Indians' Smith, Masterson could close games
MINNEAPOLIS -- Chris Perez will not close games in the Cleveland Indians final three games, and it seems that Perez made the decision easy for Terry Francona.
Perez told Francona after a near-debacle Thursday night that he did not want to cost the team wins.
That conversation, combined with Perez’s struggles, led to the manager taking Perez out of the closer’s role.
And though Francona said the game and situation would determine who closes, all signs point to either Joe Smith or Justin Masterson finishing -- though that was not stated directly.
Masterson said he’s pointing to pitching the sixth inning as the “set up to the set up to the closer.”
But Francona said Masterson or Joe Smith could pitch the ninth.
But he also said both could also pitch earlier.
What’s clear is that Masterson is Francona’s hidden ace (no pun intended), and he wants to use him the best way he can to ensure he wins the final three games.
“It’s kind of weird how things work,” Francona said. “When we lost Masty, we got (Corey) Kluber back. CP has his struggles. Masty’s back. So we’ll figure out a way to make it work.”
Masterson is returning from a strained oblique and is not ready to start. He becomes the bullpen’s moveable part -- a guy who could pitch the fifth and sixth, the eighth and ninth or the ninth as an imposing 6-foot-6 closer.
“Some of it’s probably going to depend on how we get there, how guys are pitching,” Francona said. “Masty’s a little bit of a unique situation. He’s there because he’s been out a while. He’s not built up enough to start but he can go more than one inning. It’s possible he can go a couple. We’ll just kind of see how the game goes.”
Francona said he talked to both Smith and Masterson because he doesn’t want surprises -- another indicator Francona has plans in mind for him.
“The plan is for (Masterson) to be a weapon, and we’ll see where it takes us,” Francona said. “And I think he’ll enjoy every bit of that.”
Having Masterson back eased the pain of Perez’s struggles, which have been taking place since the beginning of August. Perez’s ERA since Aug. 3 is 7.52 and hitters are batting .342 against him. His 4.33 ERA is a career high. Thursday he gave up four runs in two-thirds of an inning as a five-run lead dissolved into a 6-5 win. When Perez told Francona he didn’t want to cost the team wins, the manager made the easy decision to change his role.
The Indians enter Friday's game as the second wild card team, but Texas is just one game back. The question remains whether Perez is part of the playoff roster, but Francona won't address that issue until his team actually makes the playoffs.
Perez has not spoken to the media in a few months, and Friday when four reporters approached him to ask for a comment, he spit some chew into a drink cup and said: “Nope.”
Francona wants his bullpen pitchers to know their roles, and to settle into them. So it’s not likely that the roles for Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and lefties like Rich Hill will change. He understands it’s not easy to juggle the closer’s spot, but he and the players also know where they stand.
“This time of year there are no egos,” Francona said. “It’s just put your seat belt on and let’s go find a way to win.”
“I think with three games to go, we can make that happen,” Masterson said.
“I’ve always been a believer that defined roles help,” Smith said. “But there are three games left and it’s all hands on deck.”