Ramirez's versatility a boon to Tribe's bullpen

Ramirez's versatility a boon to Tribe's bullpen

CLEVELAND -- Jose Ramirez has been one of the most productive members of the Indians' lineup this season, but his versatility has proved nearly as valuable.

With starting second baseman Jason Kipnis out since July 8 with a right hamstring strain, Ramirez has been able to slide between third base and second base, saving the Indians a bench spot to use on an extra reliever.

Instead of their usual 13 hitters on their 25-man roster, the Indians are carrying just one backup catcher, infielder and outfielder apiece. Ramirez is a big part of it, as he's played at least 20 games at second base, third base and left field over the past two seasons.

"It's huge," manager Terry Francona said. "We even talked about it when he signed his contract. We just wanted to make sure he understood that that could still happen or we might need it to happen. He doesn't do it grudgingly, he just does it and it really helps us a lot."

For now, Cleveland is using a six-man rotation following the return of Danny Salazar, but the bullpen still has its regular seven members. The Indians are 28th in bullpen usage this season, but the extra pitcher prevents them from overworking any of their key arms.

"I think it always puts you at a little ease when you have enough pitching," pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "The last thing you want to do is pitch guys on a day they don't need to be pitching. Then all of a sudden, you have two close games, and now they've thrown three days in a row, and it puts you in a bind. Or a starter has a short outing, and then you're kind of messed up for a weekend with your bullpen usage."

It remains to be seen how long the Indians will carry 13 pitchers once Kipnis is healthy or the rotation returns to five members. But the extra arms will be key as the Tribe continues on a stretch of 17 games in 17 days that started on Friday.

"I know Tito likes it," Callaway said. "It puts our whole team at ease. It takes some pressure off the starter. 'OK, I don't want to mess the 'pen up tonight.' When you have that extra guy, it makes it a lot easier and takes a little pressure off them."

Ben Weinrib is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cleveland. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.