Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Clase injury leaves final 'pen spot up for grabs

Four pitchers seem likely to battle it out during Spring Training
@MandyBell02
February 27, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Emmanuel Clase may be only 21 years old, but he had a chance to make a convincing case to earn a spot on the Tribe’s Opening Day roster. Now, he’ll have to wait until at least the end of April to try to make his way back

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Emmanuel Clase may be only 21 years old, but he had a chance to make a convincing case to earn a spot on the Tribe’s Opening Day roster. Now, he’ll have to wait until at least the end of April to try to make his way back on the big league squad.

The Indians announced on Thursday morning that the right-hander is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks with an upper back strain. Although he wasn’t a lock to be in the bullpen, his absence now guarantees that an extra spot will be available.

Teams cannot exceed 13 pitchers on their 26-man rosters. With five starters, that means bullpens will be capped at eight. Indians manager Terry Francona has already said he prefers to have an eight-man ‘pen as opposed to seven. Before Clase’s injury, a projected relief corps for the Tribe could’ve consisted of Brad Hand, Nick Wittgren, Oliver Pérez, Adam Cimber, Clase, James Karinchak and Hunter Wood, with the eighth spot still up for grabs.

Let’s take a look at some of the arms in big league camp who could slide in to replace Clase:

James Hoyt
Hoyt’s past two seasons have been plagued by injuries, but the Indians have thought highly enough of the 33-year-old to keep him on their 40-man roster. He made eight appearances for the Tribe in 2019, posting a 2.16 ERA with 10 strikeouts and two walks in 8 1/3 frames. In two spring appearances, he has allowed one run in two frames.

“If he had been healthy, he’d be having a Major League career uninterrupted,” Francona said. “He’s that type of pitcher. He’s dealt with multiple things that have interrupted his Major League career, but he’s a guy that if he can be healthy can be a Major League bullpen person. And he’s a terrific kid. He’s got leadership qualities. Like when Karinchak got called up last year, I know Hoyt was the first one to look out for him.”

Phil Maton
Maton was acquired from the Padres last July. In nine Major League appearances for Cleveland, he pitched to a 2.92 ERA with a 0.811 WHIP, 13 strikeouts and six walks in 12 1/3 innings, and he ranked in the 100th percentile in fastball spin rate, according to Statcast. He also posted a 2.53 ERA in nine games with Triple-A Columbus. In his two spring frames thus far, he has allowed one run -- a solo homer -- on two hits. His experience with the Tribe last year, his spin rate and the team’s two possible bullpen vacancies could help him earn his way onto the 26-man roster.

Cam Hill
Francona hasn’t been shy in showing how highly he thinks of the non-roster invitee. The 25-year-old spent the majority of last season in Triple-A, posting a 4.74 ERA with 36 strikeouts and 12 walks in 24 2/3 innings. He has allowed one run in two frames this spring after escaping a bases-loaded jam against the Dodgers on Thursday.

“He’s looked really good, and all the pitching guys love him because he’s got a little edge to him,” Francona said. “He’s not afraid to compete, and he’s got a really good arm, got a breaking ball; there’s a lot to like there.”

Jefry Rodriguez
Rodriguez could be a choice for the bullpen, assuming he doesn’t earn a spot in the Tribe’s five-man rotation. Francona would have to decide between sending Rodriguez to Triple-A to continue getting starts and be ready if the big league club needs him to make a spot start or replace an injured hurler; or move his big arm into the Major League bullpen.

“I mean, the philosophy is we’re trying to win,” Francona said. “I think sometimes, you can get caught up in looking at the here and now, and you forget about the big picture. Like, if you have an abundance of starting pitching that you think is really good, that you can go ahead and take a starter or two, put them in the bullpen if you think they can handle that.

“If you don’t and you take, say, two starters and put them in your Major League bullpen and then somebody gets hurt and you look at Triple-A and you don’t have a starter, that wouldn’t be helpful. So you’re trying to kind of common sense just try to cover. You never want something to derail your season when it goes wrong, so you try to cover those types of things.”

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.