Huff makes opening case for fifth starter

Huff makes opening case for fifth starter

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The competition for the lone vacancy in the Indians' rotation officially began on Saturday afternoon, when fans rolled in to Goodyear Ballpark under a cloudless sky and lefty David Huff took the mound for the first time this spring.

Huff is one of four pitchers vying for the available fifth spot, and his number was called for Cleveland's Cactus League opener, which saw the Tribe and the Reds play to a 6-6 tie. For his part, Huff spun a pair of scoreless innings and walked away content with what he was able to accomplish.

"I felt good. I felt really good," said Huff, while still catching his breath after some post-start running. "My big thing was trying to throw into hitters, and I executed it. I was throwing it in there for strikes and I was throwing it in there for balls. I made the hitters really uncomfortable."

Huff is hoping to do the same when the Indians break camp and head home for the April 5 season opener against the Blue Jays. There are still four weeks remaining in Spring Training, however, and four arms jockeying for position. The other three candidates include Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez and Zach McAllister.

As for Huff, Indians manager Manny Acta liked what he saw the first time out.

"He battled," Acta said. "Even when he had a little bit of traffic, he was able to fight back. Especially after they started the game with a double right off the bat, he was able to get the next guy with a good pitch inside."

The leadoff double rocketed off the bat of Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips, who used an off-balance swing to rope a changeup into left field. Huff escaped the first inning unscathed with a strikeout and a double play, but the pitcher was left baffled by Phillips' two-base knock.

"I was just like, 'How did he hit that?'" Huff said with a laugh. "He was out on his front foot and he was in the other batter's box. It was a good pitch. I just think he saw it coming because I slowed up. I didn't maintain that fastball arm speed."

Overall, the 27-year-old Huff maintained consistent mechanics and was solid with his command, firing 25 of his 35 pitches for strikes. He stuck mainly with his fastball and cutter, shelving the curveball after missing high in the zone on a couple of attempts. Huff gave up three hits, but he found a way to limit the damage.

Huff went 2-6 with a 4.09 ERA in 11 games for the Indians last season, but he was 9-3 with a 3.87 ERA in 18 turns with Triple-A Columbus. The lefty made a handful of mechanical tweaks last season and said he has reached a point where he is no longer thinking about those chances while on the hill.

Huff is also trying to keep his mind off the battle for the fifth spot.

"You can't think about that when you go out there," he said. "You've got to think about facing the hitter that's in the box and you've got to think about that pitch that you need to execute."