Francona encouraged by improved bullpen

Cleveland relievers entered Tuesday with 4th-best ERA in AL

Francona encouraged by improved bullpen

ST. PETERSBURG -- There was a time earlier this season when Indians manager Terry Francona worried that he was to blame for the bullpen's collective struggles. Francona is famous for his heavy bullpen usage, but it is not something he takes lightly.

Before the bullpen's recent turnaround, the group's inconsistency weighed on the manager.

"Yes, it did," Francona said on Tuesday. "Of course it did. Heck yeah. I don't know how else to say it."

Heading into Tuesday's game against the Rays, the Indians ranked fourth in the American League with a 3.24 ERA from their bullpen, trailing only the Royals (2.06), Astros (2.57) and Orioles (2.81). Dating back to May 1, Cleveland's 2.73 bullpen ERA ranked third in the AL behind just the Orioles (2.20) and Royals (2.49).

Much of the success over the past two months has been due to a reversal of fortunes from closer Cody Allen, along with setup men Bryan Shaw and Marc Rzepczynski.

After posting a 9.00 ERA in his first 12 games, Allen had a 0.86 ERA in his 20 appearances leading up to Tuesday's action. Shaw had a 1.27 ERA in his previous 24 games, following a season-opening 10-game stretch with a 5.06 ERA. Rzepczynski had a 6.75 ERA in his first 10 outings this year, but the lefty had a 2.38 ERA in his last 26 games, entering Tuesday.

Allen, Shaw, Rzepczynski and veteran Scott Atchison (released on Sunday after posting a 6.86 ERA in 23 games this year) each logged 70-plus appearances last season. That made Cleveland the first team in AL history to have four pitchers with 70 more more games in a single campaign. The Indians also set an AL record with 573 total relief appearances last season.

Given that past workload, Francona has tried to take measures this season to help keep his relievers fresh. That has included trying not to warm up pitchers unless they are going to pitch in the game.

"There's been times when I've probably sacrificed maybe having the perfect matchup," Francona said, "just because I don't want to throw them in the bullpen, because I know how much they've pitched."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.