Indians rotation deep, starters throw hard and throw strikes
GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) They throw hard, they throw strikes and could be together for quite some time.
The Cleveland Indians have one of the deepest starting rotations in the major leagues, a potent and still young group whose top four include the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, a pair of power pitchers who both won 14 games last season and a former first-round draft pick.
As a group last season, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer made the Indians only the third team since 1920 to have four pitchers with at least 170 strikeouts.
''There's been times, we've all seen it with some of our younger pitchers, where they've made youthful mistakes,'' manager Terry Francona said. ''But they also look really healthy and are throwing the ball good, and they work hard. Besides Kluber winning a Cy Young, hard to out-do that, but we all think there's room for all of them to grow.''
Kluber is the only of that quartet of right-handers who will be 30 or older this season - his birthday is on the day of Cleveland's scheduled sixth game and possibly his second start. Each of the four has a contract that could keep him with the Indians through at least 2020.
''We're young, and we have so much energy, like the whole team,'' Salazar said.
''I guess it just kind of puts the pressure on me to not mess this up,'' catcher Yan Gomes said with a grin. ''It's great, because we're all fairly young and we've all come up together. ... Just seeing how much they've grown already, the sky's the limit right now. They're going to keep going.''
While Cleveland didn't live up to its huge expectations last year, finishing only one game over .500 and third in the AL Central, all those blossoming pitchers have another season of experience and were part of a staff with an AL-high 1,407 strikeouts.
Now Cleveland needs to find some offense to support all of that good pitching. The Indians ranked 11th in the AL in runs scored, averaging 4.15 per game last season. Kluber paid for the lack of help more than anyone as the Indians averaged 3.3 runs for him and scored two or fewer runs in 21 of his 32 starts.
After going 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA in 2014, Kluber got a $38.5 million contract through 2019 that includes two additional team options. In the first year of that deal, he went 9-16, missed three weeks last September with a strained right hamstring and then loss three starts before striking out nine and allowing three hits over eight innings in a 2-0 win over Boston in his season finale.
''Obviously, there's nobody on our pitching staff that's got 10 years of service or anything like that, but that doesn't mean that I don't think we have guys that have gained experience,'' said Kluber, who has 514 strikeouts in 457 2/3 innings in 66 starts the past two seasons. ''We're going to try to help each other. It doesn't have to be just one person giving advice to everybody else, it can be a group effort to try as a whole to become better.''
Carrasco, who turns 29 on March 21, went to Cleveland in the July 2009 deal that sent Cliff Lee to Philadelphia. He also got a new contract early last season - $22 million through 2018 and team options for an additional two seasons. He went 14-12 with a 3.63 ERA in 30 starts.
Salazar, signed out of the Dominican Republic a decade ago at age 16, also made 30 starts and was 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA, and his first free agency year isn't until 2021, like Bauer. The third overall pick by Arizona in 2011, the 25-year-old Bauer went 11-12 with 170 strikeouts in 176 innings after his call-up last May.
The fifth starter will likely be Cody Anderson or Josh Tomlin, who at 31 is the elder statesman among the starting group. After recovering from shoulder surgery and making his season debut in mid-August, Tomlin was 7-2 with a 3.02 ERA and two complete games in 10 starts. Anderson was 7-3 with a 3.05 ERA in 15 starts.
Pitching coach Mickey Callaway believes his entire group is consistent because they are so routine-driving and routine-oriented, while in spring training and during the season. Callaway said coaches have certain expectations for the pitchers, who hold each other accountable.
''It takes the right people,'' Callaway said. ''And we've got the right guys that can do it.''