Depth off the bench

Due to injury, the Indians have turned to their bench more than they had hoped, but the bench has come through.

The injury bug and a few strange circumstances have made it difficult for the Cleveland Indians to put out their A-lineup in the early part of the season. But thanks to some good depth, they have managed to overcome those issues and play good baseball the first month-plus of the season.

First they lost lefty Scott Kazmir to a rib cage injury just hours before the start of the season. Shortly after that catcher Lou Marson went on the disabled list with a cervical strain, and after he returned for a few days he went right back on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.

Then they lost outfielder Michael Bourn two weeks into the season with a lacerated finger and he has not played since. They also lost righty Brett Myers to right elbow inflammation and he has been out a few weeks and will probably be out a few more. Recently, right-handed setup man Vinnie Pestano went on the disabled list with right elbow tendonitis.

They even lost catcher Carlos Santana for about a week after he injured his thumb, and even second baseman Jason Kipnis, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, and first baseman Nick Swisher have all missed a few games with some minor injuries.

Beyond the injuries the Indians have worked around a suspension for righty Carlos Carrasco at the outset of the season that forced him out of six games. They also dealt with a scary personal family matter with right-handed reliever Matt Albers that led to him being out for over a week.

Needless to say, the Indians have been trudging through a mine field this season with their 25-man roster, and while one single injury has not been devastating, the sheer amount of them has tested the depth the Indians worked so hard to build in the offseason.

To date, the returns have been favorable.

The injury to Pestano has allowed the Indians to get lefty Nick Hagadone and even lefty Scott Barnes into the mix in the bullpen. Both deserve to be in Cleveland – especially Hagadone who has a 2.25 ERA and 10.1 K/9 in nine appearances. Beyond them the Indians also have several more bullpen arms at Triple-A Columbus and Double-A Akron that are on the immediate big league radar just waiting for an opportunity.

The injuries to Kazmir and Myers really put the starting rotation in disarray for a few weeks. The rotation has since settled in thanks to Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister putting up very good starts night after night and Ubaldo Jimenez turning his season around. Kazmir has since returned and continues to pitch better each time out and righty Corey Kluber has filled in well for Myers putting up a 3.06 ERA and 8.2 K/9 in four appearances.

Yet, the biggest impact has been felt in the lineup.

With so many players missing time in the lineup, the Indians have had to turn to their bench players and use them as regulars for most of the first 31 games of the season. In previous years when they had to turn to the likes of outfielder Aaron Cunningham, outfielder Shelley Duncan, infielder Jason Donald and so on for every day duties that was a recipe for disaster.

But the Indians shiny new toys added to the bench from several offseason moves have proven their worth. Pushed into more regular duty, infielder Mike Aviles, outfielder/infielder Ryan Raburn, and catcher Yan Gomes have all impacted the lineup both offensively and defensively. They have helped avoid the expected drop off when they have been inserted into the lineup for a regular, be it due to injury or to just give someone a day off.

Aviles finally gives the Indians a more than suitable backup option at shortstop as well as third base and second base. He is a true super utility player that they have on the bench as a luxury, and when put in at shortstop is not much of a step down from Cabrera and is good insurance at third base and second base for the struggling Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis.

Raburn has quickly become a folk hero in Cleveland. He was a minor signing in the offseason after a few poor seasons in Detroit, but he quickly made his presence felt in spring training ripping three homers in his first 13 at bats in the spring. He has carried that thunder over into the season hitting .333 with four homers, 11 RBI and .968 OPS in 21 games and really helped cover up the loss of Bourn in the early going.

Gomes has been given an earlier opportunity than expected this season as he was supposed to spend most of the season at Columbus while Marson served as the caddy for Santana, but Gomes has made good on the opportunity given to him with Marson sidelined with injuries. Gomes is only hitting .212, but four of his seven hits have gone for extra bases. He has also really handled the pitching staff well and been impressive with his catch and throw skills behind the plate.

Over the course of a 162-game season, every team is going to deal with bumps and bruises that result in them having to rely on their depth to supplement the team while they get their regulars back healthy. The good teams find a way to overcome such injuries that can sometimes be devastating to the success of their season, and it usually comes down to having suitable replacement options on the bench or in the minors.

So far, the Indians approach in the offseason to improve the depth of the roster at the major league level has been a success and is a big reason why they have been able to stay afloat this season even in the wake of losing so many players to injury and other reasons.