CLEVELAND -- Scott Elarton was an accomplished starter in the big leagues, so he never imagined he'd find himself, at 33, working as a reliever in the Minors. But that's life in professional baseball. The pull of the game sometimes leads a player to do things he never thought he'd do in order to stay afloat. Still, Elarton couldn't help wondering how much longer he could handle pitching in Triple-A Buffalo this season. How often did he think about packing up his bags and heading to his home in Karval, Colo.?
"Every day," he said. It's tough on a player who's been in the big leagues for a while to go back to Triple-A, he said. It's probably the toughest level in baseball. "Usually the guys in Double-A or below have never been to the big leagues," he said. "In Triple-A, it's guys who are either trying to get their first call or guys who have been there and come back. It's not always fun." He figures to have more fun now that he's been promoted to the Majors. The Indians bought his contract from Buffalo on Saturday with the hope that he'll be able to stabilize their ragged relief corps. It was Elarton who chose to blaze the relief path last August, when the Indians signed him to a Minor League contract after he had been cut loose by a Royals club that signed him to a two-year free-agent contract before the '06 season. The right-hander's days as a starter essentially ended when he had surgery performed on his throwing shoulder for the third time in August of '06. He rejoined the Royals' rotation in early 2007, but his 10.46 ERA in nine starts led to his release. As a favor to an old friend who'd pitched well in their rotation in '04 and '05, the Indians signed Elarton and sent him to Buffalo last August. "They asked me what I wanted to do when I got to Buffalo, and I told them, 'I'd kind of like to relieve,'" he said. "I didn't really have the arm strength to throw six to eight innings. [Relief work] was just something I wanted to try." The trial has generally been a successful one. Elarton was one of the last players cut in Spring Training camp this year, and he was 1-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 15 appearances for the Bisons. Working mainly in a setup role, he limited Triple-A batters to a .223 average, walked seven and struck out 18 in 25 2/3 innings. Elarton, who hasn't worked as a reliever in the big leagues since he was with the Astros in 1999, said converting from starter to reliever hasn't been a tough transition for him. "I really haven't changed much, because I've always had a bullpen mentality," he said. "I never conserved anything in the game. But I do warm up faster than I used to." The best news is how Elarton's shoulder has responded to the alteration in workload. He hasn't had an issue with it -- to this point. "I haven't had much arm luck my whole career," he said. "I guess it is surprising in a way. I guess I'm to the point where I don't worry about that stuff anymore. My arm feels fine. If it goes down the tubes, I guess it's time to find something else to do."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.