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Belisle makes roster as final piece to bullpen

Veteran right-hander joins Indians' intimidating reliving corps
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians' decision about the final bullpen spot was never going to be about pitching lines logged in Cactus League games. The team was going to weigh which pitcher was the best fit for a relief puzzle that was already mostly assembled and seek information on what they would add away from the field.

In evaluating Matt Belisle, Cleveland leaned on former Tribe executive Derek Falvey, who is now the executive vice president and chief baseball officer for the Twins and had the right-hander last season. While looking beyond the spring innings turned in by Carlos Torres, the Indians sought more intel from former front office member David Stearns, who is the general manager of the Brewers (the reliever's former team).

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians' decision about the final bullpen spot was never going to be about pitching lines logged in Cactus League games. The team was going to weigh which pitcher was the best fit for a relief puzzle that was already mostly assembled and seek information on what they would add away from the field.

In evaluating Matt Belisle, Cleveland leaned on former Tribe executive Derek Falvey, who is now the executive vice president and chief baseball officer for the Twins and had the right-hander last season. While looking beyond the spring innings turned in by Carlos Torres, the Indians sought more intel from former front office member David Stearns, who is the general manager of the Brewers (the reliever's former team).

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With all the information in hand, the Indians decided that Belisle was the man for the job.

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"Obviously, these are difficult decisions to make," Indians manager Terry Francona said on Saturday. "And I don't think we would've made a wrong decision adding either guy. I don't think it's so much that somebody didn't do something. I just think, in the end, you look at Belisle's track record and the way he carries himself. I mean, there's more than just the innings he pitches. He's such a leader-type guy.

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"And as hard as it was to talk to Torres, on the flip side, that's how good it feels to talk to Belisle. So, there's certainly a lot of mixed emotions this morning."

Belisle will begin this season in the Indians' Opening Day bullpen, which will also include Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Dan Otero, Zach McAllister, Tyler Olson and Nick Goody. Francona thought about going with an eight-man relief corps, but decided it did not make sense given the makeup of other aspects of the roster. Torres -- in camp as a non-roster invitee, along with Belisle -- exercised the opt-out clause in his contract and was granted his release.

Now, Francona can begin thinking about how to best utilize his new-look bullpen, which no longer has setup man Bryan Shaw. During the past five years, Shaw was a lock for at least 70 appearances and roughly 70 innings out of the 'pen for Francona. That durability, however, netted the veteran right-hander a three-year contract with the Rockies via free agency over the winter.

Video: MIN@CLE: Belisle gets Ramirez to fly out for the save

Without Shaw in the fold, Francona will do more mixing and matching. Allen and Miller will handle the bulk of the high-leverage situations in late innings, but any of the other relievers could be called upon to bridge the gap. Goody and McAllister are especially tough on righties. Olson can be featured against lefties. Otero is one of the league's top relief groundball artists. Any one of them could log multi-inning outings, if needed.

The 37-year-old Belisle had a 4.03 ERA with 54 strikeouts and 22 walks in 60 1/3 innings last season for the Twins, but he turned things up a notch down the stretch. Over the final three months, Belisle had a 1.50 ERA in 30 innings.

"Bryan will be missed for a lot of reasons," Miller said. "I feel like we've been saying that all spring, but as far as how it will affect the bullpen, I think there's no reason why we can't take another step forward."

Last season, the Indians' bullpen led the Majors with a 2.89 ERA and was near or at the top of the American League in a variety of other categories. Cleveland's relief corps was first in the AL in Fielding Independent Pitching (3.20), WHIP (1.14) and strikeout-minus-walk percentage (20.0), ranked second in WAR (8.6, per Fangraphs), left-on-base percentage (78.7) and walks per nine innings (2.7), and third in strikeouts per nine innings (10.1).

The Indians' bullpen also paced the AL with a 64 ERA-, indicating that the group was 36 percent better than league average. That mark is tied (with the 1995 Indians' bullpen, no less) for the third-lowest single-season ERA- by a relief corps in the AL in the past 100 seasons.

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Miller's workout regimen for '18

During a meeting with his pitchers on Friday, Francona said he emphasized to the group that it deserves to be considered among baseball's best staffs.

"I reminded them that we think that that's where they belong in those conversations," Francona said. "And not just past tense, but moving forward. [I reminded them] to carry yourself like that and push each other in the right direction, because they're a pretty special group."

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, Matt Belisle