Johnson designated; Sowers expected

Tribe cuts ties with Johnson; Sowers expected

CLEVELAND -- Jason Johnson's tenure with the Indians is over, and the forecast is calling for Sowers on Sunday.

The Indians designated the veteran Johnson for assignment on Tuesday, opening a spot in the starting rotation. That spot will be filled by left-handed prospect Jeremy Sowers, who was scheduled to make his 15th start for Triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday night.

As long as Sowers makes it through his start and ensuing bullpen session healthy, he'll take over Johnson's scheduled start against the Reds on Sunday at Jacobs Field.

"We felt we needed to make a change in our starting rotation," manager Eric Wedge said. "We didn't feel [the rotation] was working out how we hoped."

The Tribe will call up Sowers this weekend and either send down a position player or place Jason Michaels -- who is still battling a sprained right ankle, an injury he sustained last Thursday in New York -- on the disabled list.

In the meantime, the Indians called up utility infielder Joe Inglett from Buffalo to add bench depth. And in another roster tweak, the club optioned right-hander Jeremy Guthrie back to Buffalo and replaced him in the bullpen with right-hander Ed Mujica.

The slew of transactions comes as the Indians are in the middle of a four-game losing streak that has placed them in fourth place in the American League Central, 15 games behind the Tigers.

Though putting a prospect in the rotation might be the sign of a team beginning to shift its focus to next season, general manager Mark Shapiro said that he is not waving the white flag on 2006.

"This is about trying to be better for now and the future," said Shapiro. "We had a pitcher at Triple-A who we felt could fit that criteria."

In the offseason, Shapiro was convinced that the 32-year-old Johnson could fit the criteria he was looking for in a fifth starter. Shapiro was reluctant to hand the job to an unproven youngster like Sowers or Fausto Carmona, so he gave Johnson a $3.5 million contract that included a buyout of $500,000 if the right-hander's mutual option for 2007 wasn't exercised.

Johnson had never been a consistent winner in the big leagues. His career record coming into the season was 52-86. But the Tribe was wooed by his penchant for quality starts (he had 19 of them in 2005 with the Tigers) and innings-eating outings (he had thrown 210 innings in 2005).

After 14 starts, though, it was clear that the Indians didn't get what they'd paid for.

Johnson turned in just five quality starts and logged just 77 innings in those, compiling a 3-9 record and 5.96 ERA along the way.

A loss to the Cubs on Monday night, during which he gave up six runs -- three of them earned -- in five innings of work, dropped Johnson to 1-8 with a 7.38 ERA over his last 11 starts and proved to be the final straw. The Indians were 4-10 in games in which he took the mound.

"It was more about location than anything," Wedge said of Johnson's struggles. "He was still throwing with good velocity, but he wasn't locating the ball and making pitches in key situations."

As Johnson has labored this season, Sowers has dominated in Triple-A.

Entering Tuesday, Sowers had gone 8-1 with a 1.27 ERA in 14 starts. He had allowed more than two earned runs in a game just once all season.

To promote Sowers, the Indians will have to add him to the 40-man roster, which currently stands at 39 players.

The Indians took Sowers, 23, with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft not because of an eye-popping fastball or physical build -- he has neither of those qualities.

What the Indians liked about him was his strike-throwing capabilities, his knowledge of how to craft a game and his potential to rise quickly through their system. He's certainly lived up to those traits.

Perhaps the only concern about Sowers is how he'll handle the pressure of the big-league spotlight. The Indians thought that he tried too hard to impress during big-league Spring Training camp this year.

"There's pressure on everybody around here," Shapiro said. "We're going to do everything we can to try to ease that pressure, and he'll get more confident over time."

Shapiro seemed fairly confident that he'll be able to move Johnson through a trade, with the hope of landing an upper-level middle infielder or pitching in return.

"We'll balance what kind of player it is versus the payroll relief," Shapiro said. "If not a player [in return], we'll look to move as much of [Johnson's] contract as possible."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.