Orbiting Cleveland: Any help out there?

It’s now been three days since Ubaldo Jimenez’s awful start against the Boston Red Sox. While no one wants to relive that night any more than we have to, let’s just take a moment to revisit it one last time.

Jimenez was making his third start of the season for the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday and after one inning, it seemed as though there was legitimate reason to be encouraged by his performance. The right-hander seemed in complete control during that first inning as he only needed 15 pitches to record three straight groundball outs and mow down the top of Boston’s lineup.

Yet, as we all know, things quickly turned sour after Jimenez came out for the second inning. He threw 44 pitches during that next inning and only managed to recorded two outs in the process.

What’s even worse is the damage that took place during, between and after those two outs in the second inning. Jimenez was pulled after he had walked five batters and allowed four earned runs. His control had not simply disappeared — it was never there to begin with.

Cody Allen then entered the game in relief of Jimenez, and he proceeded to allow a three-run double to catcherMike Napoli, the first hitter he faced. Just like that, the book was officially closed on Jimenez’s night, and take a look at the final line:

1 2/3 IP, 2 H, 7 R/ER, 5 BB, 1 K. Ouch.

As everyone knows, the Indians were unable to mount a comeback in the contest and ultimately fell 7-2. But then again, how can a team be expected to battle back when they find themselves in a seven-run deficit before the second inning is over?

Needless to say, it’s impossible to not be discouraged by Jimenez and his up-and-down start to the 2013 season. Yes, he’s only made three starts, but his inconsistency has been startling. Perhaps even more so than last season.

Before the season began, the point was made that the pitching staff will need to perform if the Indians are going to have a chance to compete this season. Jimenez has definitely had some interesting performances out on the mound, but they have not been the type of performances that we all hoped for. Everyone had hoped that Jimenez would take a step forward this season, but if anything, he’s taken more steps backwards.

So what happens now? Where do the Indians go?

It’s only April 19 and with only 14 games played and their record at 5-9, there is still plenty of time for the Indians to get back in the race. But time is only one factor. The Indians still have all the time in the world, but can they actually do it? Is this a team that’s actually capable of making a run?

That answer is simple — no.

The response seems harsh, but it’s also accurate. If the starting rotation, and in particular Jimenez, continues to struggle, the Indians could very well find themselves facing a deficit that’s simply insurmountable.

It’s true that Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister have both looked quite good, but they’re only two pitchers in a five-man staff. What about the other three?

The jury is still out on Brett Myers, who looked terrible in his first two outings but then rebounded last Sunday. The same haziness surrounds left-hander Scott Kazmir, who will make his Indians’ debut on Saturday.

In a perfect world, Kazmir does indeed provide the lift that the Indians need, but that seems very unlikely when you consider that he only pitched 64 professional innings in the Independent League last season. Even if he does begin to pitch well, what happens after he reaches the 100-inning plateau? Regression seems almost inevitable.

So since Myers and Kazmir are still essentially wildcards, is there anyone else who could help rescue this rotation, especially if Jimenez’s struggles carry over into May?

Don’t count on the minor leagues.

For a handful of reasons, it appears as if Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer are not yet feasible options. Bauer is still quite young and needs to iron out some things while Carrasco certainly acts quite young — just ask some of the players who he’s plucked with fastballs.

Both players likely need more seasoning before they can be of help to the Tribe, but the problem is that the Indians need help.

Now.

Let’s consider a worst-case scenario. Let’s say Jimenez goes out and gets rocked in four straight starts. The team’s record is currently 5-9, which is 3½ games behind the Detroit Tigers for first place in the division. Where do you think the Indians would then be come the middle of May after their supposed No. 2 starter is basically equal to a guaranteed loss every time he’s on the mound?

The point is that the Indians should not be waiting to look for help. The trade market may still be non-existent, but there have to be some small potential trades options or free agent signings out there that could legitimately benefit this team. The key is to start thinking about these options now and not later.

As far as available free agents go, perhaps no one is more noteworthy and attractive than right-hander Roy Oswalt. He struggled last season in his limited time with the Texas Rangers as he posted a 5.80 ERA in 17 games, nine starts and 59 innings of work.

However, some of that struggle could be attributed to Oswalt’s unwillingness to pitch out of the bullpen. He made no bones about his distaste for the role, and he may not have put all of his heart into it. That’s not necessarily the type of personality I want on my team, but Oswalt would not have to worry about pitching out of the bullpen in Cleveland.

The actual likelihood of Oswalt pitching in Cleveland remains slim, however. The Indians had expressed interest in him before, and he always seemed to rebuff their advances. The Kosciusko, Mississippi enjoys pitching in areas similar to his home state, and let’s face it, that is simply not Cleveland.

But that was then and this is now. Following the 2011 season, no one ever expected that Oswalt would not sign with a team until midseason. It appeared as if he would have multiple suitors, and he probably believed that too.

As fate would have it, the market was never there for Oswalt, which is why he signed with the Rangers midway through the year. It’s been even tougher this year for Oswalt as very few teams seem to even be linked to the right-hander.

If Oswalt is really itching to pitch though, then there may be no better option than Cleveland Indians. Perhaps this scenario is too similar to last year’s Johnny Damon experiment, but let’s say the Indians go out and sign Oswalt to a minor league deal. It would take some rehab stints for him to be ready, but he could likely join the rotation in mid-May, which would be right around the time that the Indians might be ready to make a decision on Jimenez.

If Jimenez has rebounded, then the team has lost nothing in its signing of Oswalt and all is well. If the opposite has occurred, then the Indians can replace Jimenez with Oswalt, who can keep a spot in the rotation warm for whenever Bauer or Carrasco is ready.

Maybe this is too much of a dream scenario, but it’s one worth exploring. Oswalt wants to continue his Major League career but he has to pitch for that to happen, and there may be no better option than Cleveland.

There are still other options than Oswalt though.

Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Ted Lilly has been making minor league rehab starts after having shoulder surgery last summer. There’s still plenty of question marks surrounding him, but he’s a player with a history of success as evidenced by his career ERA of 4.13. Lily has been an especially effective finesse lefty as of late as he’s not had an ERA over 4.00 since 2008 when he posted a 4.09 ERA in 204 2/3 innings of work.

There’s no telling what Lily returns to the mound this season, and he’s left a lot to be desired in his three rehab starts (13 earned runs in 17 innings). Still, he might be worth exploring if the Indians could acquire him for something minor. Like Oswalt, he could be an ideal placeholder until one of the high-priority arms at Triple-A Columbus is ready.

Beyond Lilly and Oswalt, perhaps the most realistic option is Miami Marlins right-hander Ricky Nolasco.

Don’t laugh.

Nolasco may not be the most enticing name, but he could be the easiest player for the Indians to acquire. His salary for this season is $11.5 million, which makes him the highest paid player on the Marlins’ roster. If you did not know already, the Marlins do not like spending money, and they would probably be more than happy to offer Nolasco away for next to nothing if the Indians agreed to take on big chunk of his paycheck.

Nolasco would not immediately make the team a contender, but he would be able to go out there, eat some innings and give the Indians a chance to compete. Thus far, Jimenez has been incapable of doing any of the aforementioned things.

Also, while Nolasco is not the pitcher he once was, he’s still a more-than-capable fifth starter. Take a look at his numbers since becoming a full-time starter in 2008:

Outside of 2009, Nolasco has been a decent pitcher with the Marlins, and he’s also off to a good start this year. He would likely be due for some regression with the move to the American League, but imagine if the Indians could even just get a 4.50 ERA out of him. That alone would make him a drastic improvement from Jimenez.

The problem is that it remains to be seen whether the Indians are actually contemplating making a move to improve the starting rotation. They could just wait until the summer to promote Bauer, Carrasco or make a trade when the market heats up, but there’s no guarantee that the Indians will be within striking distance come summer.

It’s only April, but we all know what we’ve seen, and it has not been pretty. Everyone is hoping for Jimenez to rebound, but it’s almost like hoping for that brand new car on your 16th birthday — wishful thinking, but the chances of it actually happening are highly improbable.

So here’s where we stand. After 14 games, the Indians currently rank 12 out of 15 in the American League with an ERA of 4.73. There’s a number of reasons for that poor statistic, but none bigger than Jimenez, who has allowed 15 earned runs in 12 innings this season and has an 11.25 ERA to show for it.

Where do we go from here? Who knows? The bottom line is that we cannot keep going on like this.

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