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Indians relievers find stability in June

'Pen bouncing back from 8.01 May ERA, Andrew Miller's injury
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- The formula for helping the Indians' bullpen get back on track played out well over the past two wins over the Brewers. The offense got the lead, Cleveland's starter got through seven innings and the bridge required to reach closer Cody Allen was shortened.

That allowed Indians manager Terry Francona to allocate the outs in the middle innings the best way he saw fit, as opposed to over-exposing relievers in less-than-ideal matchups. That has been one of the challenges over the past six weeks for the Tribe's bullpen and will continue to be a tightrope routine until someone emerges as a reliable setup man, or the club goes out and gets one via trade.

CLEVELAND -- The formula for helping the Indians' bullpen get back on track played out well over the past two wins over the Brewers. The offense got the lead, Cleveland's starter got through seven innings and the bridge required to reach closer Cody Allen was shortened.

That allowed Indians manager Terry Francona to allocate the outs in the middle innings the best way he saw fit, as opposed to over-exposing relievers in less-than-ideal matchups. That has been one of the challenges over the past six weeks for the Tribe's bullpen and will continue to be a tightrope routine until someone emerges as a reliable setup man, or the club goes out and gets one via trade.

"The last thing you want to do is just get a guy up because you're getting him up," Francona said. "You always want to have a reason. That's been the hardest thing. And, how much rope to give guys."

The flames of May's bullpen disaster -- Cleveland's relief corps posted a bloated 8.01 ERA last month -- have died down some, and Francona has experienced a little more reliability in recent games. No, a few good games do not erase the damage done or the need for a reinforcement or two, but there have been baby steps in the right direction. And Francona is always searching for that silver lining.

Video: MIL@CLE: Indians discuss 3-1 win over Brewers

In the last two wins over a Brewers squad that boasts the best record in the National League at the moment, it was right-hander Neil Ramirez who stepped up as a potential bridge builder. Ramirez set down three in a row in the eighth inning in Tuesday's 3-2 victory and then recorded an out in the eighth on Wednesday to help the Indians finish off a 3-1 win.

"I'm a guy that likes to throw a lot," Ramirez said. "I'm here just to get outs. I'm happy to pitch in any situation. For [Francona] to have some trust in me later in games, it's awesome. But, I know that everybody else out there can do that job, too. We're just going to keep it rolling."

Ramirez -- signed to a Minor League contract over the winter -- is one of a handful of arms who have come up from Triple-A Columbus to plug the holes as the bullpen has taken on a lot of water. The righty can reach 96-97 mph with his fastball and balances that with a slider that has been sharp at times. Ramirez has yielded no runs in his last five appearances. That is not a large sample, but again, it is progress.

There have also been encouraging signs from relievers Evan Marshall (no runs in his past four outings and a team-leading 57.1 percent ground-ball rate on the year) and the recently-signed Oliver Perez (no runs through 2 2/3 innings with the Tribe). The more pitchers like that emerge, the less someone like lefty Tyler Olson needs to face righties, who have hit .355 with a 1.106 OPS off him.

Video: CHC@CLE: Olson fields his position, tags Schwarber

Those recent strides might also buy time for veterans Dan Otero and Zach McAllister to continue to sort through what is leading to their persistent problems on the mound.

Dating back to when relief ace Andrew Miller originally landed on the disabled list on April 26, the Indians have selected the contracts of relievers from Triple-A six times, designated a reliever for assignment five times, acquired one reliever via trade and another on a Major League contract. There have been three DL stints involving the bullpen on top of all the other moving parts.

That instability in personnel has contributed to the problem.

"We want to get Miller back there big time," Ramirez said. "He's a huge piece of what we do out there. To get him back is going to be huge."

Miller, who is on the DL again due to a right knee issue, is back to throwing off a mound, but his return timetable remains unclear.

On the season, Cleveland's bullpen ranks last in the Majors in ERA (5.93), home runs allowed per nine innings (1.8) and home-run-to-fly-ball ratio (17.3 percent). While the front office puts the MLB Draft in the rearview mirror and begins turning its focus to possible trades over the next two months, Francona will continue to test the arms at his disposal, searching for the right combination.

"When guys are starting to back up and start to be consistent, I think they earn pitching in leverage situations," Francona said. "We'll just try to, like we always do, put out there who we think has a chance to succeed and in the right positions. But, we're not going to run from Otero and McAllister. They're all going to pitch."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Neil Ramirez