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Hernandez designated for assignment

Tribe cuts ties with Hernandez

CLEVELAND -- Roberto Hernandez's 985 career appearances out of the big-league bullpen certainly dwarf Jason Stanford's five.

But the Indians didn't want to risk losing the left-handed Stanford to the waiver wire, and they feel they can stomach the loss of the struggling Hernandez.

So the Tribe cut ties with Hernandez, a 16-year veteran who had been signed last winter to bolster the back end of the bullpen, by designating him for assignment Wednesday. They'll have 10 days to trade or release him.

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Right-handed reliever Ed Mujica was called up -- most likely temporarily -- from Triple-A Buffalo to replace Hernandez on the active roster, but the transaction was really made to keep Stanford, who will now pitch in long relief, and will be on board when starter Jake Westbrook returns from the disabled list this weekend.

"Obviously we were wrestling with this decision on what to do when Jake comes back," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "We really felt Jason Stanford provides us with invaluable depth. [Designating Hernandez] is a difficult decision because of our respect for him and the person he is and the role he played as a leader in our clubhouse. But from a performance standpoint, from a team standpoint, it's a decision we're confident was the right one."

Shapiro said the Indians are committed to giving Jeremy Sowers, who was optioned to Buffalo on June 10, the time and flexibility to get himself straightened out in the Minors. If another injury pops up in the rotation, the Tribe did not want to have to turn to Sowers.

They'd rather turn to Stanford, who is out of Minor League options and likely wouldn't have passed through waivers without being claimed by another club.

And so the Indians will stick Stanford in their bullpen. It will be a foreign role to him. He made five relief appearances for the Tribe in 2003, and he worked solely as a reliever in the Minors in 2005, while coming back from Tommy John surgery, but he's always been groomed as a starter. He made two spot starts for the Indians after Sowers' demotion, going 1-1 with a 4.97 ERA.

"Whatever it takes to stay up here," Stanford said of the move to the 'pen. "I'm excited for the new challenge. I have the mentality to be a reliever, but the stuff to be a starter."

This past winter, the Indians felt Hernandez, even at the age of 42, still had the stuff to help out their beleaguered bullpen. That's why they signed him to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. And the velocity of his fastball was, indeed, still intact this season.

But velocity alone wasn't enough to get big-league hitters out.

Hernandez went 3-1 with a 6.23 ERA in 28 games. Opposing batters were hitting .308 off him, and the final straw came Tuesday night against the Phillies, when he was sent out to keep the Indians in a one-run ballgame, only to give up three ninth-inning runs.

"We were never able to get him locked in and on track," manager Eric Wedge said.

The Indians could have waited to designate Hernandez on Saturday, in correlation with Westbrook's activation for his Sunday start against the Nationals.

But the Indians' trip to Washington, D.C., is a family trip, and, quite simply, the Indians didn't want to release Hernandez on the road, with his family by his side.

So that brings Mujica into the mix for at least a few days. He was 0-1 with 11 saves and a 6.35 ERA in 22 games as Buffalo's primary closer. While with the Indians from May 7-22, he appeared in two games, giving up two runs in four innings of work.

Last season, the Indians were forced to turn to in-house youngsters like Mujica to patch up their 'pen, which was among the worst in baseball. In the free-agent market, Shapiro sought veteran relief help, and that resulted in the signings of Hernandez, Joe Borowski, Aaron Fultz and Keith Foulke.

Borowski has been an effective closer, saving 20 of 22 opportunities, while Fultz has been adequate in the late innings. But Foulke retired before the first pitch of Spring Training, and Hernandez has been given the boot.

All four were signed to one-year deals.

"We try to stick to shorter-term commitments in the bullpen, because that allows us to either address injuries or a lack of performance with an adjustment that's easier to make," Shapiro said. "Mistakes are made in the bullpen not by signing contracts, but by signing long-term contracts. We didn't expect to hit 1.000 on those four guys, and we certainly didn't."

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

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