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02/21/12 9:00 PM ET

Four vying for Tribe's fifth rotation spot

Slowey, Huff, Gomez and McAllister battling for lone opening

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- If Indians manager Manny Acta already has someone in particular in mind for the fifth-starter role, he is not about to say. As Spring Training begins, Cleveland has a wide open race for that lone vacancy in the rotation.

It is, in every sense of the word, a competition.

"If I would have a favorite, then we wouldn't have a competition," Acta said with a grin. "I am the manager."

The field for the fifth spot includes left-hander David Huff and right-handers Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez and Zach McAllister. Slowey offers the most Major League experience and McAllister has the least. All four enter Cleveland's camp with a chance to prove they deserve the job.

A little more than a month ago, however, there was not a rotation job to be had.

That all changed on Jan. 19, when starter Roberto Hernandez -- Indians fans have known him as Fausto Carmona for the past 11 years -- was arrested in his native Dominican Republic on charges of using a false identity. Hernandez is dealing with ongoing legal and visa woes and there is no known timetable for his possible return to the Tribe.

It could be weeks or months before Hernandez's troubles are resolved. In the meantime, the Indians have a rotation to fill out before Opening Day. The top four spots (in no particular order) will be occupied by Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Tomlin and Derek Lowe.

As Spring Training begins, the only intrigue is at the back end of the staff.

"It's one spot," Acta said. "We're pretty clear on that with Masterson and Lowe and Jimenez and Tomlin. It's nice when you get to that point, instead of coming to camp and looking for three."

In the coming weeks, the Indians' decision makers will take a close look at each of the four candidates. Slowey, Gomez and Huff would seem to have a slight edge over McAllister, considering he only has four Major League starts under his belt. Still, Acta said the decision could come down to results.

"I'd be lying to say results don't count," Acta said. "But we're not going to be keeping track of every outing and have one through four type of standings every outing. But, again, I do feel those guys are comparable. Besides Kevin, having a bit of a track record in Minnesota, being good for them for a couple of years.

"I think they're going to have to get out there and perform."

The Indians acquired the 27-year-old Slowey from the Rockies on Jan. 20 -- one day after the Hernandez situation came to a head in the Dominican Republic. Cleveland had interest in Slowey in the past, but the sudden uncertainty within the starting staff surely pushed the Tribe to get a deal done.

For Slowey, it was the second time he was traded this past offseason. Minnesota initially dealt him to Colorado on Dec. 6 -- a deal that did not catch the pitcher by surprise. When he was dealt to Cleveland, though, Slowey was definitely caught off guard.

"It wasn't something that I was planning on hearing," Slowey said. "I sort of figured that after being traded once in the offseason, that's sort of where I would've settled for the year. I was obviously thankful for the opportunity. Any time you're traded, you know the team that's trading for you wants you more than the team that's trading you away."

Last season, Slowey went 0-8 with a 6.67 ERA over 14 outings, including eight starts, in a subpar season which included shoulder and abdominal injuries. In the three previous seasons combined, Slowey had gone 35-20 with a 4.36 ERA for the Twins. That is the type of performance the Tribe is hoping to see return this spring.

Slowey is determined to show he can return to that form, too.

"It's a job that I want," Slowey said of the fifth role. "For me, [the competition] sort of focuses in what I'm working on in Spring Training, and that's doing the best I can every time out to compete and show the organization, and the guys who are making the decisions, that I can be a guy who can help this team."

Gomez, 24, is coming off a strong showing with Triple-A Columbus and an 11-game stint with the Indians that included flashes of his potential. The right-hander went 10-7 with a 2.55 ERA in 21 starts in the Minors last season and posted a 5-3 record with a 4.47 ERA in his time with the Tribe.

Over the past two years, Gomez has gone 9-8 with a 4.58 ERA in 22 starts for Cleveland. The softspoken righty said he learned a lot last season about concentrating more on his work between outings. That is something he is hoping to carry into the coming season.

"Against any team," Gomez said, "after you throw, you have to be more focused the next time because they know you and you know them. It's the preparation between starts. When one game is over, it's over. Good or bad, it's over and you have to be prepared for the next one."

The 27-year-old Huff had an inconsistent showing in 2011, but the lefty spent much of the season working on a handful of mechanical changes. While at Triple-A Columbus, Huff tinkered with the rotation of his hips while pitching from the stretch and he altered the angle of his lead arm in an effort to create more deception.

Those changes, combined with a new cut fastball, helped Huff go 9-3 with a 3.87 ERA in 18 outings at Triple-A. Then, in his first six starts for the Indians in 2011, the lefty continued to have success, going 2-2 with 2.08 ERA in that stretch. Over his final five outings, though, Huff went 0-4 with a 6.20 ERA.

Since going 11-8 with a 5.61 ERA for the Indians in 2009, Huff has gone 4-17 with a 5.39 ERA in his stints with the big league team in the past two seasons.

Huff said he used this offseason to continue working on the changes he made last year. On the eve of the first official workout for pitchers and catchers, Huff believes he has found a comfort level with the adjustments.

"I feel comfortable doing it," Huff said. "I'm getting more out of my fastball. It feels like I'm getting further down the hill, I'm releasing it out in front, I'm on top of it, the ball is exploding out of my hand and I'm finishing toward home plate -- I'm not falling off toward third base.

"It feels great. I'm really excited about Spring Training, facing hitters and seeing how they do against me."

McAllister, 24, went 0-1 with a 6.11 ERA in his brief tour with the Tribe in 2011, but the big right-hander performed well during his stay at Triple-A. In 25 starts for Columbus, McAllister went 12-3 with a 3.32 ERA -- a promising showing that planted him firmly on Cleveland's radar.

That said, McAllister might be a long shot to crack the starting staff come Opening Day.

"Those guys are pretty close to each other -- all of them," Acta said. "But some guys are probably going to have to do more than others based on track record."

For the pitchers involved, the approach is simple.

"You can't control the decisions the front office is making," Huff said. "You've just got to control what you can control. ... If you focus on those other things, you start losing what you're really trying to accomplish, and that's getting guys out."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.