Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tribe win streak at four as retreaded bullpen puts brakes on Rays

When the Tribe announced the signings this winter of journeymen pitchers Matt Herges, Greg Aquino and Tomo Ohka, I paid about as much attention to those signings as I did to the wispy snow flurries that were probably falling outside my window at the time.

Which is to say, I paid them very little mind.

After all, with the bullpen that had already been assembled I doubted any of those guys would be seen in a Tribe uniform once the team left Arizona.

As we sit here today, all three are on the Tribe's active roster - Ohka being the latest to join the club today.

The other two - Herges and Aquino - have been important additions to a revamped bullpen which has been at the center of the Tribe's recent mini renaissance.

The team has won four straight - all against the Rays this week at Progressive Field - and 7 of their last 10 going back to the series they took in KC - 2 games to 1.

Just as the bullpen was instrumental in the success the Tribe had on the latter half of its road trip last week, so too did the Retread Relief Corps play a big role in the Tribe's only series sweep of the season so far.

Of course the offense did more than its share during the Rays series, overcoming a 10-zip hole on Monday and a 5-0 deficit and 7-run outing by starter and once-again-minor-leaguer Zack Jackson last night.

But in both of those games, as well as in today's 2-1 win - which saw starter David Huff toss 4 shutout innings only to be shut down by a long rain delay- the pen had to come in and hold the fort so the offense could do its work.

Virtually everyone in the pen - except for Jensen Lewis, who allowed 5 runs Monday and 1 today - has been up to the task.

Herges, Aquino and recent free-agent signee Luis Vizcaino have led the way with Herges getting the "W" today and Aquino getting last night's win with a 3-inning save by Vizcaino.

Excluding Lewis, the Tribe bullpen went 16 2/3 innings in the 4-game series without allowing a run and picked up 3 of the 4 wins and 2 saves.

Two guys expected to be key parts of the pen - Kerry Wood and Raffie Betancourt - also contributed 2 scoreless innings apiece during the 4-game series. Both pitchers, getting regular work of late, in roles they expected to be in, have shown the effectiveness the Tribe had been expecting out of them.

Wood's last 4 outings, going back to KC, have been scoreless, as have 5 of his last 6 going back to mid-month. He looked particularly nasty in the 9th inning today, protecting the 2-1 lead.

Betancourt hasn't allowed a run in his last 6 outings and 8 of his last 9, allowing just 1 run in 11 1/3 innings in his last 9 trips to the mound.

In winning 7 of its last 10, the Tribe has improved its record to 7 games under and 7 games out (with the Tigers playing as I write this) - still rather woeful, but definitely heading in the right direction.

Raffie Perez, who hasn't allowed a run since being sent to Columbus to find himself, may be back soon and Joe Smith will be on a rehab assignment soon and may also be back with the team in the near term.

If you ask me, when Perez comes back the Tribe would be wise to give Lewis the same opportunity to get his act together in Columbus.

Judging from comments made after today's game it appears Ohka is headed for long relief, with Jeremy Sowers heading back to the rotation and Huff staying there - at least for the next trip around the rotation.

So the Indians appear to be getting hot at just the time I most like to see them on a roll - with the hated Yankees heading to Cleveland for 4 this weekend.

Tribefan In Yankeeland - of course - will be keeping a close eye on that one.

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