How can you not be even slightly excited about Rafael Perez and his absolute awesome performance for Gigantes del Cibau in the Dominican Winter League. In an offseason that has seen the Indians spend most of their time doing, well, nothing, Perez has been nothing short of scintillating. Perez is now 3-0 in five starts, striking out 25, while walking only 10 in 27 innings pitched. His ERA is a paltry .33, having given up only one run all season long.
I could sit here and get bogged down in the fact that Perez doesn't seem to have enough pitches to be a full-time starter. Over the past four years, Perez has thrown essentially two pitches: his slider and his fastball. That can be misleading, because he does throw a four and two-seam fastball. His fastball, when on, is low-end 90's with a lot of movement. His slider is his out pitch, and is devastating when he's on. He dabbles with a cutter, changeup and curveball, but he hasn't used any of those pitches with any sort of consistency or reliability over the years to think he can start...right?
Forget all of that for now. Perez is pitching better than good as a starter, and the Indians, for as pathetic as their bullpen could potentially be, needs starters. If Perez continues this torrid pace, then every member of the Tribe staff need be fired prior to the season. Sometimes what you see in the mirror is what you see in the mirror. Perez has always had that three-quarter delivery that has been difficult for hitters, but also difficult for Perez to replicate. It appears that starting gives him that repetition.
Keep Perez in the starting role as long as he shows this type of dominating stuff. As I've been preaching for the past month, you've got to do whatever it takes this season to put together a team that can compete, and Perez is a case in point. If the Indians and Mark Shapiro are thinking outside the box, as many are thinking, than this is just the type of move they need to make.
Can we please be done with the Westbrook is the Indians ace talk? I'm not saying he can't be, I'm just kind of done with it. I like Westbrook. He's the kind of bulldog every staff needs, but forget about calling him an ace. What he can be is a guy you can roll out every fifth day and give you some innings. Anything past that is icing. It's not that he looked good this offseason, but that he pitched without pain of any kind. It will be interesting to see what happens as he puts some miles on his arm.
Fausto Carmona really is the lost man in the rotation this year. I can't fathom that anyone is expecting anything from Fausto. The reality is that Carmona is the only guy currently on the staff that possesses the type of stuff that can be ace-material. You can throw out several issues with Carmona over the past two years, that likely top out at a ten-cent head. That said, his biggest visible issue is his lack of ability to find the strikezone. Tim Belcher, his new pitching coach, made a career of throwing strikes. You have to wonder if Carmona's struggles wasn't at the top of the list for the Indians when Belcher was hired. If he can fix the struggling starter, then the Indians chances to be anything other than a joke get markedly better.
I'm a firm believer in David Huff. Sure, you can lump him in with the Scott Lewis/Aaron Laffey/Jeremy Sowers crowd, and they certainly are all similar. The difference with Huff is that he has tenacity that goes along with his finesse. Think of Tom Glavine. Glavine pounds the strike zone, works all sides of the plate, and has immeasurable confidence. That's David Huff. He has that mean streak, a deceptive delivery that makes his fastball look quicker than the 92-94 it's clocked at, and just has command on the mound. He has put up good numbers in every league he's pitched in, and let's not forget that he rolled out 11 wins last year, even with that near 6.00 ERA. This kid will be a good one.
Justin Masterson really is a similar pitcher to Huff, aside from pitching from the other side of the rubber. Masterson should be a starter, plain and simple. I've been listening to this talk about Masterson closing down the road since the Indians have picked him up. Could he? Sure he could, but this would be on a team like the Red Sox that pulls out their sizable wallets every offseason to pick up the top pitching prospects. On the Indians, this kid is a starter. His fastball's are numerous, and he really varies the speeds, anywhere from 88-95. He has a solid slider, and an improving changeup that drops off the table when it's on. I've heard rumblings that he may add a curveball this year, but I'm fine with a guy that pounds the zone with varying speeds. Masterson has always had confidence and moxie, and as he learns the role of a starter every day, he could be a good one.
Past that, we will have the annual Jeremy Sowers/Aaron Laffey watch. Look for Laffey to challenge for the fifth spot in the rotation, with Sowers likely finding a spot in the bullpen. What's left to say about these two. Hopefully one pans out. Until then, well, we've said it all already.
You have to hope that Carlos Carrasco turns into something special. He can be a frustrating pitcher. He has mid-90's stuff, but mechanics have kept it from being consistent. He has a wicked slider, but mechanics have kept it from being consistent. His best pitch is his offspeed, but it all depends on the other two pitches. If he pans out, good riddance Cliff. If he doesn't, we'll have some time to wait to see if the Indians manage to come out with a win in the Cliff Lee deal.
Not sure what to expect from the staff right now. I'm far enough away from the season to think it could be better than originally thought. Of course, a lot of dominoes have to fall for it to be anything better than pedestrian. This rotation really is an ace away from being pretty good, and getting the pieces to fall in line, so don't expect much until hopefull 2011. Even if Carmona finds his stuff, there may not be enough solid arms to make a rotation without some sort of move. Of course, with this team, that might now matter in 2010.
Off to buy a big screen...er...present for my wife...