Talbot named to Tribe's rotation
Huff, Carrasco up for last spot; Laffey to bullpen
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Some clarity came to the Indians' rotation and bullpen races Friday, and some competition remains.As expected, right-hander Mitch Talbot was officially named a member of the Opening Day rotation. But in a somewhat surprising development, left-hander Aaron Laffey, who had been competing with Talbot and others for a rotation job, was placed in the bullpen. That leaves left-hander David Huff and right-hander Carlos Carrasco competing for the last opening in the rotation, and right-handers Jensen Lewis, Jamey Wright, Saul Rivera and Hector Ambriz competing for the last two spots in the bullpen. Wright and Rivera are non-roster invitees to camp, while Ambriz was a Rule 5 pickup. With Laffey on board, the Indians will have three left-handers in the bullpen, including Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp. But with Talbot in a rotation that also includes Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona and Justin Masterson, the Tribe is assured of at least four and potentially five right-handers in the starting five. "With the rotation that we have, I think a lot of clubs might load up with left-handers against our sinkerballers," manager Manny Acta said. "Then we'll have three guys out of the 'pen to throw from the left side." Acta said Laffey handled the Indians' decision well. Grabbing a spot in the bullpen was obviously not Laffey's ultimate goal in camp, but he had success in a brief bullpen stint last season, going 1-1 with a 3.65 ERA and one save in 12 1/3 innings over six appearances. The Indians leaned on Laffey when they had an emergency need for relief help last season, and they'll be leaning on him again. "With [closer] Kerry Wood out [for six to eight weeks] and what Aaron is able to give us," Acta said, "it's what's best for the club." Laffey worked four scoreless innings out of the bullpen Thursday against the Mariners. For the spring, he is 1-1 with a 3.07 ERA in 14 2/3 innings over five appearances, walking five and striking out six. Of all the combatants for the final two rotation spots, the 24-year-old Laffey had the most Major League experience. He is 16-18 with a 4.39 ERA in 50 appearances, including 44 starts, in his big league career.
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As for Talbot, he came into camp as the odds-on favorite to win one of the rotation spots, as he is out of Minor League options and was acquired in the trade that sent Kelly Shoppach to the Rays.If he felt any pressure to impress new eyes, the 26-year-old Talbot didn't show it. He was 1-0 with a 0.79 ERA in 11 1/3 innings over four appearances, and he got stretched out to six innings of work in a Triple-A game Thursday. "I've done everything I can do," Talbot said after that last outing. Acta and pitching coach Tim Belcher agreed. "Mitch came to camp, he knew what was at stake, knowing this was a new club and a new coaching staff, and he impressed everybody," Acta said. "He showed an impressive repertoire and showed the ability to maybe go through a lineup three times or more." The Indians love Talbot's changeup, and his slider has been better than advertised. A right elbow sprain sidetracked Talbot in 2009 and forced him to pitch in the Arizona Fall League after the season to build up his innings. But in both 2007 and 2008, he won 13 games at Triple-A Durham, and he made his Major League debut with the Rays by making three appearances in '08. "He doesn't have much more to prove at Triple-A," Belcher said. Talbot, who is 62-54 with a 3.79 ERA in 166 career games in the Minors, takes pride in what he was able to accomplish at the Triple-A level. "No matter what level you're at," he said, "there's something to be said for learning how to win and how to develop at the same time." It is not yet clear whether Talbot will occupy the No. 4 or the No. 5 spot of the rotation. That will depend on whether Huff or Carrasco wins the other opening. If Huff gets it, he might slot into the No. 4 spot to break up the right-handers a bit. Carrasco (0-0, 2.25 ERA in three spring outings) is slated to start Sunday in Tempe against the Angels, while Huff (1-1, 5.40 ERA in five outings) will go Tuesday in Surprise against the Rangers. A decision on the final rotation spot could come Wednesday. Huff was the Tribe's team leader in wins last year, going 11-8 with a 5.61 ERA in 23 starts as a rookie. Carrasco was acquired in the July trade that sent Cliff Lee to the Phillies and joined the big league club in September. He was roughed up to the tune of an 0-4 record and 8.87 ERA in five starts. "They know now that they're competing for it," Acta said. "We'll see how they react in their next start. It doesn't have to [all] go into performance, but we want to see some of the stuff we've been preaching [throwing strikes and staying ahead of the hitters]." As far as the bullpen battle is concerned, Ambriz is a long shot, having battled an elbow injury that has limited him to just two Cactus League outings. Lewis has a Minor League option remaining, while the Indians would have to clear a place on the 40-man roster for Wright and/or Rivera. Wright has an out clause in his contract if he's not on the Opening Day roster, while Rivera has an out clause if he's not on the big league roster by May 15. Friday's news all but ensures left-hander Jeremy Sowers, who is out of options and still getting stretched out after battling shoulder soreness, will open the season on the disabled list. "We haven't finalized that one," Acta said. "But it doesn't look like he's going to be stretched out as a starter. We're still thinking about the other decision we have to make with him. We'll make it shortly."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.