Veteran reliever Shaw makes Tribe's roster

33-year-old right-hander secures bullpen spot with impressive spring

March 25th, 2021

“I told Bryan, I said, 'You're home,' and he said, 'I know.'”

Indians manager Terry Francona shared a special moment with reliever Bryan Shaw on Wednesday afternoon, after Cleveland president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti informed the right-hander that he’d be making the Opening Day roster.

The Tribe was honest with Shaw from the day he was signed to a Minor League deal on Feb. 3. The Indians knew at that time they couldn’t promise him a roster spot, but they hoped that they’d get to have a homecoming with a familiar pitcher who left the organization four years ago. And after the way Shaw has pitched this spring, he earned his way onto the 26-man roster.

“I kept giving him some crap every day,” Shaw said, “walking by [Francona’s] office, saying, ‘Hey, we got a meeting today?’ for the past week or so, trying to see if they’d tell me one way or another, obviously.”

After the Indians started making their first roster cuts of the spring on March 12, Shaw knew his answer would be coming any day. A handful of veteran players who sign Minor League deals write in an opt-out date in their contracts to assure teams give them enough notice of whether they’ll make the Opening Day roster so that they can figure out other plans, if needed. However, Shaw said he didn’t want an opt-out date in his contract.

“We wanted to be here,” Shaw said. “We just kind of had to talk to them about not waiting until the last day and stuff like that, whether it was a yes or a no, just so we had time to get situated one way or the other. It’s nice to get it now.”

The Tribe didn’t have to do Shaw any favors when the 33-year-old posted a 2.79 ERA through his first 10 Cactus League outings, with 13 strikeouts and five walks in 9 2/3 innings entering Wednesday.

From 2018-19, Shaw had a 5.61 ERA in 131 appearances for the Rockies. Although Colorado is never known to be pitcher friendly (due to its high altitude), Shaw recognized that it was time to make a change. When he spent the majority of the 2020 season at the Mariners’ alternate training site, he took advantage of the time by reinventing himself as a pitcher. He made some tweaks to his repertoire, and his velocity, which had averaged just under 93 mph over the previous two years, suddenly crept up into the 95-96-mph range this spring.

“We got into a good spot,” Shaw said. “Once we even started spring, we’ve tinkered with some different little grips and some different stuff and gotten a few pitches actually better than they were when we came in. So I think everything’s at a really good spot right now going forward, and hopefully, it stays that way.”

Shaw arrived at camp confident in his new stuff. The only concern there may have been was his history of poor performances during Spring Training, which he talked to Francona about as soon as the Tribe signed him.

“Frankly, I wondered how that would go also,” Francona said. “But he's really done well.”

“I think the last time I talked to [the media] when I first got here, I said that this camp is going to be a little bit different than my past,” Shaw said. “I’ve been ready, throwing, stuff like that. So I knew, kind of with the action, I kind of knew what everything was doing before I got here. But to actually get here and do it in front of these guys and to keep on doing it throughout the spring has been nice and should continue the way it’s been going.”

So, what does Shaw’s addition mean for the Tribe?

Shaw adds a veteran presence to a group of young hurlers, but to get him on the 40-man roster, the Indians will have to make a tough decision of who to designate for assignment to clear a roster spot before April 1. Shaw joins James Karinchak, Emmanuel Clase, Nick Wittgren, Trevor Stephan and most likely Phil Maton as locks for the Tribe’s bullpen. And with Adam Plutko expected to handle a multi-inning role, that leaves one spot open for Kyle Nelson, Blake Parker, Anthony Gose or Oliver Pérez in the final week of camp.

“They’re a younger group, obviously,” Shaw said. “But they do a good job. They handle themselves well throughout camp, they’re doing a lot of good stuff and hopefully, it keeps going that way.”