New rule? No problem for Tribe's specialists

February 13th, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona has not been afraid to express his concerns about the new three-batter minimum rule that will go into place in the 2020 season. And, for the most part, the rest of the team has felt the same way.

The rule requires pitchers to face at least three batters or pitch to the conclusion of a half-inning before being removed from the game, excluding situations that involve injury or illness.

“Would it be enough of an answer to say I agree with Tito?” Indians pitching coach Carl Willis said with a big laugh.

The Indians led the Majors in 2019 in what would now be considered violations in 44 instances, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. So it would make sense if the Tribe feels a little troubled heading into a season where its strategy is going to have to be adjusted.

The biggest concerns lie with lefty and right-hander . Of Pérez’s 67 overall appearances last year, 25 would be illegal in 2020, while just five of Cimber’s 68 outings would violate the new rule -- all per Elias.

It’s not that the lefty and the submarine hurler can’t last at least three batters or conclude an inning. It’s the worry of what could happen if they have to face opposite-handed hitters.

But of everyone in the clubhouse, why do Pérez and Cimber seem the least concerned?

More uncomfortable matchups = less pressure?
Undoubtedly, Pérez was much better against left-handed hitters and Cimber found more success against righties in 2019:

Pérez vs. left-handed batters: .207 batting average, .607 OPS, 26 strikeouts, 95 plate appearances
Pérez vs. right-handed batters: .286 batting average, .889 OPS, 22 strikeouts, 78 plate appearances

Cimber vs. right-handed batters: .244 batting average, .645 OPS, 31 strikeouts, 182 plate appearances
Cimber vs. left-handed batters: .296 batting average, .943 OPS, 10 strikeouts, 62 plate appearances

But the relief specialists have agreed that the idea of facing more hitters is less pressuring than what they’ve done in the past few years.

“When I’m on the mound, I don’t think I’m going to pitch to only one guy,” Pérez said. “I’m prepared to finish the inning. It’s when the manager comes out to do a pitching change is when you realize you’re done. Now, I understand I have to pitch to three guys. You might feel more comfortable because you have to pitch to three guys and that’s something that’s better. Probably less pressure.”

“One hundred percent,” Cimber said. “I’ve felt that way, too. I think when I came over to Cleveland and Tito was using me more as a matchup guy -- whereas in San Diego I was going two to three innings at a time -- I did put a little bit more pressure on myself to get righties out. Like, ‘Oh, this is my job to get righties out.’ When I think, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be out there righty, lefty, I’m just going to get guys out,’ it does take a little bit of pressure off.”

How they are trying to prepare
Even if it is less pressuring in some ways, both Pérez and Cimber recognize that changes will have to be made.

Pérez believes that because he will be pitching to more batters than he has the last few seasons, he’ll need to take a little more rest to make sure he’s ready for the next outing. There also used to be plenty of occurrences where relievers would warm up in the bullpen only to not be called into the game. Pérez said those days still counted as if it was an outing, and he now believes those will happen less often, which he noted as an advantage.

“As a lefty specialist, I know they pinch-hit for me,” Pérez said. “I know I’m going to face some righties, so I’ll have to prepare for that. Maybe take more notes than normal.”

While Pérez’s adjustments will come during the season, Cimber took some time to prepare for the new rule over the offseason.

“I watched some video and watched how other [submarine] guys like Joe Smith or Darren O’Day are getting lefties out,” Cimber said. “For me, I made some mechanical adjustments that I needed to make anyway to get my fastball to stay straighter when I’m going up-and-in to lefties. I’m working on backdoor slider a little bit more. That’s not something I usually throw to righties that much. That’s something I need to get better at throwing to lefties.”

What will change
The Indians can collectively agree that they’d prefer to eliminate this new regulation, Cimber and Pérez included. But the two pitchers concur that the only adjustment will come in Francona’s strategy, which they believe shouldn’t be too big of an issue.

“I mean, I think we all trust what Tito’s done in the past with the matchup thing,” Cimber said, “but I also think we’re all baseball players that have gotten to this point by getting everybody out through all the levels. A matchup thing is more of a big league thing. To get here, I’ve gotten lefties out and Ollie’s gotten righties out. … I think it’s going to be a lot less of an issue than people are making it out to be at this point.”