Who Will Earn the Right to Be in the Cleveland Indians Starting Rotation Come Opening Day?
As the Cleveland Indians begin their spring training workouts in Goodyear, Arizona, there is still plenty of faith that this team has one of the better pitching staffs in the American League.
It’s that starting five and the depth the team has that should keep this team in the conversation when it comes to being a playoff contender in 2020.
The club had so much depth that they were confident that they could trade Trevor Bauer before the trade deadline a year ago, and this offseason deal two-time Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers.
The Indians are one of the few teams in baseball that can boast they have more than five starters that could be in the starting rotation, and how those five pitchers that will be in the rotation will play out will be a fun story line to watch this spring.
Today we take a look at these pitchers, and give our input on who we think before the first full-squad workout or Cactus League game takes place will be the starting five for the Tribe come March 26 when the team plays their first regular season game in 2020.
First let’s take a look at the pitchers, five of which will be in that starting rotation in late March:
Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, Adam Plutko, Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac and Jefry Rodriguez.
That’s seven pitchers who will battle for five spots, and the two that don’t make it will likely begin the year either as a long arm out of the bullpen or as a starter in Columbus with the AAA Clippers depending on the specific players option.
Here’s a quick look at the players on the list, and their percentage to be one of the five pitchers in the team’s rotation.
Mike Clevinger – Percentage to Be in the Starting Five – 100 Percent
Clevinger is set to start 2020 as the Indians ace, coming off a season in which he went 13-4 with a 2.71 ERA.
He struck out 169 batters in 126 innings, and the 28-year-old started 21 games despite suffering a back injury early in the season.
This could be the season that, if healthy, Clevinger’s name is mentioned as a possible Cy Young award candidate.
Shane Bieber - Percentage to Be in the Starting Five – 100 Percent
Another spot that is set to be locked down is that of Shane Bieber’s, who should enter the season as the team’s number two or three starter.
Bieber had a breakout 2019, going 15-8 with a 3.28 ERA, and he was a part of the American League All-Star squad, where he struck out the side and was named the game’s MVP.
Overall Bieber was solid, starting 33 games with a 3.28 ERA, striking out 259 batters in 214.1 innings. Combined with Clevinger the pair make a solid 1-2 punch at the top of the Indians rotation.
Carlos Carrasco - Percentage to Be in the Starting Five – 70 Percent
The story of Carrasco in 2019 was bigger than what took place on the field, as he was diagnosed with leukemia after leaving the team with a ‘blood condition’ in May.
He made it all the way back, and was a part of the team’s bullpen in the final month of the season, doing enough to earn the ‘AL Comeback Player of the Year’ award.
Now Carrasco wants to be back in the starting rotation for the Tribe, and how he does this spring in Goodyear will dictate if he is ready for the rigors of being a starter or needs to start the year in the pen.
There’s no question that Carrasco will at some point be a starter again, as he has won 66 games over the last five years, it’s just a matter of right away or into the season.
Adam Plutko - Percentage to Be in the Starting Five – 30 Percent
In 2019 Plutko started 20 games for the Indians, going 7-5 with a bit of a high ERA of 4.86. The 27-year-old threw 109.1 innings as a starter last season, and has been a solid insurance policy to step in when injury strikes.
This spring will be the most critical of his career, as he wants to prove that he can be given the ball every fifth day and be counted on.
The team though might again have him better suited as a long man out of the pen, with again having him standing by to step in as a spot starter if one of the other starters gets injured.
Aaron Civale - Percentage to Be in the Starting Five –55 Percent
Civale was a pleasant surprise when he was called upon for 10 starts in 2019, throwing well just about every time he stepped on the mound.
He handled the pressure of being a first-time starter as well as anyone could have expected, going 3-4 with a 2.34 ERA.
The 24-year-old was the team’s third-round pick in 2016, and in three years made a quick rise all the way to the Majors.
It will be up to Civale on how he does this spring in Goodyear to earn one of the final two open spots in the rotation, if he can look like he did during his 10 starts a season ago, he’ll be one of the five starters.
Zach Plesac - Percentage to Be in the Starting Five – 60 Percent
Another surprise to many Indians fans was how Zach Plesac stepped in and pitched when given the chance due to injury.
He finished the season 8-6 with an ERA of 3.81 in 24 starts with the Indians.
Two of his first three starts were against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, and the Indians won both games thanks in part to solid outings from Plesac.
Just like Civale, a solid spring by Plesac should earn him the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation.
Jefry Rodriguez - Percentage to Be in the Starting Five – 5 Percent
The 26-year-old was acquired as part of the Yan Gomes deal with the Washington Nationals, and was mostly forgotten after he was injured in June despite making two appearances in September.
He had his issues with command, going 1-5 with a 4.63 ERA in eight starts, 10 total appearances.
His best outing came May 12 when he recorded his only win of the season throwing six decent innings against the Oakland A’s.
Starting the year as part of the rotation is a longshot at best, but he could be in the mix if the team has issues keeping pitchers healthy.