Tribe's Lewis not panicking over waiver report

Tribe's Lewis not panicking over waiver report

Tribe's Lewis not panicking over waiver report
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jensen Lewis had to change something after he surrendered a pair of three-run home runs in an abbreviated appearance against the Brewers last week. The Indians' reliever found a quick fix. He shaved off his beard.

It worked, but only for two outs.

Lewis retired the first two Angels hitters he faced in his next outing before being run through the buzzsaw once again. This time, the right-hander was charged with three runs on two hits, coughing up a three-run lead for the Tribe and absorbing another blow in his bid for a bullpen job.

"It's amazing how quickly people press the panic button," Lewis said on Monday morning. "I'm not panicking. I'm fine."

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It certainly did not help that a report surfaced Monday on FOXSports.com indicating that the Indians had placed Lewis on waivers. That development added another layer to a complicated bullpen situation that might need each of the club's eight remaining days in Arizona in order to be solved.

On Monday, the Tribe had its road tilt against the Royals canceled due to rain, robbing a handful of bullpen candidates of a chance to continue their part in the ongoing competition. There appear to be three available relief jobs, with seven pitchers in the running.

Entering the spring, Lewis and right-hander Joe Smith had a "leg up" on the field, according to manager Manny Acta. Lewis' recent struggles -- combined with Smith being sidelined for nearly two weeks now with an upper abdominal strain -- have turned the situation into a fight to the finish.

"It's never been cut and dry with those last couple of spots," Acta said on Monday. "From the beginning, we told everybody, including you guys, that there were a couple of spots open. We also made it clear that we're not going to load up our bullpen with one-inning guys."

The only perceived locks in the bullpen are closer Chris Perez, veteran righty Chad Durbin, and lefties Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez. Other bullpen options still in big league camp include Justin Germano, Frank Herrmann, Vinnie Pestano, Doug Mathis, Jess Todd, Lewis and Smith.

After posting a 2.97 ERA in 37 games with the Indians last season -- his fourth tour in the big leagues for the Tribe -- Lewis seemed to be in a good position to break camp with the club this spring. His recent performance, however, has put his status with the club in question.

In six Cactus League games, the 26-year-old Lewis has allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 13 hits in 5 2/3 innings. On Tuesday, he gave up a pair of three-run homers to turn a 6-1 Cleveland advantage into a 7-6 lead for the Brewers. Lewis then wasted a 7-4 lead in the seventh against the Angels on Saturday.

There have been reports that Lewis' pitch velocity is down, but the pitcher indicated that he is not fighting any health issues at the moment. Lewis said it was not unusual for his pitch speed to possibly be down a hair at this point in the spring.

Lewis was also quick to shrug off the two subpar performances.

"We're just going through a rough patch," Lewis said. "This is baseball. It happens. I'm just glad that I'm getting it out now, so it doesn't go on the back of my baseball card."

The report claiming that Lewis -- under contract for $650,000 this season -- was exposed to waivers could be an indication of the way Cleveland is leaning. Running a player through waivers is one way to gauge interest. It is also a necessary step if the Indians plan on sending Lewis to the Minor Leagues.

Lewis is currently out of player options, meaning he would need to clear waivers in order to be sent to the Minors. Since Lewis has never been sent outright to the Minors -- a move that would remove him from the 40-man roster -- the righty would not be able to refuse the assignment.

"I just go out and pitch," said Lewis, who spent part of last season with Triple-A Columbus. "You're going to have good days and bad days. If anything, last year taught me that. I pretty much pitched not knowing what jersey I was going to be in.

"I just worry about what I can control, and just go from there."

One thing is clear, whether it is Lewis or someone else, the Indians will likely need to remove a player or two from the 40-man roster prior to Opening Day. Among the bullpen candidates, Germano and Mathis are in camp on Minor League contracts and not on the roster.

Player options and contract type always play a role in late-spring decisions.

"Options are always a tough thing to deal with," Acta said. "But I think we're going to leave Goodyear with our best 25 guys. We're just going to have to do some juggling here, but that's the plan.

"It's always hard balancing that. But, if we think we have enough guys on our roster that have a chance to go through waivers, or that we can have the substitute for them, then we're going to have to do it."

Acta emphasized the importance of having at least one pitcher in the bullpen who can handle multi-inning scenarios. Germano, Mathis and Herrmann each fit that description. On Monday, Acta had high praise for Germano, who has not yielded a run in seven appearances this spring.

"He's proven to be a valuable multiple-innings guy," Acta said. "He's started in the past in the big leagues. He has that advantage over some of the other guys."

Acta also raved about Pestano, who had a brief five-game stint with the Tribe in September last season. This spring, the right-hander has allowed just one run over 5 2/3 innings, with eight strikeouts and no walks.

Pestano is quickly becoming a legitimate candidate for a bullpen job.

"Oh, yes," Acta said. "He's pitched very well."

No matter how the bullpen situation shakes out in the end, Acta is confident that the final decisions will not shock anyone involved.

"Nobody is going to get blindsided here in camp," Acta said. "Everybody knew coming into camp what our expectations were for every one of them."

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