'Pen gets rest during streak, but ready when called

Tribe relievers come through with 7 scoreless in 19-inning win

'Pen gets rest during streak, but ready when called

TORONTO -- Work has been hard to come by for Cleveland's relievers these days. The bullpen phone has been gathering dust as the team's stellar rotation chews up the innings, forcing the relief pitchers to chew on whatever else they can bring out to their waiting room.

"We've got seeds and gum and stories," Indians reliever Joba Chamberlain said with a laugh. "We've been busy with those more so than getting on the bump. At the same time, we know it goes in cycles."

Chamberlain's comments proved prescient.

The bullpen was called upon in a big way on Friday night, when Cleveland needed 19 innings to notch a 2-1 win over Toronto. The win was a franchise-record 14th in a row for the Indians, who enjoyed 13 shutout innings from its bullpen. The Tribe used eight arms, including starter Trevor Bauer, out of the bullpen against the Blue Jays.

"They all stayed ready," Bauer said. "They haven't had a whole ton of work. It's tough, when you don't get to pitch a lot, to stay ready mentally and not check out. There wasn't a single guy down there that wasn't ready to pitch today."

Over the course of the 13-game winning streak that the Tribe carried into Friday's game in Toronto, the relief corps had watched the starting rotation go 10-0 with a 1.86 ERA over 97 innings. There had been three complete games, including a pair of shutouts, in that span. On average, the Indians' bullpen was given roughly five outs of work each day for the past two weeks.

Take right-hander Zach McAllister, for example. Cleveland's second-tier setup man behind Bryan Shaw and closer Cody Allen had logged seven total pitches over the past 15 days, entering Friday. Asked if he had the best or worst job in the world, McAllister cracked a smile.

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"It's been a blast. It's fun to watch," said McAllister, who has thrown bullpen sessions throughout this stretch in an effort to stay sharp. "I think everyone down there is excited when they get the opportunity to go out and perform. But we're also excited to sit back, put our feet up and watch our guys dominate, too."

For June, Cleveland's bullpen logged a Major League-low 55 innings, which was 15 fewer than the next team on the list (St. Louis had 70 relief innings last month). Throughout the 13-game winning streak, the Tribe's relievers combined for an MLB-low 21 innings. During that same time period, the next-ranked teams (Washington and Toronto) had 34 relief innings. The Indians also had a 1.29 ERA over those 13 games.

"We've tried to talk to each of them a little bit," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "just to remind them, 'Hey, we haven't forgot about you.' It's a very good problem to have. If that's the biggest problem we have, we're OK."

Cleveland's relievers logged 342 pitches during the 13-game winning streak, which tied the longest run in franchise history (also achieved in 1951 and '42). Over that same period of time, the Astros' bullpen tallied 574 pitches (second-fewest in MLB behind the Tribe). Allen and Shaw accounted for 59 percent of the innings (12 1/3) and 61 percent of the pitches (207) during the 13-game streak.

"Really, nobody's been overused," Francona said. "We've been fortunate there."

Chamberlain said the hope is that saving bullets now will pay off for the bullpen later in the season, when the first-place Indians hope to be preparing for a postseason run.

"We know that they're going hot," Chamberlain said of the starters. "At the same time, we know there's going to be a stretch during the year where they'll need us to pick them up. I guess let's just save them now, so when they need us then, we'll be ready."

In the meantime, the relievers will continue to entertain themselves.

"It's a comedy show down there for the first couple innings," McAllister said. "Once it starts getting to that point where someone might have to get up or get ready, though, the looseness stays there, but the intensity gets turned on."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. 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.