The Cleveland Guardians were recipients of bad news Monday night as it was revealed their pitching staff took a major hit. Triston McKenzie will miss up to eight weeks due to a teres major muscle strain, not exactly great timing with Opening Day on Thursday.
With McKenzie out for a considerable amount of time it will make starts from pitchers other than Shane Bieber a tad more important. That is not necessarily an issue when it comes to Cal Quantrill. Quantrill was effective in his second full season in Cleveland with a 3.38 ERA and 1.208 WHIP in 186.1 innings (32 games. The concerns are with Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, and Hunter Gaddis.
Civale had a career-worst 4.92 ERA despite a career-best 9.1 striketouts per nine in 2022. If Civale's career tendency of good year-bad year continues, a rebound season could be on the horizon for a Guardians rotation that needs it in the worst way. An odd year good perfomance season from Civale would take a tremendous amount of pressure off of the Cleveland pitching staff.
For Plesac it was the second consective season where the performance was not up to par. After a dazzling 2020 with a 2.28 ERA and 0.795 WHIP, 2021 and 2022 were not as kind. Plesac has a 4.49 ERA and 1.258 WHIP over his last two seasons. Strikeouts per nine have also plummeted from what now appears to his outlier performance in that area, from 9.1 in 2020 to 6.3 (2021) and 6.8 (2022). Even more concerning is that Plesac's FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) during that span checks in at 4.59, which falls between below average and poor per Fangraphs' scale.
Hunter Gaddis has been tabbed to take McKenzie's slot in the rotation. Originally a bullpen arm, but worked his way through the minors as a starter.
The almost 25-year old righty started two games last season and they did not go well. Gaddis allowed 15 runs on 15 hits including seven home runs in 7.1 innings against the Astros and White Sox. Things have gone better for Gaddis in Arizona, allowing four runs (five total) on 10 hits in 13 innings. Spring numbers are far from the best indicator of future success, but pitching closer to his minor league marks rather than his two spots in Cleveland last season is progress.
The Guardians will most likely have to be a bit creative when piecing together their rotation to start the year. Cleveland may have to work in some piggyback starts to navigate the early season schedule without their number two pitcher. The back end of the rotation is going to be tested early and it may not be particularly smooth without their number two starter. If Cleveland is going to maintain their level and not fall behind other teams in the division they will need their pitching depth to step up. Even though a division cannot be won in April, it can be lost and that is what the Guardians are looking to avoid.