.0, for four hits, three runs, two walks and three K's, while Huff went just 2.1, throwing 60 pitches, surrendering six hits, three runs, no walks, and striking out one. Tomlin's grip on the fifth spot tightens.