Indians expect Hernandez to bolster rotation
New visa would allow pitcher to rejoin Cleveland for stretch run
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Indians are in the market for a starting pitcher as the July 31 Trade Deadline approaches, but the organization is also confident that it will receive one of its own arms back in the near future.
According to multiple sources, pitcher Roberto Hernandez is expected to soon be receiving a new visa from the State Department, which would allow the right-hander to return to the United States. Hernandez remains in his native Dominican Republic, where he continues to train at Cleveland's baseball academy.
"Things are moving forward," said a person with knowledge of the situation. "It's looking a lot better right now."
Hernandez was arrested on Jan. 19 in the Dominican Republic for using the false name Fausto Carmona. The pitcher -- originally signed by Cleveland as a non-drafted free agent in 2000 -- has gone 53-66 with a 4.59 ERA over six seasons with the Tribe.
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti has been in contact with Stephen Payne, a visa expert and lobbyist hired by Hernandez's representatives, throughout the ongoing process. Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman have also been involved in the case.
"We've done everything we can," Antonetti said last month. "We've petitioned to the State Department and have given them all the information that they wanted on Roberto and his history with us, and some of the things he's done since the information came out."
The Indians are hopeful that Hernandez might not face a suspension from Major League Baseball upon returning to the United States. Earlier this season, Marlins pitcher Juan Carlos Oviedo -- mired for eight months in a similar false-identity situation as Hernandez -- received an eight-week suspension from MLB.
The difference between the cases is Hernandez drastically reworked his contract with Cleveland.
"Our understanding at this point," Antonetti said last month, "is that, because he's restructured his contract, there won't be an additional suspension required. That could change, but that's the guidance we've been given at this point. There are just aren't any absolutes."
Tribe's Santana shows signs of busting slump
ST. PETERSBURG -- Carlos Santana admits that he has worried too much throughout the slump that has consumed his season. The Indians catcher believes part of the problem has been overthinking at the plate.
In Wednesday's 10-6 win over the Rays, Santana stopped worrying and starting swinging, giving Cleveland a glimpse of the slugger that has been buried beneath the burden this year. Santana launched a critical three-run home run, collected two hits and knocked in four RBIs in the victory.
"This has been a hard season for me," Santana said Thursday morning at Tropicana Field. "But I'll be fine. Yesterday, getting those hits helped my confidence."
The Indians are hoping those hits also lit a fire.
"Confidence is a big part of this game," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "Hopefully he can have a second half like he had last year and help us out."
Santana's struggles have been well-documented, but the fact is the catcher's numbers through 75 games are eerily similar to last season at the same juncture. The only difference has been a drop off in power production, and some time lost due to concussion and lower back issues.
Through 75 games this season, Santana has hit .225 with a .351 on-base percentage and a .344 slugging percentage, producing six homers, 13 doubles, 34 RBIs, 53 walks and 59 hits along the way. Through 75 games a year ago, the catcher was hitting .226/.356/.409 with 11 homers, 14 doubles, 36 RBIs, 54 walks and 58 hits.
That said, Santana has posted a .182/.308/.250 slash line over his past 39 games, dating back to May 18. In Wednesday's win, the catcher snapped an 138 at-bat drought without a home run and enjoyed his first multihit game since June 18. It also marked his first game with at least two hits and at least two RBIs since May 8.
"I worry too much. I'm thinking too much," said Santana, who has tried to eliminate some excess body movement in his swing this season. "But this is something that happens in the game, for me, and for everybody. I feel strong and I feel stronger game by game."
The Indians are keeping their collective fingers crossed.
"We still have to sit and wait," Acta said. "One game is not going to change the whole thing, but it certainly helps. He's been seeing the ball better. He's been walking more as of late, which is part of his game. Hey, success breeds confidence."
Rogers earning Tribe's trust in tight spots
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Indians have taken plenty of time to ease Esmil Rogers into things since he joined the club's bullpen via trade last month. Given his consistently strong results, Cleveland is starting to trust him in key situations.
That was clear on Wednesday night, when the Indians handed Rogers the ball with one out and the bases loaded in the fifth inning. The righty escaped the jam with a strikeout and a groundout -- only using his curveball -- to help send the Indians on their way to a 10-6 win.
"Now he's stepping into higher leverage situations," Indans manager Manny Acta said on Thursday morning. "Yesterday, that was huge, not only for him, but for us. We trusted him to come into a bases-loaded, one-out type of deal. For him to get us out there had to be a big boost for him."
Rogers has arguably been the surprise of the season for the Tribe's relief corps.
When the Rockies traded the reliever to the Indians in exchange for cash on June 12, Rogers had an 8.06 ERA with 29 strikeouts against 18 walks through 25 2/3 innings. Through 14 appearances with Cleveland, though, he's posted a tidy 2.04 ERA, striking out 22 and walking just three in 17 2/3 innings.
The Indians did not make any changes to Rogers' pitch distribution or mechanics. The team only asked him to try to harness his fastball, which can touch 97-98 mph, without trying to be too fine. Along those lines, Cleveland's catchers have been told to set up in the middle of the plate, rather than trying to set pitches up over the edges.
"His strikeout-to-walk ratio is very, very good right now to say the least," Acta said. "When you have that type of stuff, and you attack the strike zone, more times than not you're going to be successful. He's gaining a lot of confidence right now."
Allen set to join Indians from Triple-A Columbus
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Indians will have a fresh face in their bullpen on Friday night in Cleveland. The Tribe has promoted right-hander Cody Allen from Triple-A Columbus to the big leagues, adding a talented rookie arm to the mix.
The Indians have not officially announced the move and the ballclub will need to make a subsequent transaction to add Allen to the active roster. Cleveland is scheduled to take on Baltimore on Friday in the first game of a seven-game homestand against the Orioles and Tigers.
Allen has enjoyed a rapid ascension through the farm system.
This season, the 23-year-old Allen has fashioned a 1.87 ERA in 31 games spent between Class A Carolina, Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. Last year, the right-hander went 5-1 with a 1.65 ERA across four Minor League levels, ending with a stint in Double-A. Allen was drafted twice by Cleveland -- first in the 16th round in 2010 and then in the 23rd round in '11.
In 24 games for Columbus this season, Allen has 35 strikeouts and nine walks in 31 2/3 innings. At Triple-A, he has held left-handed hitters to a .133 average and righties to a .235 showing. Overall, the reliever has 53 strikeouts and nine walks and a 0.79 WHIP in 43 1/3 Minor League innings this season.
If the Indians remove a reliever from the roster to clear a spot for Allen, the most vulnerable candidate would appear to be rookie lefty Scott Barnes. In seven appearances for Cleveland this season, Barnes has posted an 8.10 ERA with 10 strikeouts and seven walks in 10 innings.
Quote to note
"We need at least five guys back there, like we've done the last couple of years, that we can trust and that can keep us close when we're tied or trailing, in order for our bullpen to be successful long-term. If not, you're going to end up burning those guys out."
--Indians manager Manny Acta
Indians lefty Rafael Perez (on the 60-day disabled list due to a left lat injury) logged one shutout inning with one strikeout in a Minor League rehab outing for Triple-A Columbus on Wednesday. Perez is scheduled to throw in a bullpen session in Cleveland on Friday before continuing his Minor League rehab on Monday, following two days off.
Indians left-hander Tony Sipp has posted a 1.59 ERA over his last eight appearances, allowing just one earned run over 5 2/3 innings. In his previous nine relief outings, Sipp had an 8.68 ERA with nine earned runs in 9 1/3 innings of work for the Tribe.
Center fielder Michael Brantley was in Thursday's lineup as the designated hitter for the Indians. Cleveland manager Manny Acta said he wanted to give Brantley some rest at the end of playing seven straight games on artificial turf (Toronto and Tampa Bay).