After the Indians activated righthander Charles Nagy from the DL last Friday, their pitching rotation appeared to boast an embarrassment of riches. They had five starters good enough that Nagy, 34, who won at least 15 games for Cleveland in every season from 1995 through '99, would, for the first time since a brief stint in '90, be relegated to the bullpen.
The surplus didn't last the night. Lefthander Chuck Finley, suffering neck spasms, was scratched from his scheduled start, and on Saturday was dispatched to the DL. Nagy started on Sunday against the Yankees; he threw seven innings of four-hit ball in a 4-3 Indians win.
Had Nagy remained a reliever, he would have had plenty of exercise. This season Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel has burned up the phone line to the bullpen like a go-getting telemarketer, because his relief corps has been the lifeline for a rotation whose 23-15 record masks its ineffectiveness. Through Sunday, Indians starters ranked 12th in the AL in ERA (5-16) and 11th in innings per start (5.6).
Meanwhile, the bullpen had thrown 58 innings in Cleveland's last 16 games. Says righthander Dave Burba (7-2, 5.31 ERA), whose pitch count has been limited by a strained groin muscle, "The relievers are doing such a great job, if you can get through five or six innings, chances are you're going to win." Some-times even five innings aren't necessary: rookie C.C. Sabathia (6-2; 5.36 ERA) got a four-inning victory on Friday against the Yankees when rain ended his game in the sixth.
The bullpen workload has been so heavy it prompted closer Bob Wickman (12 saves in 26 appearances, 2.59 ERA) to voice his concern over Memorial Day weekend to Manuel, who told him reinforcements were on the way. (Righthander Jake Westbrook was called up May 29 from Triple A to work in long relief.) None too soon: With Nagy and righthander Jaret Wright recuperating from elbow and shoulder surgery, respectively, righthander Bartolo Colon (4-6 with a 4.43 ERA, including 0-4 in his last five starts) complaining of pain in his pitching elbow, and the 20-year-old Sabathia still developing, a significant chunk of Manuel's rotation has a limit on how deep into games it can go. "We've got guys hurt, guys coming back from being hurt and guys who are very young," says Manuel. "It's something we have to work through."
—Daniel G. Habib
Kendall Switching Positions
Catching On in The Outfield
A tip for young players: If you want to be a major league catcher, it helps to be a good hitter. Not too good, however. If you become too much of an offensive force, your team may well find you another position. That's the situation Pirates catcher Jason Kendall is in. On May 23 in the second game of a doubleheader he played leftfield against the Phillies, his first major league start at a position other than catcher, as part of manager Lloyd McClendon's plan to ease the physical burden on three-time Ail-Star Kendall and to gain more offensive production from him. "I think you're doing yourself an injustice to have his bat out of the lineup 35 or 40 games a year," says McClendon, referring to the frequent rests most catchers require. "I'd like to write his name in the lineup 160 times a year."
Kendall played flawlessly in his first five starts in left. McClendon says that for now Kendall's outfield time will come when Pittsburgh plays a day game after a night game or when a regular needs a rest. However, Kendall's days as a regular behind the plate may be numbered.
Kendall has been more than receptive to the move. "I never knew how hard catching was," he said after his first game in left. "Playing in the outfield was relaxing on the mind. It was relaxing on the body. I felt like I could hit three inside-the-park home runs. Normally, after the fifth inning my legs are tired."
The move also may have reenergized his swing. Before the second game of the May 23 doubleheader, Kendall, a lifetime .314 hitter coming into this season, was batting .250. Since then, through Sunday, he had hit .356 and was 8 for 21 (.381) as an outfielder. "I'd like to win a World Series catching," Kendall says, "but I feel playing the outfield could add five years to my career—and that's after one game."