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05/13/09 12:21 PM ET
Tribe working through mound issues
Club seeking consistent results from rotation and 'pen
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- The bullpen gets the attention, but the Indians' starting staff has its share of troubles, too. Indians starters, entering Wednesday, were 8-15 with a 5.67 ERA that ranked as the second-worst in the American League. The rotation only seemed to stabilize when Aaron Laffey came up from Triple-A Columbus in mid-April, but he's now in a bullpen role. "We need to find out what's going to put us in the best position to win," pitching coach Carl Willis said. "Our starters, as a unit, still have to perform better. I think it's a case where if we can get through that seventh inning, or a couple outs in the seventh, it's so much less pressure on the bullpen. We're definitely going to look at it and see what's best for the staff as a whole." The Indians took a calculated risk when they moved Laffey from the starting rotation to the 'pen, and the results have been mixed. On the one hand, Laffey has done just what the Indians had hoped he'd do. He's warming up quickly and providing length and effectiveness in relief. On the other hand, Laffey's replacement in the rotation, Jeremy Sowers, continues to have trouble getting his Triple-A success to translate to the Major League stage. Sowers started out strong in Boston last week before he and the bullpen imploded in the Red Sox's 12-run sixth inning. And on Tuesday night against the White Sox, Sowers couldn't keep the ball in the park, serving up two homers to Jim Thome and one to Jayson Nix en route to a 7-4 loss. What's missing for Sowers? "I think the lack of a true out pitch," Willis said. "He relies on change of speeds and moving the ball around. When he gets in deeper counts, it becomes more difficult for him. It's just about the development of a put-away pitch, which is usually the last thing to come for a guy." The fact that it hasn't yet come for Sowers, who has 51 Major League starts under his belt, is a concern, and it leads one to wonder how long he'll last in this rotation. For now, Sowers is slated to get Sunday's start in St. Petersburg against the Rays. But if his struggles continue, the Indians might have to consider other options. It's possible Laffey could be moved back to the rotation, if the bullpen stabilizes. Or it's possible the Indians could dip into the Triple-A ranks and give prospect David Huff a look. Huff, though, still has some room to grow, as he is 5-1 with a 4.35 ERA in seven starts. He's struck out 32 and walked 16 in 39 1/3 innings. "We need to see his fastball command get a little better and his secondary stuff a little sharper," general manager Mark Shapiro said of Huff. "He's certainly a consideration now. We just need to see him a little further along before we bring him up here." Right-hander Hector Rondon might have been considered a rotation candidate, but he was converted to relief work at Double-A Akron on Tuesday. That move demonstrates how desperate the Indians are for bullpen help. Rondon was 5-0 with a 1.23 ERA in five starts for Akron before the move. He gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits over two innings and took the loss in his first relief outing Tuesday night against Bowie. Why did the Indians make the uncharacteristically bold move of moving one of their top-tier starting arms in the Minors to the bullpen? "We need some guys who can come in and break into the Major League level in the bullpen and be in a position to help our club in those middle innings," Willis said. "You don't know where he evolves to or migrates to, but we're just trying to uncover every option we have to solidify our staff."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.