Tribe considering changes in 'pen

Tribe strongly considering changes in 'pen

CLEVELAND -- General manager Mark Shapiro said long before the '06 season began that the Indians' bullpen was his greatest concern.

That concern was justified.

With a 5.59 ERA, the Indians' relief corps ranks last in the American League and second-to-last in all of baseball.

Changes are coming. Injured right-hander Rafael Betancourt will most likely be activated from the 15-day disabled list sometime in the next week, and Shapiro said Thursday that other internal changes are being strongly considered.

"We've spent a lot of time in discussions, not just over the last 24 hours but probably the last three or four days," Shapiro said. "If we feel we can make a move that's going to help this team, we're going to do it. We're considering all moves, from changes in roles to changes in personnel in our bullpen."

A sweep at the hands of the lowly Royals has forced the issue. The Tribe saw five leads blown over the course of three days -- not just by the 'pen, but also by a starting staff that continues to struggle to last deep into ballgames.

Indians starters have gone seven or more innings in just eight of 35 starts this season. They've gone six or more innings 19 times.

"I think too much of the burden publicly has gone on our bullpen, when it is a shared burden on our pitching staff, top to bottom," Shapiro said. "If we don't have a starting rotation that on most nights gets us through six innings and a lot of nights gets us through seven, no matter what we're trying to fix in the bullpen, it's going to be hard to patch it, either way."

No changes to the rotation are imminent, despite a 6.52 ERA for Paul Byrd, a 5.94 for Jake Westbrook and a 5.82 for Jason Johnson.

"We're going to continue to ride it out," Shapiro said of the starting staff. "Not just ride it out, but help the guys improve."

Nor is Shapiro going to cut loose any members of the coaching staff, as he did with hitting coach Eddie Murray when the club was laboring at the plate last June.

It's the relief staff that's on thin ice.

With six saves in six chances, Bob Wickman is the only reliever Shapiro made a point of saying he's been pleased with.

The rest of the uninjured Opening Day relief staff -- Danny Graves (2-1, 5.79 ERA), Scott Sauerbeck (0-1, 4.32 ERA), Guillermo Mota (0-2, 6.14 ERA) and Fernando Cabrera (0-1, 9.58 ERA) -- has been erratic, though Cabrera has shown much improvement since coming off the DL. Jason Davis (1-1, 4.08 ERA) and Jeremy Guthrie (0-0, 4.63 ERA), who began the year in Triple-A, are still developing.

Options abound down on the farm, though it's anyone's guess how the young arms at Triple-A Buffalo and Double-A Akron would fare in the big leagues.

Shapiro said the club would consider putting right-hander Fausto Carmona, who made three spot starts for the Indians in place of an injured C.C. Sabathia last month, in the bullpen "in the right situation," though he would not comment on whether this is, indeed, the right situation.

Right-hander Andrew Brown (2-0, 2.18 ERA) has pitched well for Buffalo, though the Indians have been concerned about his walk tally, which stands at 17 in 20 2/3 innings.

Veterans Steve Karsay (1-1, 1.69 ERA) and Felix Heredia (0-0, 6.75 ERA) are available at Buffalo, with Karsay pitching especially well recently. Brian Slocum (0-0, 1.35 ERA), Rob Bell (3-2, 3.08 ERA) Hyang-Nam Choi (1-1, 3.54 ERA) and Ben Howard (0-0, 4.40 ERA) are some of the other arms available from the Bisons.

At Akron, there's Rafael Perez (2-4, 4.71 ERA), who pitched well in one big-league outing after Matt Miller went on the DL, and Ed Mujica, who hasn't given up an earned run in 19 innings, among others.

Shapiro, though, won't name names.

"To comment on individual guys would create a bad dynamic, both down there and on our team," he said.

A trade isn't likely at this time of year, especially given the relief woes being suffered around baseball. Shapiro said Betancourt's return will probably be the move of biggest impact.

For now, it's clear that Shapiro, one year after having a bullpen that ranked among the best in the Majors, had reason to be concerned about this year's relief.

"I feared the unknown," Shapiro said. "And the unknown's been bad, and it's been exacerbated by the fact that our starting pitching has been inconsistent."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.