08/28/2002 7:13 pm ET
MLBeat: Baez is new closer
Starter returning to bullpen to fill club's need
By Justice B. Hill / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- The Indians had said they would not make this decision this season, but the injury to Bob Wickman forced team officials to look at their bullpen situation anew. They came to this conclusion: It needed help.
But they had to look no further than at one of their starters to fill the role. They decided to pull Danys Baez from the starting rotation and shuffle him into Wickman's role at the back in of the bullpen.
"He didn't fail as a starter," manager Joel Skinner said. "But as an organization, we feel he's going to be a top-notch closer."
The Indians made that decision Tuesday when general manager Mark Shapiro and Skinner raised the subject. Baez said he had no problems making the switch, particularly if it helped the Indians.
"I don't care," he said. "This ia a management decision, and they just explain it to me."
The explanation was simple: The Tribe needed to shore up its bullpen with Wickman sidelined probably until the 2004 season.
"We think with Danys' makeup and demeanor, he'll excel in the back of the bullpen," Skinner said in announcing the move.
Baez, who got his first save Wednesday night, said he's looking forward to a return to the bullpen, because it'll allow him to cut down on his pitch count in a season where he has turned into the workhorse of the pitching staff. He does have on reservation, though: "I need time to make a career and develop. That might be two or three years."
The 'Big Three': As tempting as it might be to pencil Billy Traber, Cliff Lee and Brian Tallet into the starting rotation next season, Neal Huntington advised caution here. Huntington, who has spent time in Buffalo recently scouting the trio, said the Tribe isn't about to rush the three left-handers to the bigs before they're ready. "It's hard to see them staying together as a group," said Huntington, the Indians assistant GM. " They may separate here at some point. But we certainly think that all three are legitimate Major League starters. It just may happen in different sequences."
Post-mortem on Phillips: Young pitchers are prone to shaky outings, and Jason Phillips had one Tuesday night against the Tigers. The 28-year-old right-hander gave up six runs in five innings. His wildness (four walks) did him in. "He had a string of those innings where they just kept getting after him," Skinner said. "He got a couple balls in the middle of the plate." Skinner said Phillips got too many balls up in the zone, and poor location and his four walks put him harm's way. "He's a guy who uses a three-pitch mix," he said of Phillips (1-3, 4.97 ERA). "When he's hitting his spots, like he's done in the past, he's what you should look for."
Riske business: The Indians are still trying to sort out what's wrong with David Riske, a promising young reliever whose work this season has been disappointing. They shipped him back to Triple A Buffalo, and on his return to Cleveland, Riske has been no more effective than he was before his demotion. His outing Tuesday night against the Tigers proved that point: 1/3 of an inning and two runs, pushing his ERA to 5.55. "With David, he needs to be an aggressive pitcher and go after hitters," Skinner said. "When he's on and everything's clicking, he's got a fastball with deception on it, and it's just a matter of getting him back in the fold and getting him where he needs to be."
Is Charlie next? Now that Travis Fryman has announced his retirement, is Charles Nagy running out of a career with the Indians, too? In a rebuild, the Indians have no use for a junk-balling 35-year-old right-hander, a pitcher with a history of arm troubles. The Tribe has too much younger, cheaper talent in Buffalo and Akron to rely on. So where does that leave Nagy? In baseball limbo, of course. "I know I can pitch," said Nagy after his 3 1/3-inning outing earlier this week in mop-up duty. "But does someone else think I can pitch? There are a lot of factors involved."
New addition: Early Wednesday, Shapiro and his wife, Lissa, welcomed their first child into the world at University Hospital. Caden Reid Shapiro was born at 6:44 a.m. Caden weighed in at 7 pounds, 1 ounce. Shapiro is hoping he is a left-hander.
Tribe tidbits: The Indians are now 3-6 on this 13-game homestand. They are 50-26 when scoring four runs or more this season. ... Jim Thome celebrated his 32nd birthday Tuesday with a 1-for-3 night. ... Look for the Indians to speed up the intensity of their negotiations with No. 1 pick Jeremy Guthrie from Stanford. If Guthrie re-enrolls in college, the Indians will lose his rights. Guthrie, a 23-year-old pitcher, will start classes Sept. 23.
Fantasy edge: The Indians will not use new closer Baez in save situations on back-to-back nights, so look for Mark Wohlers to get opportunities to close games.
Justice B. Hill, a senior writer, covers the Indians for MLB.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.