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Veteran righty Justin Masterson will naturally resume his role as the staff ace. The 28-year-old made 32 appearances—29 starts—last season, allowing a 3.45 ERA while averaging 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He must continue to improve in the way of command, but he is certainly the closest thing to a shutdown starter the Tribe has going into the season.
The departure of Scott Kazmir (Athletics) and Ubaldo Jimenez (Baltimore Orioles) opened up two spots in the Tribe’s rotation.
Danny Salazar, who pitched exceptionally well at the end of last season, was quick to claim one of those spots in the rotation even before he ever took the mound in a spring training game. His rather dominant performance at the end of last season has Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway high on his potential to become a staff ace sooner than expected.
The final spot, however, remains unknown.
With Trevor Bauer continuing to struggle with his command and Carlos Carrasco coming off a terrible outing, Josh Tomlin will likely claim the final spot. The 29-year-old right-hander has been sharp in 14 innings this spring, striking out 14 batters against only two walks and posting a 2.57 earned run average. While he might be the favorite to win the job out of camp, Tomlin will need to have a strong first half to retain that spot throughout the season. If he stumbles out of the gate, look for either Carrasco or Bauer to step in and assume Carrasco’s spot in the rotation.
According to Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer, here is what Francona has said about Tomlin:
- He's 'come as advertised.'
- He's a 'good teammate.
- He 'doesn't walk anyone.'
- He 'doesn't beat himself.'
Either way, starting pitching is a major question mark for the Tribe entering the season. Each of the four young arms (excluding Masterson) must continue their progression this season if the Tribe is to return of the playoffs in 2014.