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02/20/09 4:03 PM EST
Saarloos' versatility intrigues Indians
Righty looking to make club as either starter or reliever
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- On the back fields at the Indians' Player Development Complex, right-hander Kirk Saarloos stands out simply because he's not standing behind a screen. Pitchers began tossing live batting practice to the hitters this week, and the standard practice early on is to do so behind the safety net. But Saarloos goes bare as a way to prepare. "I hate those things," he said of the screens. "Besides, if I'm going to be throwing sinkers, I've got to react to them, right?"
Saarloos might have an idea of how to react to those hard grounders up the middle, but he has no idea how or if he'll impact the Indians this season. Manager Eric Wedge has listed Saarloos, a non-roster invitee, as a candidate for the Tribe's open rotation spot, but he could conceivably become a bullpen option.
That's just the way it's been for Saarloos in his career. Since 2002, he's made 165 appearances in the Majors with the A's, Reds and Astros -- 73 starts and 92 relief outings.
"I even did it in college," said Saarloos, who went to the College World Series with Cal State Fullerton in 2001. "I would close on Fridays and start on Sunday."
Such versatility appeals to the Indians, who are stockpiling arms in a season in which the rotation and bullpen both contain major question marks.
"My arm is pretty resilient to where I can throw three times in two weeks, then the next day, throw 100 pitches," he said. "That's never been an issue for my arm. Mentally it's an adjustment because you have to prepare your routines. But you can do that on the fly, really."
The 29-year-old Saarloos is likely ticketed for Triple-A Columbus at the outset this season, but the Indians are no strangers to turning to some unexpected sources to eat up innings. They've certainly seen Saarloos at his best. Though he's hardly a strikeout pitcher, he struck out 11 Indians batters in a September 2006 start for the A's.
"I'm just coming in here to compete first for the rotation," Saarloos said. "If that doesn't shake out and they see me as a fit in the bullpen, I'm ready for that."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.