Hand to close for new-look Indians bullpen

February 17th, 2019

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians have plenty of decisions to make during Spring Training, especially when it comes to the bullpen, but what to do with is not one of them.

"He'll be at the end of the game," Indians manager Terry Francona said on Sunday. "That's the role we certainly envision."

As if it couldn't have been assumed, Hand will be able to settle in as the Tribe's closer after spending the second half of last season in an undefined role. The Indians acquired Hand, along with , before the non-waiver Trade Deadline last July, but because was still with Cleveland, Hand pitched anywhere from the seventh to the ninth inning on a given day.

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"I mean, whatever inning it might be, the eighth or the ninth, whatever the situation dictates, I'm in on pitching," Hand said. "I know we're gonna have a lot of guys that are going to have to step up down there in pitching in big roles, but there's a lot of opportunity to kind of solidify yourself as the back-end-of-the-bullpen type of guy for these younger guys."

Eyes have been on the bullpen this offseason, focusing on the losses of arms like Allen, and . But Hand believes that just because there has been quite a bit of turnover doesn't mean new names can't step in to fill the other relief roles.

"This is kind of how I got my late-inning kind of role," Hand said. "I was more of a long guy right when I got to San Diego, and then I got thrown into some high-leverage situations and did well. … So I think there will be a lot of that here where you see some guys pitching in some different situations that they've never had, and it's just going to be on them to kind of grab that role and run with it."

is one reliever who the Indians were able to bring back, signing him to a one-year contract, with a vesting option for 2020. Perez pitched to a 1.39 ERA in 51 games for the Tribe last season after joining Cleveland on June 2. The 16-year veteran's exact role may still be undecided for the '19 season, but he will be a leader in the young bullpen.

"I mean, his numbers are stating the obvious, but he's a really stabilizing influence out in the bullpen, too," Francona said. "He's a great guy, guys look up to him, he takes the ball every day. … I mean, he gave everybody fits last year, but he can be really dominant, especially against lefties."

The bullpen may have lost a few familiar faces, but it does not lack options. The Tribe will need to decide between , Cimber, , , , , , , , and , just to name a few.

"We're gonna have a lot of tough decisions, we know that," Francona said. "I'm thankful that we do because if you had a couple open spots and you really didn't have many decisions to make, if something goes wrong, you're in trouble. We're gonna have some really tough decisions because there's guys out there that can pitch a little bit. They may not be household names yet, but that doesn't mean they can't help us win."

Edwards a sleeper?

Although Edwards pitched in just nine Major League games in 2018, recording a 3.12 ERA, Francona believes he has the potential to make a strong impact in the Indians' bullpen.

"I think Jon Edwards, from where he's been, the way he works, the way he acts, the way he conducts himself, I'll be surprised if he doesn't do pretty well," Francona said.

Tito's prospect excitement

Francona's excitement continues to grow to watch prospects like , ranked No. 7 in the Tribe's system per MLB Pipeline, compete for roster spots. In previous years, the team only got to see them when they'd play a game or two to fill in for the club.

"Now you're getting to a point in their career, and I remind them of this, that, 'Hey, you're here to show us that you can help us win. You're not just here for a pat on the back and get a couple at-bats,' and I think that makes it more exciting for them," Francona said.