Hoyt 'pulling some weight' and more for Tribe

September 16th, 2019

CLEVELAND -- The Indians couldn’t afford a loss on Sunday.

The Tribe had just dropped both games of Saturday’s doubleheader to the Twins and fell back in the American League Central and the AL Wild Card standings. On Sunday, Cleveland had regained the lead in the sixth, given up a run in the seventh and then scored another in the bottom half of the frame to keep a two-run lead. The Indians just needed to hang on for the final two frames.

Indians manager Terry Francona was presented with a challenge. A bullpen that was dominant from Opening Day through the end of July has lost some of its sharpness, and he had just run through eight relievers the day before. Who could be sent to the mound at one of the most crucial junctures of the season?

Enter .

The 32-year-old September callup had tossed three scoreless innings for the Tribe since coming up to the big leagues at the beginning of the month, but all three frames had come when the Indians were trailing. When the righty jogged to the mound, plenty of fans took to Twitter to express their uneasiness about the decision.

“I’m gonna go out there and I’m not afraid to get beat,” Hoyt said. “I’m gonna go out there and fill up the zone and use the defense behind me. [I] can’t speak highly enough about those guys. They’re incredible. Just go out there and put the ball where I want and let them do the work. If I get ahead and get eight strikeouts, even better.

“Just trying to pull some weight around here.”

Well, the man of 6-foot-6, 230-pound stature pulled every ounce of his weight. Hoyt got three straight groundouts on seven pitches and was sent back to the rubber to start the ninth. He gave up a leadoff walk to Luis Arraez but settled in to strike out Miguel Sano and Jake Cave before Francona turned to to face the red-hot Eddie Rosario.

“I told [bench coach Brad Mills], I said, ‘I’m trying to stand here and act like I’m cool, calm and collected,’ but my stomach was in my throat,” Francona said. “But I’ll tell ya what: Hoyt, that’s a big ask. I mean coming on the heels of pitching [on Saturday] and just not being in that role here. He did a good job. He got ahead of Arraez and then walked him, but man he kept his composure and threw strikes and changed speeds.”

Shortstop Francisco Lindor has said it time and again: Every game for the Indians coming down the stretch is a must-win. But in the final two months of the season, the lights-out bullpen has started to show signs of running out of gas.

The team’s six most-used (active) relievers this season are , Pérez, , , and . All but Clippard (3.19) had owned an ERA below 3.00 entering August. But since then, only Wittgren and Clippard have been able to maintain that success.

ERA through July: 2.86 in 47 games
ERA since Aug. 1: 11.17 in 16 games

ERA through July: 2.89 in 43 games
ERA since Aug. 1: 5.06 in 19 games

Hand (out with arm fatigue)
ERA through July: 2.45 in 46 games
ERA since Aug. 1: 6.57 in 13 games

ERA through July: 2.93 in 36 games
ERA since Aug. 1: 2.40 in 16 games

ERA through July: 3.19 in 32 games
ERA since Aug. 1: 2.35 in 18 games

ERA through July: 1.54 in 19 games
ERA since Aug. 1: 4.91 in 17 games

This doesn’t mean a new addition to the big league roster like Hoyt will suddenly become a go-to arm out of the ‘pen, but Sunday’s performance at least earned him more trust to be able to take a portion of the weight off the other relievers’ shoulders in the final two weeks of the season.

The Indians acquired Hoyt last year in a trade with the Astros for Minor Leaguer Tommy DeJuneas, but Hoyt was almost immediately put on the Minor League injured list due to pain in his right knee. The righty underwent both knee and right elbow surgery last September, returned for big league Spring Training in February and said he finally started feeling like himself again in Columbus in June.

“The two injuries definitely set me back a little bit,” Hoyt said. “But it just added more fuel to the fire. It’s a sweet taste to get back up here and help a team out.”

“When we saw him in Houston, we really liked him,” Francona said. “He’s got some power to his fastball. He’s got a good breaking ball. … It’s been a long road back. But besides just, you know, talking about his pitches, you look at him, he’s got a presence to him.”

September callups can serve a variety of roles. Teams can get a look at highly rated prospects, add some speed to pinch-run, or bring up an extra catcher to get their backstops some rest. But sometimes, a club might even find an unexpected guy who can help win games. As the Indians chase after an AL Wild Card spot in the final two weeks, Hoyt has the potential to become the Tribe’s unsung hero, eating up innings whenever he’s needed.

“He's pretty good,” catcher Roberto Pérez said. “He's got heavy sink. He's got a splitter and a slider. He throws strikes. He's not afraid of contact. That was nice to see him go back out there and throw. We need everybody right now. We need everybody to step up and take advantage of the opportunities.”