Peter Gammons: Notes from early March

PHOENIX—Bryan Shaw has pitched in more games the last four years than anyone, 299, plus 11 more this past October. Cody Allen is fourth with 290 appearances, in addition to 11 more in the last post-season.

Think back to what the Indians bullpen did this fall to get to extra innings in Game Seven of the World Series. With 10 games and 27 2/3 post-season innings, Andrew Miller finished the season with 80 appearances and 102 innings. Shaw 75 games, 66 2/3 innings. Allen 67 games, 68 innings.

Hence Sunday was the first spring outing for Shaw or Allen. Miller had been out before because he agreed to pitch in the World Baseball Classic, which did not exactly please the Indians. “We don’t want him throwing sliders,” said one Indians official, but Sunday he was throwing them against the Padres. “He can’t help competing,” said Chris Antonetti.

But while the Cleveland rotation of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer is thought to be one of the best in the game, what makes their pitching so good is their depth, and how Terry Francona uses it. So pitching coach Mickey Callaway has taken a careful approach this spring with the longer spring training because of the W.B.C.

“I laid it out so they would take a month-and-a-half off in the off-season,” says Callaway. “Then here we gave them a couple of easy weeks, really time off. When the season starts, we’ll have essentially had a normal spring training, and we’ll be careful in April. So it should work.”

In addition, the Indians believe Mike Clevinger is ready to be a spot starter and long man, so if a starter gets knocked out early Clevinger can give them innings and allow Francona to avoid using four or five relievers. They are encouraged by Zach McAllister, who’s always had a big arm but this spring has been more direction to home plate. Dan Otero had a 1.52 ERA last season. They went out and signed Boone Logan. Shawn Armstrong, who struck out 72 in 49 innings at Columbus, has had a good early spring.

The Indians are in a special three year window they worked very hard to open, and the Dolan Family opened their wallets to sign Edwin Encarnacion and Logan. They won’t know about Michael Brantley’s comeback until he’s playing in games, but the Brandon Guyer deadline acquisition has been huge, and with Bradley Zimmer in center field in Columbus and Greg Allen—who won their mile run, topped everyone in conditioning contests, is an outstanding center field defender who can fly and, yes, deadlifts 630 pounds—could be a second half contributor.

But, most important, they need four starters healthy this season, and hope to have the bullpen go six deep. Last October was the first time the Indians played in a World Series, and their journey to that classic final game was an exhaustive grind with Carrasco, Santana and, at times, Bauer hurt. “We’re preparing the best way we know to be ready to go back where we were,” says Callaway.

When it was mentioned that if they get to the world series, they’d have to win it in five to win it in Cleveland. “We don’t care where it takes place,” says Antonetti, “if we can make it happen.”

So Chicago, L.A., New York, Washington, San Fransisco…anywhere. Since Bob Lemon beat Bill Voiselle in Game Six of the 1948 World Series at Braves Field in Boston (where the Patriots played their first game), the Indians have lost series in Cleveland last fall, Miami in 2007, Atlanta in 1995, and against the Giants in 1954.

So they’ll make certain Andrew Miller and crew are fully healthy for whatever, wherever, whenever October leads them.

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And you ask why the Cubs players so respect Theo Epstein?

Last season, in a stretch when they weren’t playing particularly well, they had an experienced pitcher in triple-A, Brian Matusz, who had an opt-out and whose agent wouldn’t push back the deadline. So the Cubs brought up the pitcher and made a corresponding move. The pitcher did not pitch well, and Epstein addressed the team the next day.

“You guys played your behinds off, and you’re not the reason we lost,” Epstein told the players. “This is on me. I (—) up. I’m accountable.”

“There’s more mutual respect here between the players and front office than any place in baseball,” says Anthony Rizzo.

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With all the young pitchers that get an extra opportunity this spring because the WBC has made spring training so much longer, three members of the 2015 National Champion Vanderbilt pitching staff have stood out.

–With all the name acquisitions made by the White Sox (not counting Michael Kopech, likely starting in A ball), when asked separately for their pick to click, Rick Renteria and Don Cooper both named Carson Fulmer and unbeknownst to one another, each picked the same comp—Jake Peavy.

–The Giants pitching coaches think Tyler Beede will be in their rotation by midseason.

–And with the Dodgers, Orel Hershiser says Walker Buehler, off Tommy John Surgery, “has arm-speed close to Pedro Martinez. He’s going to throw 100.” Dave Roberts and Andrew Friedman have duly noticed.

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Trayce Thompson may be ready to open the season with the Dodgers, which would be a significant addition against lefthanded pitching. His joy for the game is infectious. So are the stories about his boyhood backyard wiffle ball games.

His father Mychal, at 6-11, insisted on pitching to Trayce and Klay, now an NBA star. “We had another guy from our little league teams that always came over and played with us,” says Trayce.

“Kevin Love.”

“He was the biggest, baddest guy in little league, and in our games. He threw the wiffle ball a lot harder than my dad. And in little league, he struck everyone out, and was the best power hitter around. Kevin was an unbelievable baseball player.”

Some of us saw his father as Brian Wilson’s bodyguard while Wilson played the piano for the Beach Boys concert at Madison Square Garden in 1976.

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Healthy again, Andre Ethier looks like a man possessed. He’s running better than he has in years, hustling like Mike Trout down the line and around the bases, and one Dodgers official says, “we need him because he has such a disciplined approach at the plate against righthanded pitching.”

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Then there’s Diamondbacks lefthanded reliever Steve Hathaway, who grew up in Acton, Massachusetts. “I got to go with the big club to Fenway last season,” says Hathaway. “It was tremendous. I got to meet Wally, the Green Monster. And it was the same Wally who was the mascot when I was going to Fenway as a teenager. I met him, and was awestruck.”

He kiddeth not.

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The Mariners know they need Felix Hernandez to pitch more efficiently than the 3.82 ERA he put up last season. So they’re encouraging him to throw more curveballs to go with his fastball/split mix. “”Felix has a really good curveball,” says pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, Jr. “I think he’ll have a huge season for us.”

The Cubs drafted Ian Happ out of the University of Cincinnati with the ninth pick in 2015, right in behind Dandby Swanson, Bregman, Andrew Benintendi and Carson Fulmer. He is now 22, a switch-hitter who in his minor league time has played all three outfield positions and second base, and this spring has taken ground balls at third.

He understands what can get him to Chicago on a team that has young, established championship players like Kris Bryant at third, Addison Russell at shortstop and Javier Baez at second. “Joe Maddon is not afraid to use everyone and knows the value of versatility,” says Happ, who in his first full professional season hit 15 homers with an .810 OPS.

Which is why Ben Zobrist has immediately become his mentor. Switch-hitter. Started at seven positions in 2009. Won World Series rings the last two years. “It’s amazing to watch how he prepares,” says Happ. “Every swing he takes is perfect, meaningful. Every ground ball he takes he takes with reason, trying to be perfect. His practice is something to learn from. He’s a perfect example to a young player on how to stay in the game and contribute. That’s who I want to emulate.”

“What Ben does everyday is a synchronized tuneup,’ says Cubs bench coach Davey Martinez. “He’s like Derek Jeter that way. Every thing he does when he works and prepares is done precisely, perfectly.”

So this is, in effect, an instructional school for Ian Happ. And Ian Happ is going to be a very good, very useful player.

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The Cubs may be young, but with their concentration on constantly building have a lot of prospects up and down the organization. 20-year old right fielder Eloy Jimenez is a beast, 6-4, 210 with unlimited power after hitting 40 doubles and slugging .532 in the Midwest League. He is not a free-swinging Chris Carter type, he has a very sound approach and appears to have a chance at stardom. Jimenez and Gleyber Torres were the Cubs’ two big international signs in 2013, and Torres brought them Aroldis Chapman and when one talks to Cubs and Yankees folks has the instincts, makeup and power to be a big-time power force in Yankee Stadium, most likely at second base.

Down on the minor league fields in Mesa, there have been raves for 21-year old righthanded pitcher Dylan Cease. “He plays catch at 100,” says Rick Sutcliffe. He was a 2014 sixth round pick who required Tommy John Surgery. “What you worry about with a young pitcher with that kind of arm-speed,” says one Cubs official, “is how he’ll hold up. Can he keep throwing 100 as a starter, or does he end up in the bullpen like a Craig Kimbrel.”

Scott Radinsky, now the Angels bullpen coach, recorded another CD with his band Pulley this fall. It’s out on iTunes, “No Change in the Weather.”

I will never forget the conversation when I took Johnny Ramone to Dodger Stadium and introduced them.

I will also not forget that Bobby Witt hit his only major league homer that night.

If you have time, go to 4MOM, the website of Mariners minor league outfielder Braden Bishop. His mother has Alzheimer’s Disease, and this is his fund for her care.

Tremendous person.

**You can follow 4MOM on twitter **

Comments

  1. Theo = God says:

    “You guys played your behinds off, and you’re not the reason we lost,” Epstein told the players. “This is on me. I (—) up. I’m accountable.”… Is that not exactly the type of rhetoric you want coming from the top of your front office, that is why he will probably go down as the greatest executive in Baseball history, in terms of on the field accomplishment.

    • GhostOfFenway says:

      Still can’t believe we parted ways with him, would take him back in a heart beat.

      • Sammy Biggs says:

        can’t believe they have let the different leadership personalities walk over the years, Francona, Hazen, Theo, hell even Duquett is crushing it. The ownership is very much a “hey we are the bosses and we are going to get credit for winning”.

  2. Still the best peter, not only do bring the insight in such a great histoical perspective, whenever you can help someone you do, the Braden Bishop’s 4MOM part is just good people doing solid for good people, and that is what it is all about. I notice there are no ad’s on this site, ever. The only thing that is not content is stuff for your and other’s charity. you get my stamp of approval.

  3. Cleveland also lost the ’95 Series against Atlanta. And it’s ANDREW Benintendi (you won’t forget his name for long) . . .

  4. I would love to hear more about the Johnny Ramone trip to Dodger stadium!

  5. the cubs actually won the game Matusz started. he gave up 3 two run homers but the Cubs battled back and won on the Lester bunt in extra innings