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Indians bullpen remains concern


Published: Wed, March 1, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


Last year it was the best in baseball; two years ago it was the worst.
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) -- Two years ago, the Indians had one of the worst bullpens in the American League. Last season, Cleveland's relievers were among baseball's best.
So it's understandable why general manager Mark Shapiro says the bullpen is his biggest concern going into opening day.
"I think that bullpens, in general, are unpredictable," he said.
Two seasons ago, the Indians finished with an 80-82 record with a bullpen that consistently blew leads and derailed the club's midseason climb in the standings by wasting 21 saves in 36 tries, posting a major league high 5.60 ERA.
Kept team in the hunt
It was a different story last season, when the bullpen was the best in the league, finishing 93-69 and keeping Cleveland in the playoff hunt until the final weekend.
But a new look raises questions about what bullpen will show up this season.
Right-hander Bob Howry, who made 79 appearances and was one of the best setup men in baseball last season, signed with the Chicago Cubs. Two other setup men, right-hander David Riske and left-hander Arthur Rhodes, were traded.
"The bullpen's going to be the biggest question mark heading into this year," Shapiro said. "You could bring the exact same bullpen back and there's a chance it could not perform as well."
Wickman returns
Closer Bob Wickman, whose 45 saves tied him for the league lead, returns. The right-hander's numbers give the Indians reason for both hope and concern.
Wickman blew five saves all season and held opposing batters to an AL-best .149 average with runners in scoring position. On the flip side, he was frequently pitching out of trouble, allowing 57 hits and 21 walks in 62 innings.
Though the Indians are confident Wickman will still be effective, they did pursue free agents B.J. Ryan and Trevor Hoffman over the winter. If the Indians are going to challenge for the postseason, Wickman must have a good season.
"The bullpen starts with the closer," said manager Eric Wedge. "If you have a guy you can count on, it allows you to keep people in roles."
The setup roles might be a work in progress early in the season.
Have hopes for Mota
The Indians hope they can depend on right-hander Guillermo Mota, acquired from Boston, but he had arm problems last season with Florida, an issue that stalled the trade with the Red Sox.
Among those who return, Wedge can choose from right-handers Rafael Betancourt, Fernando Cabrera and Matt Miller, along with left-hander Scott Sauerbeck.
Betancourt was 4-3 with a 2.79 ERA last season. He struck out 73 and walked 17 in 67 2/3 innings.
Cabrera, 24, is the most intriguing arm in the bullpen. He was 2-1 with a 1.47 ERA in 15 appearances last season.
"He'll be in the middle and hopefully we'll let him work his way toward the back," said Shapiro.
Miller, a sidearmer, held opposing hitters to a .212 average last season, but pitched once after the All-Star break because of a sore elbow. He has been throwing pain free in spring training.
Sauerbeck, the only lefty in the bullpen, went 1-0 with a 4.04 ERA in 58 appearances last season.


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