Detwiler's rebound road ends with roster spot

Lefty reliever trusted Tribe advice, and it paid off

Detwiler's rebound road ends with roster spot

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Ross Detwiler received a phone call from Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway over the winter before the left-hander had decided where to sign. Callaway wanted to relay information about a flaw in Detwiler's mechanics, expressing faith in Cleveland's ability to help correct the issue.

That conversation went a long way for Detwiler, who appreciated the insight, signed a Minor League deal with the Tribe on Dec. 22 and went to work on the changes. The lefty's decision to join the Indians and put in the work culminated with Sunday's announcement that he will be a member of the Opening Day bullpen.

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"Talking to him, I had a connection with him," Detwiler said of his offseason chats with Callaway. "Everything he was saying made a lot of sense to me. It ended up working out."

Indians manager Terry Francona said keeping Detwiler in the fold made sense due to the team not being sure about carrying a strict lefty specialist. Cleveland feels Detwiler, especially after cleaning up his delivery, can face lefties and righties with the potential to log multi-inning outings, if needed. It is possible that Detwiler will be the only left-hander in the bullpen when the season begins.

Closer Cody Allen and setup man Bryan Shaw, along with relievers Zach McAllister, Jeff Manship and Joba Chamberlain -- all right-handed pitchers -- project to be in the Opening Day bullpen. That leaves one vacancy, with lefty Kyle Crockett and righty Dan Otero remaining as the top candidates. Crockett has Minor League options, while Otero does not, meaning only Crockett can be sent to Triple-A without first needing to clear waivers.

"They all know they're hanging in there," Francona said. "We're not delaying this on purpose. We're just trying to make the best decisions we can."

Detwiler is coming off a subpar 2015 season, in which he had a 7.25 ERA in 41 games between stints with the Rangers and Braves, and dealt with health issues at both stops. While right-handed batters hit .390 (1.136 OPS) off Detwiler, he held lefties to a .234 (.660) showing. That was on par with his career, which includes a .233 opponents' average against left-handed hitters in parts of eight seasons.

Over the offseason, while the Indians' front office was researching available left-handed relievers, the staff noticed that Detwiler's stride length had shortened dramatically last year. That information was relayed to Callaway, who called the pitcher to discuss how the Indians could help him fix the problem.

"I don't think we do anything by chance," Callaway said. "We look at who the person is, we go back and look at what they've done in the past. If they've struggled at all and we feel like like they're a bounce-back candidate, we look at everything. We try to get them back to where they were or to see if we can improve them."

Detwiler bought in from the start.

"I'm 6-[foot]-5, and I had the stride that a 5-10, 5-11 guy would," Detwiler explained. "That's gaining less ground toward the plate. It's more time for the hitters to see the ball, less deceptive. So we really [worked] on attacking the plate. ... I feel like I'm throwing a little harder, throwing more strikes, getting on top of the ball and driving it down in the zone a lot more."

Through six Cactus League innings this spring, Detwiler has eight strikeouts and one walk.

"He was committed to try to do what they were wanting him to do," Francona said. "It's hard sometimes when you're trying to compete for a job, though. I get it. You give up a run and you go back to, 'I need to get somebody out.' But, he's been confident enough in what he's trying to do, which is good. I think we were impressed by that."

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.