GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The Indians early-season rotation was finalized on Sunday as Terry Francona named TJ House and Zach McAllister to the final two spots.
McAllister will start the home opener on April 10 against Detroit while House will take the hill on April 11. Josh Tomlin, who was also in the running, has been optioned to Triple-A Columbus.
For the opening series against Houston, Corey Kluber will start the opener on April 6 followed by Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. Carrasco is currently in Florida with his wife as they await the birth of the couple’s fourth child. The Indians would like him to pitch the second game of the series on April 8, but it all depends on when he returns.
McAllister was guaranteed of a roster spot coming into spring training because he was out of options. Many figured that it would be in the bullpen since he was effective there in September, but the right-hander earned another chance to be in the rotation after a great spring. In six games, with four being starts, he is 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA with 24 strikeouts and only four walks. In Saturday’s 3-2 win over Milwaukee, he went five innings and struck out nine.
Even though McAllister is pitching the home opener, he is considered the fifth starter and may return to the bullpen for a little bit. During the first 18 days of the season, the Tribe have four off days and only need a fifth starter twice. All of that is weather permitting as the Indians had three postponements the first two weeks. Two ended up being rescheduled as doubleheaders in the same series.
"Zach came in and blew the doors off which we all thought he might with his work ethic," Francona said. "He doesn’t have to earn every start. We just felt like we don’t need a fifth starter until April 21, and that is if April is good. He’s throwing the ball so well and he’s stretched out that we want to give him the start and figure out how he can help us out from there."
In his first four starts last season, McAllister was 3-0 with a 2.28 ERA. He then had a six-start stretch where he went 0-4 with a 9.51 ERA and was placed on the disabled list with lower back inflammation. He bounced between Cleveland and Columbus the rest of the season, making a couple spot starts.
After Saturday’s outing, McAllister credited the time in Triple-A for helping him make the necessary adjustments.
"It’s a carryover of what I did last August in Columbus. I think that was a big key to buying in that I have to do a better job of getting the ball down. Knowing I can get hitters out with my command still being there," he said.
House has also had a solid spring and has picked up where he had left off from last season, when he went 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA in his final seven starts. He also helps vary the rotation by being a left-hander and led Indians pitchers last year with a 61.5 ground-ball percentage.
Said Francona of House: "He had a pretty good second half and showed up in good shape. He’s in a position where the season starts where you follow the scouting report and the glove; his arm strength is where it needs to be, and he is deserving of that spot."
With Tomlin’s demotion, there will be plenty of depth in Columbus as he joins Danny Salazar, Bruce Chen and possibly Shaun Marcum.
Reliever Anthony Swarzak, who came to camp as a non-roster signee, was also told that he made the club. Swarzak will be added to the 40-man roster when Gavin Floyd gets placed on the 60-day disabled list later this week. Swarzak, who was with Minnesota, has the second-most relief innings in the majors the past three seasons. In those 133 relief appearances, he was 8-4 with a 3.60 ERA. For a bullpen that featured four guys with 70 or more appearances last season, adding another right-hander who can log a lot of innings is an asset.
"He just has that rare ability to throw a lot of innings. With how we used our bullpen (last year) our goal was never to set records but we want it to remain a weapon and we want to use it correctly," Francona said.
There remains one spot left up for grabs on the roster, which appears to be between right-hander Austin Adams, outfielder Tyler Holt and infielder Jerry Sands. Adams has been told that he remains in consideration for a spot if the Indians decide to go with 13 pitchers. Since McAllister has versatility on the staff, they could elect to go with only 12 and have 13 position players.