More Changes For Beleaguered Bullpen

Matt Herges

For six months, Mark Shapiro fretted over the Indians' bullpen. He knew it was the weakest link on last year's disappointing team and wasted no time in trying to bolster it. He went over budget to sign free-agent closer Kerry Wood, added Joe Smith in a trade and signed veteran relievers to stockpile in reserve. Thus far, however, the Indians' relief corps has been even worse despite all the moves.

Don't be surprised if the organization affixes a revolving door for relievers to use going to and from the bullpen at Progressive Field.

On Wednesday, the Indians made yet another move to try and fix things by optioning struggling left-hander Rafael Perez to Triple-A Columbus and purchasing the contract of right-hander Matt Herges from the Clippers.

To make room on the 40-man roster, right-handed reliever Juan Salas was released. Salas, Herges, Vinnie Chulk and Greg Aquino were all added in the offseason, but have not helped much.

After the bullpen turned a 6-3 lead into a 10-6 loss Tuesday in Toronto, manager Eric Wedge minced no words in talking with reporters.

"It's unacceptable. We've got to do better than this," Wedge said. "Obviously, we're having a very difficult time in the bullpen. We're having trouble getting people out, having trouble getting people out in key situations. We tried everybody and we're going to keep working to figure it out.

"We have got to keep working hard to figure out how to get these guys going. We're going to continue to make changes, we're going to continue to try people, whether they are here, or in Triple-A, or not even in the organization."

At the end of last season, Perez was the brightest light in a bullpen of otherwise dimmed-out bulbs. This year, he's blown a fuse nearly every time Wedge has called upon him.

In 13 appearances, Perez was 0-1 with an insanely inflated 15.19 ERA. In 10 2-3 innings, he had been battered for 19 hits and 18 runs, walked nine and struck out only five.

What a difference from his previous 135 outings for the club since 2006 in shich he was 5-6 with three saves and a good 2.93 ERA. More importantly over that time, he had allowed only 118 hits in 149 1-3 innings, walking just 44 and fanning 163.

Herges at least has experience. The 39-year-old has worked in 537 big-league games since 1999 for the Dodgers, Expos, Padres, Giants, Diamondbacks, Marlins and Rockies. During that time, he compiled a 40-34 record, 34 saves and a 3.94 ERA.

Part of the Indians' rationale in signing him was that American League hitters would not be too familiar with him, since all of his experience was with NL teams.

At Columbus, Herges went 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA and four saves in 11 appearances. In 10 innings, he gave up 12 hits and five walks, striking out seven.

He was invited to Major League camp this spring after signing a minor-league free agent contract in January. He went 0-0 with a save and 5.63 ERA in eight exhibition outings.

Entering tonight's game in Boston, the Indians ranked dead last in the American League in pitching with a 5.96 ERA. Much of the problem has been with the entire relief corps.

Perez is not the only reliever who has been hit hard.

Wood, signed for two years at $20.5 million, has struggled. In 11 outings, the hard-throwing right-hander is 1-1 with five saves in six chances, but he also has a 7.20 ERA, having allowed 12 hits, eight runs and five walks over 11 innings while striking out 16.

Jensen Lewis, who went 13-for-13 in save opportunities a year ago and was expected to be one of the key setup men, is 2-3 with a 5.93 ERA and one save. He has given up 18 hits including six home runs in only 13 2-3 innings.

Rafael Betancourt, who in 2007 was the best setup man in the game, has been inconsistent. He's had sharp outing followed by bad ones, which certainly doesn't provide Wedge with confidence when turning to the bullpen.

Betancourt is 1-1 with a 5.13 ERA. He's yielded 16 hits and seven walks in 14 innings. Two years ago, the hard thrower walked only nine in 79 1-3 innings, when he compiled a 1.47 ERA.

Smith, before going on the disabled list, had a 7.11 ERA and five walks in only 6 1-3 innings.

Chulk is 0-1 with a 3.75 ERA since being called up from Columbus in early April, but has walked 10 against only four strikeouts over 12 innings.

Rookie left-hander Tony Sipp was initially unhittable after being called up from the Clippers, but yielded back-to-back homers during Toronto's seven-run seventh inning on Tuesday. Sipp has a 3.60 ERA and eight strikeouts in five innings overall.

Wedge doesn't seem to have much confidence in the last guy in the bullpen, Japanese import Masahide Kobayashi. There's good reason for that. Signed for two years in 2008, Kobayashi has not pitched anywhere near to what Shapiro had forecast and has little zip on the ball. Wedge generally uses the soon-to-be 35-year-old only when the Indians are well ahead or hopelessly behind.

"We have been in position to win multiple games, and we have to learn to finish them off," Wedge said. "We have to find a way to finish games off and get guys out late."

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