Posted on August 4, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
It’s been less than two days since the Cleveland Indians put Andrew Miller on the DL with tendinitis in his knee, and manager Terry Francona is already trying to reconfigure the team’s bullpen to survive the lefty’s absence. Despite being one of the best relief pitchers in baseball, Miller is not Cleveland’s closer. Since being traded to the Indians last summer, Francona has used Miller in a variety of ways, typically in high-leverage situations.
Having such a diverse and undefined role is part of what makes Miller one of the most impactful relief pitchers in baseball. It also makes him a nightmare to replace. However, the Indians will have to find a way to do just that for however long Miller remains sidelined by a sore knee that caused a slight dip in his effectiveness before he went on the DL.
Francona’s first inclination is to use closer Cody Allen in a similar role to the one Miller has been filling all season. Allen has not been quite as effective this season as he’s been in year’s past. He’s currently 0-6 with a 3.32 ERA, his highest ERA since his rookie year in 2012. But Allen is still 19 of 21 in save opportunities and remains a reliable closer for the Indians. But with Miller out, Francona may take Allen out of the closer’s role and use him at any point in the game.
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“We might not just wait to get to Cody,” explains Francona. “If Cody’s our best option in the seventh or eighth, sometimes those innings are harder than the ninth. The good part is that they are all willing to do it. So we’ll piece it together a little bit more than we have before. When we got to Andrew, we left him alone and got out of his way. We may have to piece it together a little bit more.”
If Allen is filling Miller’s usual role in Cleveland’s bullpen, the Indians may look to setup men like Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, and Zach McAllister to close out games for them. All three have been reliable setup men in recent years but have little experience in a closing role. There are also some who believe Shaw has been overworked this season and in recent years.
The Indians also have some new members of the bullpen who may help to make up for the absence of Miller. The first is Joe Smith, who was acquired from the Blue Jays right before the trade deadline. Smith was in Cleveland from 2009 to 2013 and had several productive seasons with the Indians. He remains a competent reliever, posting a 3.28 ERA with the Blue Jays before the trade.
Cleveland has also been impressed with Tyler Olson, who was recently called up from the minors. With both Miller and Boone Logan on the DL, Olson is now the only lefty in Cleveland’s bullpen. He’s had just four appearances with the Indians this year, but he’s gotten the job done each time.
“The early returns on Olson have been really good, not just getting people out, but I was watching him the other night in Boston,” Francona said of the lefty. “There wasn’t any of the false bravado. He was just pitching and it seemed like the game wasn’t going too fast.”
The caveat of the entire situation is that the Indians don’t know how long they’ll be without Miller. The club is hopeful that after a brief rest he’ll be ready to return for the rest of the season. But the Indians have no assurance that’ll be the case.
It’s not a stretch to say that the Indians need Miller to be healthy and effective if they’re going to return to the World Series in 2017. But they may also need him just to get into the playoffs. Cleveland holds just a 2.5 game lead over the Royals in the AL Central. The Indians also have a difficult schedule ahead, with all but three of their games the rest of the month coming against teams with a winning record.
Aside from hoping that Miller has a fast recovery, the Indians need to hope that a reshuffling of their bullpen works out for as long as Miller is out. The Indians have leaned on Miller a lot over the past year, and having to get by without him means a serious adjustment for the other members of their bullpen.