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«Bullpen sessions paying off for Indians Unconventional method has helped Tribe's starting rotation grow into one of the AL's elite By Shane Jackson / ...»

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Bullpen sessions paying off for Indians

Unconventional method has helped Tribe's starting rotation grow into one of the AL's elite

By Shane Jackson / MLB.com | June 23rd, 2016

CLEVELAND -- Indians right-hander Josh Tomlin frantically finishes tying his shoes and grabs his glove. Urgency has overtaken him as if he is

late. But the Tribe's righty just pitched the previous night and starters typically have a scarce workload the day after a start. So why is Tomlin in

such a hurry?

The answer: Carlos Carrasco has a bullpen session.

Tomlin stows his belongings in his locker before departing the clubhouse and running out to the bullpen in Progressive Field. There he joins fellow right-handed starters, Danny Salazarand Trevor Bauer. Only ace Corey Kluber is not present for the Carrasco bullpen watch party and that is because Kluber is getting ready to pitch that night.

"We thought it would be a good chance to hold each other accountable to what we are doing in the bullpens," Tomlin said. "Not just go through the motions and try to get better in those bullpens. It just gave us that sense of accountability for each other. Everybody is watching. Try to go out there and learn from each other."

It may not seem like much, but the abnormal bullpen sessions have become a daily routine this season for Cleveland's rotation. It's an unprecedented routine for a position so individualistic but for a staff as unified as this one, it should come as no surprise.

The idea originated in an offseason meeting between manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway. So before the exhibition game in Texas earlier this season, Callaway brought up the idea to the staff. Even though none of them had ever heard of such thing, they all agreed.

"We don't want to reinvent the wheel," Francona said. "I think it's a good game and I don't believe in trick and quick-fix stuff but we liked the idea, just because it's a group that watches each other so much. One, I thought it would make their bullpens crisper on days they didn't feel like it. Because you got four guys watching, you don't want to let your teammates down. But also they watch each other so much that they pick stuff up."

The results have been astronomical to this point in the season. According to Fangraphs entering Thursday, the starting staff has the American League's second best ERA (3.69), second highest K/9 (8.28), best K/BB ratio (3.48), and the best WAR (7.5). All while posting a 30-19 record.

Among qualified pitchers, the Indians have four starters in the top-18 in ERA. Salazar posts the second-best ERA in the AL (2.23), Bauer ranked ninth (3.20), Tomlin is 13th (3.32), and the ace, Kluber sits at 18th (3.59). Carrasco has not logged enough innings after spending significant time on the DL but he has a 3.26 ERA.

"What I think is better is when we play a different team," Salazar said. "And you start talking to your friends and they are like, 'you guys have The depth of the rotation has played a major part to build the league's most fearsome five. The fact that backend starters such as Tomlin and Bauer are able to go out there and not miss a beat is what makes this rotation so uncanny.

Bauer started the season in the bullpen after losing out on the starting job to Cody Anderson. Instead of sulking, Bauer did his job out the 'pen and waited for his name to be called again. It was called after Carrasco went to the disabled list, and Bauer has been back to being a starter ever since.

Since returning to the rotation, Bauer has posted a 4-2 record with a 2.96 ERA and 65 strikeouts compared to 22 walks.

"It's nice to see that -- especially [with] Bauer," Carrasco said of the pitcher. "He started in the bullpen and he came back to the rotation and has been throwing great. Tomlin is a different guy. The way I learn from Tomlin is everything. He doesn't throw hard but every time he hits the glove."

The depth of the rotation can be attributed back to the chemistry and the dividends of the bullpen sessions. These guys are helping each other but at the same time helping themselves by wanting to be better than the other four starters.

An example of that occurred in the last game. Bauer tossed just his second career complete game Wednesday night following Kluber's complete game shutout the night before. When Bauer departed to the clubhouse he was actually upset with himself.

"Trevor was a little upset he gave up a run," Callaway said. "Just because we didn't give up a run the night before. It's a really good atmosphere for those guys right now. They're really pulling for each other and trying to outdo each other, which is great."

Bauer's performance finished off a perfect 11-0 home record in June. In those 11 games, the starters tossed 10 quality starts capped by consecutive complete-game efforts. It marked the first time a pair of Tribe hurlers tossed back-to-back complete games with three-or-fewer hits since Aug. 21-22, 1977.

"The potential on this staff is really high," Bauer said. "It's a matter of being consistent and going out there and putting in the necessary work to be consistent and pitch well every night. When we get on a roll like this it's a lot of fun watching everyone go out there and compete."

Potential being the key word -- which mean's this staff believes it still has new heights. A scary thought for one of the league's most unified and lethal rotations.

Here's a look at top prospects to watch Friday in Minor League action:

Hitter to watch: Clint Frazier (Indians' No. 2), Akron vs. Trenton (7:05 p.m. ET on MiLB.TV) Frazier has been a top prospecNationals top prospect Lucas Giolito starts for Double-A Harrisburg against Portland at 7 p.m. ET on MiLB.TV.t for a while, and he's certainly been hitting like someone worthy of his ranking. The No. 23 overall prospect collected three hits for Akron on Thursday and has eight hits in his last 16 at-bats. The center fielder is slashing.305/.396/.498 in his first season at the Double-A level and is tied for the lead in the Eastern League with 20 doubles.

Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer finally clicking by keeping it simple, working with catcher Chris Gimenez By Ryan Lewis CLEVELAND: Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer and the Indians’ coaching staff have at times appeared to be on different paths. After a given start, Bauer has pointed to one thing as the reason he did well or not-as-well, and the Indians have pointed to another. Bauer has wanted to focus on only velocity. The Indians wanted him to throw more strikes.

Lately, they appear to be on the same page. Bauer has found a level of consistency he had never previously enjoyed in his major-league career. With Wednesday’s three-hit, one-run complete game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Bauer extended his quality-start streak to six games, the longest of his career. He also lowered his season ERA to 3.20.

Much of the reasoning behind his recent success is that Bauer has simplified his approach, cut down on how many pitches he’s throwing in most cases and is benefiting from working with recently acquired catcher Chris Gimenez.

Bauer has long used a repertoire of seven or more pitches, often looking to be as technical as possible with every hitter. Recently, he’s started to focus on four pitches: fastball, cutter, curveball and change-up. Instead of trying to throw all seven all the time, he’s allowing the movement mainly on those four to do the work.

In a word, Indians manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway both used “conventional,” something Bauer has never been.

“If I say this, I know Trevor will probably be mad at me, but he’s pitching almost more conventional,” Francona said. “I mean that as a big compliment. … He’s pounding the strike zone with really good stuff, changing speeds, it’s been really fun to watch.” The Indians have talked about wanting Bauer to throw more strikes, cut down on his walks and get the ball down for several seasons. Progress has been an up-hill hike, and it included him being removed from the rotation toward the end of last season because he was giving up too many home runs. Bauer has always had his own way of looking at things — the club has stressed that’s not necessarily a bad thing — and a deep repertoire.

He’s now providing the Indians with another weapon in their already-deep starting rotation and, albeit for a small stretch, looking exactly like the pitcher the club has envisioned. And he’s still only 25 with a wealth of potential.

“He’s simplified his mix,” Callaway said. “He’s throwing 20-25 pitch bullpens. He’s staying locked in and not overdoing it. He’s doing a very good job of attacking the zone with both sides of the plate and multiple pitches and leading with his curveball when he needs to. He’s throwing fastballs down and away when he needs to and becoming more of a conventional guy.” Francona, Callaway and Bauer have been working to find what works best. The insertion of Gimenez into that mix could end up being the component that completed the puzzle.

Gimenez had previously talked with Bauer in 2014 and has caught Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers, who owns a similarly extensive repertoire.

Bauer took interest, and ever since the Indians acquired Gimenez after Roberto Perez’s placement on the disabled list, the two have been working together every fifth game.

Gimenez didn’t want to cut down on how many different pitches Bauer threw for the sake of it. He wanted to allow his best pitches to complement one another. It’s worked so far.

“Why not, instead of trying to make him something that he’s not, in my opinion I have to try to make what he is, better,” Gimenez said. “That, to me, is how his stuff plays off each other. If he’s going to be able to run heaters up like that, let’s throw a curveball off of it and then we can drop a change-up in there. You’d be surprised what can happen. … In the past, from what I’ve seen, especially facing him and when I was here in ’14, I think he just tried to get too technical with stuff.” It’s one of the more significant alterations to Bauer’s approach since he joined the Indians. It took time, but it might have been the needed change.

“If you’re buying into something and trying it and it’s not working, it’s very easy to just throw it in the garbage and keep doing what you’re doing or going about it the way you want to do it,” Gimenez said. “I think the fact he is getting some pretty positive results out of it is big for his mental part of it.” Akron Beacon Journal LOADED: 06.24.2016 At last, the Cleveland Indians' starting rotation is as good as (or better than) advertised: Zack Meisel's musings By Zack Meisel CLEVELAND, Ohio -- At first, they were boos.

A long, tiring day in downtown Cleveland grew longer and more exhausting as fans watched one of their own sprint across the outfield.

The leap changed the crowd's tune. The fan, after gliding across the outfield grass like Rajai Davis, climbed the center-field wall like Kenny Lofton. Then, he was sacked like Colt McCoy.

Once he trumped the pesky, green fence, he bolted up the stairway toward the concourse. The fan could have continued straight, out of the ballpark, but he veered to his right, where he was taken down.

At that juncture, fans had engaged in a chant of "M-V-P." Some local sports heroes star in a parade to celebrate the termination of a 52-year championship drought. Others, apparently, parade around the outfield during the middle of an inning.

"I didn't know he had the ups to get off the [ground]," said catcher Chris Gimenez. "I'll tell you what, though, he made a good climb."

Here are five thoughts on the Tribe.

1. Rotating: The Indians have surrendered fewer runs than any other American League club. Can you match each starting pitcher to his stat line?

Pitcher A: 3.59 ERA,.215 average against, 1.01 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 Pitcher B: 3.32 ERA,.255 average against, 1.08 WHIP, 5.9 K/9 Pitcher C: 2.23 ERA,.183 average against, 1.12 WHIP, 10.7 K/9 Pitcher D: 3.26 ERA,.256 average against, 1.21 WHIP, 8.0 K/9 Pitcher E: 3.20 ERA,.225 average against, 1.16 WHIP, 8.4 K/9 All five hurlers have produced admirable numbers this season. After some searching and some healing, the Indians have identified the five starters who can carry this roster for the long haul.

Answers: Corey Kluber (A), Josh Tomlin (B), Danny Salazar (C], Carlos Carrasco (D), Trevor Bauer (E) Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 11.46.26 PM.pngThe Indians rank first in the AL in runs allowed by their starters.Baseball-Reference.com

2. Rotating, II: How do the Indians' starters stack up with the rest of the AL?

When considering ERA, here is where each ranks among qualified starting pitchers.

Salazar: 2nd Bauer: 9th Tomlin: 13th Kluber: 18th Carrasco has not logged enough innings, since he missed about six weeks with a strained hamstring. Otherwise, he would slot in between Bauer and Tomlin.

"The potential on this staff is really high," Bauer said.... "When we get on a roll like this, it's a lot of fun watching everyone go out there and compete."

3. Home cooking: The Indians completed an 11-0 stretch at home to record their first undefeated month at home (of at least 10 games) in franchise history. In those 11 affairs, they limited the opposition to 21 runs.

Cody Anderson and Mike Clevinger experienced their share of struggles earlier in the year. The five who currently comprise the Indians' rotation, however, have combined to post a 3.20 ERA, with 8.5 K/9 and only 7.5 hits per nine innings.

"They're really pulling for each other and trying to outdo each other, which is great," said pitching coach Mickey Callaway.

4. Record-setting: The Rays mustered 26 hits in 180 at-bats against the Indians in six meetings this season, good for a.144 average.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's the lowest average by one AL team against another in major-league history.

5. You complete me: Kluber and Bauer registered consecutive complete games to close out the series against the Rays. The Indians needed only two innings from their bullpen in the three-game set. They also have an off-day on Thursday. It sure doesn't seem as though they need an eight-man bullpen and a shortened bench. Tribe hurlers rank second in the AL in innings per start.

"If [the relievers] have to shake off a little rust this week, that's a pleasant thing to figure out," said manager Terry Francona, "because they'll all be used. Believe me."

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