Who will win the final two spots in the Cleveland Indians’ rotation?


The Cleveland Indians took a low-impact chance on pitcher Gavin Floyd this season and lost. As expected, Floyd’s season is in doubt after the Tribe announced Monday their $4 million offseason acquisition underwent surgery at Cleveland Clinic today to repair a right elbow fracture – the same procedure Floyd had last year.

If healthy, Floyd was guaranteed a spot in the Indians’ rotation and the Tribe had just one spot to fill entering the spring. Floyd’s injury opens up a second spot in the rotation for two of the competing six – T.J. House, Josh Tomlin, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar, Bruce Chen and Shaun Marcum – to win. 

-House may never be a top-line arm in the Indians rotation, but the 25-year-old starter certainly looks like a reliable back-end starter. He has been productive this spring, posting a 2.79 ERA over three appearances. Most impressively, House has struck out 10 batters without allowing a walk or hit-by-pitch in 9.2 innings. One of two left-handed options for the Tribe, House came out of nowhere to impress last season. Much like the rest of the Indians’ staff, House improved as the year progressed and finished with three wins and a 1.50 ERA over 24 innings in September. House should be a lock to claim one of the final two spots and make the first Opening Day roster of his career.

-Tomlin got a bit of a late start to the spring after experiencing some shoulder soreness early on, but he never really seemed like a legitimate option to crack the rotation. Tomlin got off to a good start in 2014, winning three of his first five starts and posting a 3.04 ERA. In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, though, Tomlin seemed to tire a month into the season and won just three more games this rest of the season. He finished with a 4.53ERA as a starter and an even worse 6.33 ERA out of the bullpen. He is a good bet to appear in Cleveland at some point this season, but making the Opening Day rotation is a long shot.

-McAllister has no minor league options left and Terry Francona has already said the 6-feet-6-inch right-hander will break camp with the club either with a starter or reliever. He struggled mightily as a starter in 2014, posting a 5.67 ERA with just three wins over 15 starts, but progressed significantly coming out the ‘pen for seven appearances and posting a 2.77 ERA. While it is certainly possible that McAllister has a Carlos Carrasco-like resurgence following a stint in the bullpen, he is not to that point yet. He is a better fit at long relief to open the season with the potential to move into the rotation by way of injury or ineffectiveness by the Opening Day staff.

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Danny Salazar recalled for today’s series finale vs the Orioles. Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

-Salazar was probably the most likely candidate to win a rotation spot when Francona had just one to fill but, after a disastrous spring, Salazar may very well be pitching himself back to Columbus. He has not pitched well in either of the last two spring seasons, but has been alarmingly wild this time around. His 7.36 ERA is a worry in itself. Top that off with his three walks in just 3.2 innings and the fact that Salazar has pitched from behind in counts all spring, and the 25-year-old Dominican does not seem ready to compete at the professional level. Still, he owns a 3.89 ERA over 30 starts in his career and is the best long-term option for the Tribe. While frustrating to watch at times, Salazar is the only starter in this group who has the stuff change the Tribe’s season if he can right the ship.

-Chen signed a minor league contract this offseason after suffering through some health issues last season in Kansas City. At 37 years old, he is the elder statesman of the group and has made his way through 10 teams over 16 big league seasons.

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He was 9-4 with a 3.27 ERA in 2013, his last healthy season with the Royals, and was used as both a fill-in starter and a reliever. If healthy, Chen may contribute to the Tribe in a number of different ways throughout the season, but don’t expect him to be the immediate answer to fill that final spot in the rotation.

-Marcum is the darkest of all the horses and, coming into camp, was rarely even mentioned as a viable option to break camp with Cleveland. He hasn’t pitched in the major since 2013, when he was 1-10 with a 5.29 ERA with the Mets. Yet, he may be following a similar path to Aaron Harang in 2014. (For those who don’t remember, Harang was cut by the Tribe last spring despite an impressive spring in which he posted a 2.00 ERA. He went on to join the Atlanta Braves rotation and finished the season 12-12 with a 3.57 ERA in 204.1 innings). Marcum has appeared in three games for the Tribe thus far and allowed just one run in seven innings of work. He has shown great command of his pitches, allowing zero walks and notching a 0.86 WHIP. He has said he would consider an assignment to the minors but, if another team comes calling, his tune would likely change in a hurry. Should he continue to pitch well, Marcum could make this an incredibly difficult decision for Francona. On performance along, the veteran righty certainly deserves a shot.

Will and should are two different ideas here. House and Salazar likely will begin their season in Cleveland. They are the two that seemed destined to compete for the final spot before Floyd’s injury and, now with two spots available, their fate may be sealed. But, given Salazar’s struggles this spring, Marcum should get the first shot. While Marcum’s spring may not be indicative of any success at the major league level, he could also turn out to be this year’s Harang.

Of those six candidates, which two do you think deserves to get the nod? Use the comments section below to make your case.

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