Gomez, Hagadone, Lee can help Indians
After losing their first two games to the White Sox last season, the Indians developed momentum and started to win. More often than not, manager Manny Acta was on the correct end of decisions. Timely hitting, solid pitching and the club's share of good luck created an exciting buzz that helped return fans to Progressive Field. Then the injury bug made an untimely return and the club's fortunes changed. Players like outfielders Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo were shelved with injuries. After a promising 30-15 start to the season, it was as if the beer went flat and the soda pop lost its fizz. The season turned.
Now, the Indians are back, trying to restart their engine. They spent the offseason looking for a powerful right-handed bat, while also sorting out their options at third base and in the starting rotation.
Early in the season, the team has turned to Shelley Duncan to hopefully add some offensive punch in left field. Jack Hannahan won the third-base job because of his sure-handed, strong-armed defense. Right-hander Jeanmar Gomez pitched well enough in Spring Training to capture the final spot in the rotation from former Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey.
Because of potential injuries and performance issues, having pitching depth is a necessity. While Slowey may not have started the season on the 25-man roster, he and others will be available if needed.
Gomez won the fifth-starter's role after a spring performance highlighted by his ability to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters, universal qualities for successful pitchers. He was quietly in control in the games he pitched. Every time I have seen Gomez pitch, he has been steady without being spectacular. He just quietly lulls the opposition to a weak day at the plate.
Gomez is not overpowering, but he can throw a moving fastball in the low 90s without much effort. He has a very good delivery that should keep his arm healthy and allow him to eat innings. When his fastball is moving and sinking, he induces plenty of ground balls and keeps himself out of big innings. Basically, Gomez has shown that he is a fastball-first pitcher, with most of his repertoire working off that pitch. Having good control and command of a four-pitch repertoire that also includes a slider, curve and changeup, Gomez can go to any pitch to finish off the hitter. Changing the hitter's eye level by using both sides of the plate is a major component of Gomez's approach.
Gomez, 24, is not the type of pitcher who can become the ace of the staff. Rather, he is best suited in the back end of the rotation, going deep into games and giving his team a chance to win. His pitch counts will generally be economical, which will help save stress on the bullpen. That said, if there is any concern, it might be that hitters will be more successful against him the third or fourth time through the lineup. They may be more confident, but not dominating. They may be more comfortable, but not enough to knock him around. Gomez is not a fluke or a flavor of the week. He's a solid, serviceable starting pitcher with an opportunity to remain in the rotation.
While Gomez was nailing down the fifth-starter's role, 26-year-old Nick Hagadone was trying to earn a spot in the bullpen. The 6-foot-5 lefty had a good spring, but it wasn't good enough to win a bullpen spot on the 25-man roster. Yet.
Hagadone came to the Indians from the Red Sox in July 2009, along with pitchers Justin Masterson and Bryan Price, in a trade for longtime Tribe favorite, catcher Victor Martinez.
Hagadone was a first-round selection by the Red Sox in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. Many in Cleveland have been waiting for Hagadone to get a chance to pitch out of the bullpen. The Indians, however, have two very fine left-handed relievers in Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez. Each is coming off an outstanding season. Hagadone would likely assume a spot if either of the lefties faltered or was injured.
Hagadone's best two pitches include a very crisp fastball with a velocity range from the high 80s to the mid 90s. Changing speeds and locations on that pitch is a major component of Hagadone's approach. Adding and subtracting velocity keeps the hitter from waiting for a particular pitch at a specific speed in a specific location.
Hagadone also throws a very sharp, crisp slider. As a relief pitcher, he can work with those two pitches exclusively because of the movement and velocity differential they offer. While he has a changeup in his repertoire, I haven't seen him use it effectively very often. Even if he becomes more than a situational lefty, he will likely face the same batter only once a game, reducing the exposure of those two pitches. The slider is particularly rough on left-handed hitters.
Hagadone missed time in 2008 following Tommy John surgery. He is totally recovered and shows no signs of his previous issues.
Inconsistent command is my chief concern about Hagadone. While I believe his arm is sound, he tends to get behind in counts, throw lots of pitches and walk too many hitters. Once he can harness the command of both his primary pitches and consistently repeat his delivery, I believe he will be an effective late-game lefty out of the bullpen.
It may not be too soon in his career to speak of the potential for right-handed reliever Chen Lee to contribute to the Indians' Major League roster.
Signed out of his native Taiwan in 2008, Lee has become a fast-track pitcher in the Indians' system. Since first pitching professionally for high Class A Kinston, Lee has made his way all the way to Triple-A Columbus in just three seasons.
Lee is intriguing because of his low arm angle and the trajectory at which his mid-90s fastball is seen by the hitter. They don't get a very good look at the ball before it explodes on them. He often uses a very effective slider to finish off hitters. Lee misses plenty of bats and has posted high strikeout rates each season so far. He also walks too many hitters, and control is an area in need of development.
In reality, Lee may get better command and control results if he throws his fastball exclusively and changes speeds on that one pitch. He can be plenty effective being a one-pitch reliever.
The Indians have some solid pitchers available in the organization. Among them are Gomez, Hagadone and Lee. Each is capable of contributing this season.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.