CLEVELAND -- Cleveland reliever Emmanuel Clase entered Spring Training determined to win the club’s closing job.
The hard-throwing righty missed the entire 2020 season after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, but he didn’t want that to hinder his opportunities for ‘21. Cleveland was more familiar with James Karinchak and his ridiculous strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio, which is probably why he was the favorite to replace Brad Hand at the back end of the bullpen. But just six games into the regular season, Clase is quickly proving why he wants to be considered for the role.
Cleveland decided to equally split time between Karinchak, Clase and Nick Wittgren in late innings in which it holds a lead, at least at the start of the season. But Clase certainly has proven he should be considered for the ninth-inning job if the Indians decided to name a traditional closer. In three appearances totaling three innings, the 23-year-old has yet to permit a hit.
“I think we’re really pleased,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “We didn’t get a chance to get to know him last spring real well. Then he was gone and he was out in Arizona. This spring, he seems like a different person. He’s really embraced being a part of our team and our organization. Boy, he loves to fill up the strike zone. That’s a good thing.”
Of Clase’s 45 pitches he’s thrown this season, 31 have been strikes. He has yet to permit a walk and has fanned five batters. And on Friday, he walked away with his first save of the year.
“I love the way he attacks,” Francona said. “I think I made a comment in Spring Training that he may have thrown too many strikes. And if that’s a problem, we can deal with that. … This year has been fun. His future and present [are] really bright.”
The season is quite young, but Clase still ranks in at least the 97th percentile in whiff percentage and chase rate. His cutter has averaged 100.6 mph -- a speed that he says takes about 13 pitches in the bullpen before he reaches -- and his slider has induced an 80 percent whiff rate.
And if his stuff can remain this dominant, he’ll certainly make himself a tempting option to be named Cleveland’s closer.
“It wasn’t easy to just jump back in [this season],” Clase said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “But I worked really hard for this. I prepared for this, and I was focusing on getting to that point where I was ready to compete. It’s just my preparation. That's what I've been doing for the last year to be able to perform and play at this time.”
Rosario’s transition to center
Offseason acquisition Amed Rosario made his first career start in center field in Friday’s series opener against the Tigers at Progressive Field, and he tracked down a long foul ball to record the first out of the game. Rosario has had just under a month of experience at his new position, getting moved to the outfield at the end of Spring Training after it was clear that Andrés Giménez would get the majority of the reps at shortstop, but he’s optimistic about the progress he’s made.
“Yeah, I think there is a significant difference,” Rosario said through an interpreter. “At shortstop, you got a lot less time for reaction. In the outfield, you might have a little more time to react, but at the same time, you have to be a little more attentive because you have to make a bigger effort to make a play.”
Rosario had to start from square one. He didn’t know the basic fundamentals of being an outfielder and had to learn everything, from reading a fly ball to learning to get a feel for having a wall behind him. But Cleveland is confident that he’s shown enough promise to be able to stay in the grass.
“I guess the one good thing is, if you're athletic and you can handle the position, you don't feel like you're on an island out there,” Francona said. “But there's going to be nuances and intricacies of the position that only playing out there will get it done. I mean, you can talk to guys about things, but he's going to have to live through some things.”
Round one of vaccinations
The second half of Cleveland’s Tier 1 and Tier 2 groups (players, coaches and anyone directly in contact with the team) received its COVID-19 vaccinations on Thursday’s off-day. The team was pleased that anyone who decided to get the shot walked away without any side effects.