Indians make bullpen moves

Indians make bullpen moves

CLEVELAND -- The Indians still believe Jensen Lewis has a future in the back end of their bullpen.

At present, though, Lewis is headed to Triple-A Buffalo.

Lewis was optioned to the Bisons on Saturday, as the Indians looked to address concerns in their 'pen. With starter Fausto Carmona going on the 15-day disabled list, the Tribe made two additions to the relief corps, calling up right-hander Ed Mujica and purchasing the contract of veteran right-hander Scott Elarton.

Though Lewis was far from the only Tribe reliever struggling, manager Eric Wedge said sending the 24-year-old right-hander down was "without a doubt, the best move to make."

"We need him to get back to where he was last year, so we can use him as late as possible," Wedge said of Lewis. "With [Joe] Borowski coming off the DL and the rest of the bullpen struggling, we need a guy we can count on in the back end. We want the guy we saw last year."

Lewis began last season at Double-A Akron and made a quick rise to the bigs, where he went 1-1 with a 2.15 ERA in 26 appearances.

This season, though, his velocity was down from Spring Training on. Lewis used to top out around the 91-93 mph range, but this year he was more frequently throwing his fastball at 85-88 mph.

Despite the lack of velocity, Lewis had some decent outings. He had an 0-2 record and a 3.58 ERA in 20 appearances, and his 27 2/3 innings of work were more than any other reliever on the staff. Just eight days ago, Wedge named Lewis one of four closing candidates, with Borowski still on the DL. But Lewis gave up four earned runs over his last four outings.

Wedge said Lewis' lack of velocity was a concern.

"It's never really come back," Wedge said.

But the Indians don't believe the velocity issue is due to an injury or fatigue.

"He's adamant about that, and I believe he is [healthy], because he's been very durable for us," Wedge said. "There's a few things fundamentally and mechanically that [pitching coach] Carl [Willis] talked to him about."

Wedge hopes to have Lewis back in the bullpen soon. In the meantime, he'll see what he can get out of Elarton and Mujica. But with Jake Westbrook coming off the DL on Wednesday, the Indians will have another move -- perhaps involving a member of the 'pen -- on the horizon.

Elarton, 33, was a starter for the Tribe in 2004-05 before leaving to sign a two-year deal with the Royals. Shoulder surgery near the end of the '06 season derailed his starting career, and the Royals cut ties with him last summer. The Indians signed him to a Minor League deal and had him pitch out of the Buffalo bullpen last August. The Tribe then invited him to Spring Training camp this year, and he was one of the last cuts in the bullpen mix.

Elarton was 1-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 15 appearances for the Bisons.

"He's a strike-thrower," Wedge said. "You know what you're going to get from the guy. Obviously, he's not intimidated."

Mujica was called up five times by the Tribe in the '07 season, and this is his first callup of '08. He was 0-2 with a 4.15 ERA in 18 appearances for Buffalo, but he has a 1.93 ERA since April 6.

One question that sprouted up in the wake of the moves was why right-handed veteran Jorge Julio, who has given up nine earned runs in his last 10 2/3 innings, survived. Wedge pointed to the hard-throwing Julio's raw stuff.

"Prior to [the last couple outings], he was OK," Wedge said of Julio, who has a 5.60 ERA in 15 appearances. "With the uncertainty of our bullpen right now, the last thing you want to do is get rid of one of your best arms. You look at his numbers prior to his last couple outings, and he was doing a pretty good job for us."

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