Rotation Depth Should Be Indians' Prevalent Strength

February 22, 2012; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (front) delivers a pitch during spring training at the Cleveland Indians Player Development Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Manager Manny Acta has plenty of options for final starter spot

Expected Opening Day Starter Justin Masterson and former All-Star Ubaldo Jimenez, despite his struggles at the end of last year, are exceptional options for a team trying to compete for a division title. Masterson led the Indians in innings pitched, wins, and strikeouts; the trifecta of starting pitching categories. Jimenez started the All-Star game for the National League as a Rockie in 2008.

The rest of the Indian's starting rotation, and the guys following them, are also impressive in their own right, and also plentiful.

The combination of pitchers that will come after the one and two spots in the Indians' rotation are numerous. The exact guys are probably set for right now, however, the pitchers that won't make the Tribe's rotation are still viable candidates to start at some point in the season, whether it be due to an injury, or lack of production.

The 38-year-old right hander acquired from the Atlanta Braves, Derek Lowe, figures to be somewhere in the starting five. His durability on the mound has had him throw the fifth most innings of any active pitcher. Though his sinker does not have as much zip on it, Tribe manager Manny Acta and General Manager Chris Antonetti are excited to see what he still has left in his system.

Josh Tomlin, from Texas Tech, selected in the 19th round of the 2006 draft by the Indians, also figures to get a spot. His stretch of 30 plus starts of five innings or longer was the second best streak in MLB history, and his command of his primary pitches makes him a strike throwing machine. He walked just 21 hitters in 165 innings, by far the fewest of any pitcher who had logged more than 100 innings. Despite his rough outing against the Angels on Thursday, in which he gave up six hits and four runs, he figures to be a lock to start in the middle to backend of the starters.

Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, might also have a spot somewhere. He is yet to throw a pitch in spring training this year after being released in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

The fifth and final starting pitcher could be any of a number of players. Even those who will not make the rotation bring prior big league experience to the table, and would make an adequate number five starter. Carlos Carrasco got the most work of the back end of the rotation, but will likely be sidelined for all of 2012 after Tommy John Surgery on his elbow.

The other competitors figure to be David Huff, Mitch Talbot, Zack McAllister, Scott Barnes, Kevin Slowey, and Jeanmar Gomez. Veteran right hander Jon Garland was also invited to spring training on a minor league deal. He has the most career starts and wins of the bunch, but his 2011 campaign was derailed after a shoulder injury. He won 14 games for theSan Diego Padres in 2010.

Slowey, the ex-Minnesota Twin, is the second most experienced, but had a gruesome 2011 season while going 0-8 with an earned run average over six-and-a-half. But the similarities between him, along with Masterson, Jimenez, and Lowe, made Slowey worth the risk. The Indians are hoping he can return some of his 2010 efficiency, when he posted 13 wins and walked only 29.

Inevitably, there will be a time when the Indians will have to call upon a sixth starter for any number of reasons. That is why it is good to be prepared with depth and insurance for any of the 162 game season's surprises. Depth in the starting rotation, as well as at closer, should make the Indians pitching staff their identity for 2012.

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