With Opening Day getting close, one of the storylines for the Cleveland Indians revolves around who will be the fourth starter. The Indians will likely only rely on four starting pitchers for the month of April. That is due in large part because of the number of off days (5) that month.
As a result, Shane Bieber anchoring down the top followed by Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale. Bieber getting the Opening Day nod is not a surprise in any manner. Furthermore, both Plesac and Civale have the stuff and skill level to occupy the number two and three spots.
Since starting pitching has always been a hallmark for the Indians, they certainly won’t lack options for naming a fourth starter. Here’s a look at the different options for Cleveland to occupy this spot of the rotation.
Surveying the Options for the Fourth Starter Role
RHP Triston McKenzie
The leading candidate for the spot is likely to be Triston McKenzie. McKenzie will enter his second big league season this year at the age of 23. Last season, he made six starts and two appearances in relief. Over that sample, McKenzie posted a 3.24 ERA with a 3.91 Fielding Independent Percentage (FIP) and a 11.3 K/9 rate.
Originally drafted during the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft, he has always been viewed as an important part of the Indians plan moving forward. The righty relies heavily on a mix of four different pitches with his Four-Seam Fastball being his most utilized one. In 2020, opponents hit .194 against that pitch and McKenzie had a 23.7% Whiff Rate with it. Being named the fourth starter would be excellent experience for Triston McKenzie as he looks to establish himself in the Indians starting rotation even more.
LHP Cal Quantrill
Another potential option is Cal Quantrill. Quantrill was acquired by the Indians prior to last year’s August 31st Trade Deadline from the San Diego Padres. Of course, that was the trade that sent starting pitcher Mike Clevinger to San Diego along with Greg Allen and Matt Waldron for a package of five players (two big leaguers and three minor leaguers).
After he was acquired by Cleveland, Quantrill made two starts and six appearances in relief. Over that sample of work, which consisted of 14 and two-third innings, the 26-year old posted a 1.84 ERA with 13 strikeouts. Furthermore, he held opposing batters to a .283 on-base percentage and had a Hard Hit Rate of 27.3%. The consensus is still out on whether Cal Quantrill can be a full-time starting pitcher or if he would be better in relief. This could be the perfect opportunity for the Indians to find out the answer to that dilemma.
RHP Logan Allen
Another potential option for the Indians is Logan Allen. Allen is another former San Diego Padres pitcher who went over to Cleveland in the blockbuster Trevor Bauer three-team trade that also included the Cincinnati Reds in 2019. Since that time, Allen has not accumulated much big league time under his belt. In fact, in 2019 he pitched only two and one-third innings, while racking up 10 and two-third innings last season.
Although Allen had a 5.35 FIP over that small sample of work, his ERA sat at 3.38 and he did have seven strikeouts. Given that Allen is entering his age-24 season, there is still development that will likely take place for him. One potential area that he might need to address is his splits against righties versus lefties. Granted, the sample was extremely small, but righties hit .344 against him last year. Meanwhile, lefties hit only .111. The Indians will need to determine if making Logan Allen their fourth starter for the month of April, and potentially beyond, would be the best decision for his development or not.
Final Thoughts on the Fourth Starter Competition
The three aforementioned names are ones to monitor in the final week of Spring Training camp for the Cleveland Indians. Whoever ends up not being named into this role will either start the year as the fifth starter, but pitch out of the bullpen or will be down in Triple-A.
Furthermore, Cleveland has additional starting pitching depth in Adam Plutko. However, it appears that as of right now, Plutko will begin the season out of the bullpen. Either way, it’s a good problem for the Indians to have considering some of the pitching challenges that could arise this season following the shortened 2020 season.
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