Moving Mike Clevinger to the bullpen is a smart move

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Indians moved Mike Clevinger to the bullpen for the playoffs. He is the first domino to fall in the 25-man playoff roster strategy. We will learn more about the strategy in coming days. Was it the right move?

Mike Clevinger is officially in the bullpen for the rest of the year. This means that Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin form the Cleveland Indians ‘playoff rotation. The caveat is that the fourth pitcher doesn’t always have to pitch.

Why Clevinger is in the bullpen

Mike Clevinger is in the bullpen most likely because he’s comfortable in the bullpen. He’s currently stretched out as a starter, and his dominant stuff translates well into long relief in the bullpen.

With rest days in the playoffs, Clevinger could realistically pitch 5-6 innings in a series at 2-3 innings per appearance. This is great leverage considering what the Indians did last year with Andrew Miller. While this is conjecture, Terry Francona might think that using Tomlin and Clevinger together for 2-3 innings each is better than using either alone.

Why Tomlin is in the rotation

Josh Tomlin is never and will never be a top of the rotation starter. He’s experienced, doesn’t walk anyone and has decreased his home runs allowed substantially toward the end of the season. In the playoffs, home runs and walks matter a lot more than during the regular season.

Tomlin could reasonably get through the order twice (18 batters) with little to no damage. He pitches to contact. With a stellar defense behind him, Tomlin could be effective for 3-4 innings per start. Then Francona can decide to go to someone like Clevinger.

What this means for Salazar

I see moving Clevinger to the bullpen as a sign that Danny Salazar will not make the postseason roster. Salazar is redundant to Clevinger in many ways. The Indians do not need someone like Salazar, a complete wild card, in the bullpen in the playoffs.

Clevinger’s spot in the bullpen will be as a 2-3 inning guy to back up a bad start by Tomlin or Bauer, so having Salazar in the bullpen doesn’t make any sense.

With Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer, Tomlin and Clevinger in the fold, it’s difficult to see space for Salazar. Those five guys plus Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen is already eight pitchers.

More from Away Back Gone

Last year in the World Series, the Indians took 12 pitchers. So for the last four pitching spots, there are realistically six or seven people competing for them. Tyler Olson, Nick Goody, Dan Otero, Zach McAllister, Joe Smith and Danny Salazar are fighting for those four spots.

Assuming that Olson, Smith and Otero are in based on in-season performance, the Indians are looking at Goody, McAllister and Salazar for the last spot.

Terry Francona could easily carry 13 pitchers. This is because his fielders are versatile, but that still leaves three pitchers and two spots.

In my mind, McAllister has won that 12th spot. It’s really a toss-up between Goody and Salazar for the final spot, if the Cleveland Indians carry 13 pitchers.

How creative is Terry Francona?

Terry Francona is one of the best in-game managers of all time. He clearly sees an opportunity to leverage his current conglomerate of pitchers in the playoffs. I imagine the ALDS roster will not mirror the ALCS and hopefully World Series rosters. Francona made moves in the World Series last year, like bringing Salazar back to replace Shawn Armstrong. Could something similar happen this year?

With Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez, Giovanny Urshela and most of the outfielders able to play multiple positions, there’s a chance that Terry Francona could elect to bring 14 pitchers to the table for the postseason. If he does, it will be interesting to see which fielders make the cut.

Right now, the Indians are experimenting with a lot of different looks, and we still don’t know when or if Michael Brantley is going to return.

Assuming Brantley comes back, the Indians might only carry three true outfielders in Brantley, Jay Bruce and Austin Jackson. The Indians could carry three true infielders in this scenario: Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Giovanny Urshela.

Then, the Cleveland Indians would bring a bunch of utility guys in Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall and Carlos Santana. They will bring Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez along with Edwin Encarnacion, leaving two spots open for competition between Abraham Almonte, Brandon Guyer, Yandy Diaz, Erik Gonzalez and Greg Allen.

Brandon Guyer is a no-brainer in my mind, so it really comes down to center field trust and third base hitting.

How risky is Francona?

Would Terry allow Kipnis to play center field for an entire game in the World Series? Would he allow Urshela’s bat to sink at the bottom of the lineup for defense?

Next: Kipnis to the outfield the wrong move

It’s not a terrible problem to have, but in my mind, it makes a lot more sense to carry a fast outfielder like Allen than it does to carry an infielder like Diaz. Could Allen, from Double-A Akron, be the next great Tribe hero? Tune in to find out.