Bullpen battle down to 3 pitchers for 2 spots

March 24th, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Another day, another round of roster cuts.

With Opening Day one week away, the Guardians have narrowed their position battles to a handful of candidates, with right-hander optioned to Triple-A Columbus on Thursday afternoon.

Righty , sidelined with a UCL sprain, was reassigned to Minor League camp.

Mikolajchak is still waiting for a second opinion on his diagnosis before the club determines his next steps in his recovery process, but the team knows he’ll be down for the foreseeable future.

Curry was one of four hurlers competing for two bullpen openings. His spring ERA (5.14) wasn’t the most glamorous on paper, but there’s a reason the Guardians refuse to look at numbers during Cactus League play.

The way Curry was throwing the ball kept him in camp until the final week of Spring Training. He had just two walks in 14 innings, but made just one start in his six appearances, making it difficult for him to get stretched out if the team wants to use him as a starting option down the line.

“We kind of told him that we agonized over [this decision] a little bit,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “You know, sometimes wanting to have the best team for the first week of the season doesn’t put a younger player in a very good position. So if we can start to get him stretched out, then he can be a candidate in our bullpen or starting.

“He’s on a really good path. I know you get this far into camp, nobody wants to hear you’re going to Triple-A. But this is a young kid. His trajectory is [positive].”

With Curry in the Minor Leagues, just three candidates for the final two bullpen spots remain in camp: right-handers Michael Kelly and , and left-hander .

Let’s take a deeper look at each of these candidates:

Can the Guardians find a spot on the currently full 40-man roster to carry Kelly? Cleveland will definitely need to clear a spot to get a backup catcher on the roster. Depending on the results of the outfield battle with Richie Palacios (on the 40-man) and (not on the 40-man), the Guardians might need to find even more room.

Aside from the roster crunch, Kelly has had a strong camp. Francona explained that he and his coaching staff challenged Kelly at the beginning of spring to show he can attack the strike zone. His walk rates throughout his Minor League career have been suboptimal. He still has issued five walks in six innings this spring, which included one rough outing on March 10, when he permitted three walks in just one-third of an inning, but Francona has seen improvement as the spring continued.

“He has a nice arm,” Francona said. “His stuff will play. He’s got a live fastball. The fastball/slider will play. Really good kid.”

Michael Kelly pitches against the Rangers in a Cactus League game.

Cleveland has to determine whether it’s worth committing to the idea that Gaddis will work out of the bullpen and will not continue to stretch out as a starter to begin the year. What he has shown this spring probably makes it worth it.

Gaddis has given up four earned runs in 13 innings (2.77 ERA) with three walks and a team-high 17 strikeouts. And with the number of starters the Guardians will have in the upper levels of their farm system, it probably wouldn’t hurt to have someone like Gaddis in the big league bullpen, freeing up a spot in the Triple-A rotation.

It’s easy to have Herrin as a favorite to make this roster, simply because he’s a lefty. Without Sam Hentges, who is working his way back from left shoulder inflammation, the Guardians have no other southpaws to call on in relief. Herrin can fill that void.

In nine spring appearances, he has given up five runs (4.66 ERA) with 11 strikeouts and two walks in 9 2/3 innings.

“He’s a real interesting guy,” Francona said earlier this month. “He’s got obviously plenty of velocity, but he kind of pitches to that cutter/slider. He’s still really deep in his development, which is OK. But he kind of reminds me of Hentges a couple of years ago. Hopefully, the same path is coming.”