Terry Francona on Indians big bullpen arms: ‘It’s easy to dream’

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — So you’ve survived five or six innings against one of the Cleveland Indians’ premium young starting pitchers such as Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac or Aaron Civale. Maybe the game is close. Perhaps you have a notion to rally for a late win.

But in Terry Francona’s utopia, an opponent’s comeback task only gets harder from there. With a burgeoning cadre of hard-throwing relievers waiting in the bullpen, the Indians hope to one day make it a completely insurmountable task.

Friday’s 10-4 Cactus League win against the Cubs offered a first glance at what Francona’s fantasy scenario could look like on the field.

Righty Emmanuel Clase touched triple-digits on the scoreboard radar gun at Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz. on his way to a scoreless inning of work that included a strikeout.

“I thought his stuff was really good,” Francona said of Clase afterward. “You’re looking at an upper 90s fastball with a breaking ball. I thought Clase used his breaking ball today. He brought that out a little bit.”

In the seventh (and final) inning, it was time for lefty Anthony Gose to shine. He struck out a pair of Cubs hitters in a hitless inning — his second clean outing of the spring.

Perhaps no reliever lost more in terms of potential development time during the pandemic-shortened season than Gose, 30, who spent the balance of the summer at Cleveland’s alternate training site in Lake County.

A converted ex-big league outfielder who is also capable of touching 100 mph with his fastball, Gose has come to camp this year with more refined mechanics and a presence on the mound that Francona has said is undeniable.

“It’s easy to dream,” Francona said. “The kid, he’s got such a big arm. He’s added the slider that we really think is going to help him. There were times last year when he had trouble landing his breaking ball. This, he seems to be able to throw for strikes that kind of comes out of the same window of his fastball. So again, there’s some hope there that that will also help with some of the consistency.”

Clase’s lost 2020 season was born partly of his own doing. The 22-year-old Dominican native tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in December, 2019 and served a season-long suspension that covered the entire 60-game campaign and playoffs. During that time, he rehabbed an upper back injury that he suffered early in spring training with Cleveland.

“I think it was just a disappointment for not being able to be there with the team competing,” Clase told reporters last month at the start of camp. “In terms of progress of my development I think it was the same. I kept working and I kept focusing on my things and I think that’s the bottom line.”

With another hard-throwing righty in James Karinchak perhaps a little further along in his development than Clase and Gose, the Indians have the makings of a bullpen that could bully its way through opposing lineups after they’ve been softened up by a dizzying array of curveballs from the likes of Bieber, Plesac and Civale.

That day could arrive soon, with Clase and Karinchak almost assured an opening day roster spot, and Gose’s improvements putting him on a path to potentially making his big league pitching debut this season.

It would be nice if things work out that way for Francona and the Indians. But until then, it’s fun (and easy) to dream about.

New Indians face masks for sale: Here’s where you can buy Cleveland Indians-themed face coverings for coronavirus protection, including a single mask ($14.99) and a 3-pack ($24.99). All MLB proceeds donated to charity.

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