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Cleveland Indians: Starting pitching is strong, but lacks depth

BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 21: Mike Clevinger
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 21: Mike Clevinger /

The Cleveland Indians have one of the strongest rotations in baseball when healthy. But if injuries strike, the Tribe seems ill-equipped to handle the issue.

Pitching has been the strength of the Cleveland Indians for a long time. During the Tribe’s 2016 World Series run, most of the rotation was injured and the bulk of the workload fell on Corey Kluber, Josh Tomlin, and a drone-bitten Trevor Bauer. The bullpen made up for what it could but some of those guys are no longer in Cleveland.

There are some reinforcements on the way in Shane Bieber, who has been lights out so far this season, and top pitching prospect Triston McKenzie. But the earliest we will see Bieber is September and McKenzie won’t be big league ready until some time next year.

As it stands right now, there aren’t any good rotation options in Triple-A.

Injured starters

Currently, Danny Salazar is coming back from a shoulder injury, and there are questions as to whether or not he should return to the rotation. Ryan Merritt has experience starting in the big leagues but is out of options and is dealing with arm fatigue. Should he be kept on the roster after getting a clean bill of health, he will get sent to the bullpen.

The battle of seven starters for five spots happened during spring training but the injuries to Salazar and Merritt effectively ended the competition.

One of the Tribe’s top minor league options was Julian Merryweather. He underwent Tommy John surgery about a month ago and is out for the season.

Triple-A Depth

With Merryweather’s injury that leaves two starting pitchers on the 40 man roster that aren’t on the active roster or injured. Shawn Morimando is a left handed starter than has pitched in a grand total of two games in the big leagues. The other is Adam Plutko, who has also pitched in two games at the major league level.

Morimando has been getting shelled in Triple-A this year. In three starts he has a 8.22 ERA and has given up 29 hits in only 15.1 innings. He wasn’t entirely effective in 2017 either. His performance doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that he can succeed in the big leagues if needed in a pinch.

Plutko, meanwhile, has been performing better, with a 2.00 ERA over his first three starts. But his 5.90 ERA from the year before also shows that he hasn’t been able to sustain this success in the upper levels of the minor leagues. Perhaps he’s improved this year, but the short stretch to start the season doesn’t necessarily translate to success if called upon, but it’s a good sign.

Outside of Morimando and Plutko, there really aren’t any useful starting pitchers in Triple-A that the Cleveland Indians could call on. Unless you believe in a resurgence for the 35 year old Alexi Ogando who hasn’t started a game in MLB since 2013.

Importance of health

The health of this rotation is vital to the Indians success. If anyone goes down prior to the return of Salazar or Merritt, there really aren’t any options for the Tribe to fill that void. If multiple guys are out, like what happened in 2016, there isn’t going to be any help on the way.

Shane Bieber is too far away, unless the Indians want to rush him to the big leagues and risk stagnating his development. That decision would be the classic short-term vs. long-term risk assessment. Do you risk losing potentially your last best chance for a World Series title or do you risk messing with the development of a pitcher who could be a future ace?

Next: Is Shane Bieber a future ace?

That’s a question hopefully the Cleveland Indians won’t have to answer. Provided everyone stays healthy, this rotation will be dominant. But this is a long season, and pitchers can get injured at any time.