Jackson nails down job as reliever
Indians southpaw parlays starter audition into bullpen role
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Zach Jackson's ill-fated audition for the Indians' starting rotation paid dividends, in the form of a job as the Indians' seventh reliever.Manager Eric Wedge announced on Monday that Jackson will break camp with the big league club in the bullpen. For all intents and purposes, Jackson will serve as the Tribe's long man. The Indians view the left-handed Jackson as a nice complement to their three right-handed starters, and they also appreciate that he is stretched out to handle up to 90 pitches.
Jackson, one of four players acquired in the July trade that sent CC Sabathia to the Brewers, pitched in the Milwaukee 'pen briefly in '08, so he knows a little bit about the transition he's about to embark upon."It definitely is a different mentality, a different mind-set," he said. "There's no tinkering around. You've got to go right after them right out the gate and be ready to go. It was a blessing in disguise last year to get into the bullpen in Milwaukee. I know I can bounce back. I've been blessed with a rubber arm. You have to be ready every single day." The battle for the bullpen spot -- the last job the Indians had to settle before breaking camp -- came down to Jackson and veteran right-hander Vinnie Chulk. Originally, prospect Adam Miller had been a favorite for the job, but Miller's ongoing injury saga with his right middle finger eliminated him from contention. Right-hander Ed Mujica, who is on the 40-man roster and out of Minor League options, was also an early favorite, but he performed poorly out the gate in Cactus League play and quickly fell out of favor. Mujica, who has a 9.35 ERA in seven appearances, will be designated for assignment sometime between now and Opening Day. Chulk certainly pitched well enough to earn the job, and he was stretched out to tolerate three innings in his last outing against the D-backs on Saturday. The 30-year-old Chulk, who has notched 244 career appearances in the Majors with the Blue Jays and Giants, posted a 1.72 ERA in nine Cactus games. He will be reassigned to Triple-A Columbus but has an out clause in his contract. If the Indians don't promote him by May 15, he can become a free agent. "Both Zach and Vinnie pitched well enough to be on the club," Wedge said. "Vinnie's been great, and I think he's going to help us sooner rather than later. These are the decisions you have to make at this juncture." The Indians had the ability to send Jackson down to Triple-A, as he has a Minor League option available. But they looked beyond his 6.87 ERA in six Cactus games, including a rough start against the D-backs on Saturday, and saw an arm that can help them. "He's aggressive," pitching coach Carl Willis said. "Something we've talked about with him is being even more aggressive, particularly in a bullpen role." With Jackson, the Indians now have a second left-hander in the 'pen, joining Rafael Perez. But Jackson won't be used as a matchup guy. In fact, in 96 2/3 total innings of Major League work, Jackson has better numbers against right-handers (.281 average against) than lefties (.343). Willis said those numbers are a product of Jackson's least effective pitch being his breaking ball to left-handers while his most effective pitch is a cutter to right-handers. Jackson had designs on being in the Indians' rotation again this season, as he was in the second half of last year. In nine starts down the stretch, he went 2-3 with a 5.60 ERA. But he's viewing this opportunity in the bullpen as a possible springboard to other opportunities down the line. "I talked to Jake Westbrook, and he started out his career like that, too," Jackson said. "He didn't get settled in until after he got the opportunity in the bullpen." The Indians did not make an official roster move involving the pitching staff on Monday, but their 25-man roster is now essentially set. Right-hander Matt Herges will join Chulk in getting reassigned to Columbus, though Herges will remain with the club for the two weekend exhibition games in Houston. Position players Tony Graffanino, Damaso Espino, Andy Marte and Wilson Valdez will also be with the club in Houston before getting reassigned in advance of the April 6 season opener.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.