"Old haunts are for forgotten ghosts"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
Tonight’s blog entry is filed live from the Third Row of the Progressive Field Press Box, proud working home of Jason Stein (the “Master of Self-Promotion”) and former working home of yours truly.
Stein and I once had the idea of pitching a “Third Row” reality show to STO. It would have been a lot like ABC’s “Bachelor Pad,” but with less bikinis, less booze, less women, less drama, less intrigue, less crying and less roses. Same amount of petty name-calling.
  • Mitch Talbot tossed three innings for short-season Mahoning Valley against Aberdeen last night and is expected back in the rotation Saturday. 
  • Who goes, when Talbot comes back? Well, David Huff’s alarming fifth inning Sunday didn’t do him any favors. Manny Acta wasn’t pleased with Huff’s fastball command the entire outing (Huff, meanwhile, thought his command was just fine until the fifth). Huff would seem to be a candidate to get dropped from the rotation.
  • But at some point soon, Acta said the Indians might use some semblance of a six-man rotation. “What we’re thinking about is we could have a swing man, a type of guy where if someone like [Mitch] Talbot or [Justin] Masterson needs to be shut down, this guy can step in for one of those guys each week,” Acta said. “That way, everybody will pitch, but not necessarily in a six-man rotation.” The Indians don’t want to shut Talbot or Masterson down completely before season’s end, the way Jeremy Sowers, as an example, was shut down a few years ago. They see the value in having those guys reach the finish line, but their innings will likely be limited and their time between starts increased down the stretch.
  • Anthony Reyes’ return could come into play in September. But for now, he’s just trying to get through his Minor League rehab, which resumes Wednesday at Double-A Akron. Reyes had a back issue that halted his rehab for a few days.
  • Aaron Laffey threw a bullpen session today, his first step toward coming back from the left shoulder fatigue the lowered his velocity. It sounds as though the Indians are leaning toward placing Laffey in the bullpen when he comes back. “At this point, I think the best thing would be for us to get together with him and see how he feels about it,” Acta said, “instead of trying to ramp him up, stretch him out and bring him back as a starter.”
  • Travis Hafner (right shoulder soreness) is getting close to picking up a bat again. The Indians will want to see two good BP sessions from Hafner before they determine whether he’ll need to go out on a rehab assignment.
  • A few of you have asked for a Grady Sizemore update, but there’s not much to tell. He continues to get regular treatment following knee surgery but isn’t close to baseball activity. The next substantive update will probably come this winter.
  • Also on the injury front, assistant to the Major League staff Ruben Niebla is on the mend after knee surgery and off crutches. Niebla blew out his knee while shagging fly balls at PNC Park in June. He said he’ll be heading to Arizona soon. The joke in the organization is that Niebla is on a “return-to-coach” program.
  • Matt LaPorta is batting .297 with eight doubles, six homers and 20 RBIs in 36 games since the Russell Branyan trade. 
  • The Indians signed fifth-round Draft pick Cole Cook, a right-hander from Pepperdine. They also signed 22nd-rounder Nate Striz, a right-hander from UNC. Still sounds like negotiations with No. 1 pick Drew Pomeranz will come down to the wire. The deadline is Monday night/Tuesday morning at midnight ET.
  • Went and saw Giovanni Soto, the lefty acquired in the Jhonny Peralta trade, at Class A County last week. A stiff breeze might blow him over. He’s as thin as the pen I stole from my Marriott hotel. But he’s 6-foot-3 with wide shoulders and has potential to throw harder once he fills out. He’s only 19, after all. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway said Soto’s pretty advanced for his age. “He’s got four pretty decent pitches that he knows how to use already,” Callaway said. “He has a real fluid delivery, and he throws strikes.” Soto has allowed two runs in 11 innings in his first two games with the Captains, walking five, striking out 11 and picking up a pair of wins. He’s pitching tonight at South Bend.
  • Roving player development advisor Johnny Goryl says to keep an eye on Mahoning Valley third baseman Giovanny Urshela, an 18-year-old kid the Indians signed out of Colombia two years ago. Urshela is batting .450 with three homers, three doubles and 10 RBIs over his last 10 games. He has no strikeouts in that span. 
  • Jason Knapp, one of the key acquisitions in the Cliff Lee trade, starts tonight for the rookie-level Arizona League club. It’s his fourth start since coming back from shoulder surgery performed last September. As noted in this week’s Indians Inbox, Knapp is getting stretched back out and is expected to join either Lake County or Kinston in the next week to 10 days.
  • The Akron Aeros, the defending Eastern League champs, are giving away playoff tickets, so snatch them up.
  • My MLB.com bosses had me make some playoff predictions. I could do this several and probably have several different results. Five of the six divisions are too close to call.


I honestly don’t know what to make of Masterson. I really don’t. I’ve seen him be absolutely dominating and I’ve seen him look like David Huff. It’s just crazy.
The LaPorta stats since his call up make Brantley’s performance particularly interesting to watch. I hope tonight’s game was a preview of his future. I really like that Brantley/Cabrera combo up top, followed by Choo and Santana and we’ve got something going there (imagine the LaPorta we’re seeing now and a healthy Grady somewhere after that).
I don’t particularly mind the idea of moving Laffey to the bullpen permanently because I really think we could use him. Our bullpen has had its moments recently, but when it explodes it does so in glorious fashion. At some point we have to draw the line at tryouts.
I have no idea what our rotation is going to look like next year. I just wish we had an ace on the horizon, but that could be years off. I honestly don’t know if it would even be worth going out and signing someone to the rotation for next season — we’d probably be better off saving that money for 2012.

I don’t think Laffey likes working out of the bullpen, the last two years when they moved him to the bullpen he ended up having arm problems. They should keep him as a starter, they will need some depth there. They already have plenty of bullpen depth, we haven’t seen the Indians top bullpen arms, who are probably Stowell, Judy, Hagadone, Price and Bryson. Then there’s Pestano and Todd too, I thought Todd looked better this year in his brief time up, though the results weren’t there. Don’t hear much about Pestano, but he’s put up some excellent numbers in Columbus, 49 Ks and 12 BBs in 37 IP. They are short on lefties, other than Hagadone they don’t have anyone in the upper levels, but it’s not like Laffey’s a lefty specialist, he’s not particularly tough on left handed batters … “Aces” are overrated, the Indians have 2 in ’07 and ’08 and look where it got them. Minnesota hasn’t had one since Santana. The Indians need offense, offense, and more offense. It would be nice to see someone out-perform expectations for a change, instead of the best case being when a player performs to expectations (Choo), and the usual is underperforming (everyone else)

regarding Masterson, he’s been disappointing, but I still think he can be a solid starter for them. His xFIP has remained fairly constant year to year, 4.26 in ’08, 4.07 last year, 4.11 this year. His walk rate and K rate is the same this year as in ’08, his groundball rate this year is much higher than the previous 2 years, the fly ball rate is lower while his line drive rate has remained the same. His ERA was lower than expected in ’08 with Boston, higher than expected last year, and much higher than expected this year. The difference is BABIP, which was .243 in ’08, .347 this year. This isn’t too surprising, and probably has a lot to do with the defense that’s been playing behind him, with the extreme groundball rate, the guys who’ve been playing SS, 3b and 2b for most of this year would be a major liability to Masterson. Last night, for example, if Andy Marte had been playing 3b, the Indians very well could have won that game, and Masterson might have had a quality outing. I know I’ve seen little dribblers down the line hit off Masterson where a good 3b (such as the ’08 version of Mike Lowell) might be able to get the guy, but with Peralta was an automatic infield single. (Masterson only had 3 infield hits against him in ’08 on 133 ground balls, this year he’s had 23 infield hits on 276 ground balls.) Masterson doesn’t help himself when he’s the victim of bad luck/fielding, it seems to get to him and he starts overthrowing and the inning usually spirals out of control, but that’s probably just maturity, and something he can deal with better in the future. A stable defense next year would help him though.

The Tribe came within a game of the World Series in ’07! Look where two aces got them? That’s where it got them! Yikes. And they didn’t really have two aces in ’08 — neither of their returning aces were around all year.
And not having an ace is why Minnesota gets bounced from the playoffs so fast.

Their record in ’08 after Sabathia was traded was something like 42-25, with guys like Zach Jackson and Scott Lewis pitching in place of him, they were a sub-.500 team with Sabathia and Lee. The reason: Shoppach replacing injured Martinez, Cabrera coming back from AAA and playing well, Choo, and Garko having a great 2nd half … Other than the Carmona insect game against the Yankees, the aces in ’07 were responsible for the playoff losses, they were almost led to World Series glory by Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd.

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