Pitchers ready to step up for revamped Indians

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Ubaldo Jimenez understands reality, about himself and about the Cleveland baseball team.

The Indians generated a ton of optimism this offseason by bringing in free agents and adding parts — including a World Series manager. But a good part of an important group left basically unchanged was the starting rotation.

That would be the rotation that a year ago was 48-76 with a 5.25 ERA.

“I think,” Jimenez said Thursday before the Indians played the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Field, “myself and some of the other pitchers have to step up. Because they went and got some good hitters.

“Now it’s our turn to make this thing work.”

It is no stretch at all to say that as the Indians rotation goes, so will go the team.
The lineup added Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds. Terry Francona brings credibility in the dugout. The bullpen is excellent.

The one question mark when spring training started remains the question mark: The starting rotation.

And if anyone is emblematic of the hopes — and fears — for the rotation, it’s Jimenez.

Acquired a year-and-a-half ago for two former first-round draft picks, Jimenez admits his Cleveland time has been a disappointment. He went 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA in 2011, and 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA in 2012. The 17 losses led the league, and his 95 walks were second.

“It’s been really disappointing,” Jimenez said. “They brought me over here to help the team. I haven’t been able to do that. I wasn’t 100 percent physically the first year and last year I didn’t have my mechanics.

“It’s been a tough road.”

Jimenez has been concentrating on concentrating, not letting small problems turn into big ones. He’s trying to be consistent with his delivery, saying adjustments are both mental and physical.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “It’s no pressure at all. I put enough pressure on myself trying to be who I was and trying to be good for this team.

“It’s a challenge, and I want to be there for my team.”

Jimenez likely will hold the second spot in the rotation. The opening day starter will be Justin Masterson, also trying to come back from an off year. He went 11-15 in 2012, and saw his ERA balloon from 3.21 in ‘11 to 4.93 last season. Masterson has worked on a slight change in his delivery and landing point, a change he said produces more movement on his pitches.

Spring training numbers are not exactly glittering — Masterson has a 6.39 ERA, Jimenez 4.91 — but Francona said in spring training guys work on so many things that he doesn’t really learn about his rotation until the season starts.

The rest of the rotation is comprised of Brett Myers (who threw six scoreless innings in a AAA game Wednesday), Zach McAlister and either Carlos Carrasco (hit pretty good with some bad luck on Thursday) or Scott Kazmir. Manager Francona has yet to decide, but Kazmir would appear to have the edge.

One player who will not be in the early-season rotation is Trevor Bauer, the phenom acquired from Arizona in the Shin-Soo Choo trade.

Francona said Bauer has been trying both to “find” and “refine” his mechanics, and he’s not there yet. Bauer had a groin muscle injury last season that affected his delivery. He’s been trying to fix that delivery.

“I don’t think about making a big league club or not,” Bauer said (his body language kind of said he did think about it, but that could just be the way he is). “I think about my improvement and getting better. If I can improve every day, then that’s all I can handle. I made a decision to make some changes that are going to help me long term. That’s what I’m doing.”

Bauer said he’s improved “a ton” since spring training began, and that the move does nothing to shake his belief or confidence. “Why would it?” he said. He added the attention on him has not affected him, saying: “It’s the fish bowl I live in.”

Francona said he respected any disappointment Bauer and Corey Kluber (also sent down) felt, saying both can pitch in the majors but they’re just behind Carrasco and Kazmir.

“When you end up sending guys back that can help at the Major League, I think that means we’ve gotten deeper,” he said. “Which is good.”

Now the Indians hope the starters they keep are good as well.

“If we come together,” Masterson said, “we can do a lot of good things.”