MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians spent the Fourth of July lighting the fuse on their bullpen. The club designated struggling closer Joe Borowski for assignment, along with seldom-used reliever Rick Bauer, while calling up pitchers Jensen Lewis and Brian Slocum from Triple-A Buffalo to fill the voids. Masa Kobayashi will get first crack as the team's closer. Borowski signed with the Indians prior to the 2007 season. He saved 45 games last year, leading the American League, despite a 5.07 ERA. Before his release, Borowski was 1-3 with a 7.56 ERA this season while converting 6 of 10 save situations.
"It was performance dictated," general manager Mark Shapiro said of the move. "He is a guy that is a phenomenal teammate, a guy that we all have great respect for and care about deeply, and a guy that was a huge part of a very special season last year. We tried to give him every opportunity possible." Borowski battled through injuries this season, beginning the year trying to pitch through a right triceps strain, and was shelved on the disabled list for more than a month. Borowski said the injuries "played a role" in his struggles, a sentiment that Shapiro echoed. "It's a guy whose success was in part due to his toughness, his competitiveness and not so much his prototypical closer stuff," Shapiro said. "Once he had the injury in Spring Training, I'm not sure he ever got back to where he was last year. He was already pitching with a fine line." Borowski said he would like to pitch again. He thinks he can help a team with his experience. The Indians' struggles clearly had an effect on the veteran, but he said he would have liked to finish out the season. "It's tough to be sharp all the time when the consistent work isn't out there," Borowski said. "I've always been, throughout my career, the more I get out there, the better I am." Kobayashi will get the initial save opportunities, but other relievers could get an opportunity to close as well. "I think here at the beginning, we'll give Masa the bulk of it," Wedge said. "But I want to pick spots to where we try other people, too. It's not just going to be Masa." Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez will remain in setup roles. Informing Borowski of the decision was difficult for Wedge, who acknowledged his immense respect for the closer as both a player and a person. "Like I told him, he's the toughest relief pitcher I've ever been around, as a player or as a manager," Wedge said. "He's one of those guys that our team, and the individuals on our team, will continue to be better because of the time they spent around him." Lewis is returning from a five-week stint at Buffalo. He began the season with the Indians after being a key member of the bullpen in 2007, in which he posted a 2.15 ERA in 29 1/3 innings over 26 appearances. Earlier this season with Cleveland, he compiled a 3.82 ERA in 30 2/3 innings over 21 games. Lewis worked on his command and velocity in Buffalo, where he went 1-2 with a 3.60 ERA in 11 appearances. Last month, Slocum was switched from starting to relief work in the Minors. The early returns were positive, as Slocum went 0-1 with a 0.69 ERA in seven appearances out of the Buffalo bullpen. Slocum had a stint with Cleveland in 2006, racking up a 5.60 ERA in two starts and six relief appearances in pitching 17 2/3 innings. Slocum said he's a more aggressive pitcher out of the bullpen.
"Obviously, out of the bullpen you can let it go a little more."Lewis and Slocum were apprised of their impending recall Thursday night. They flew from Buffalo to Minneapolis on Friday morning, and were in uniform for the series opener against the Twins. Is the Indians closer of the future in their bullpen now? Probably not, according to Shapiro. "Possible, but I'm not overly confident," Shapiro said. "Strange things happen in this game, closers come from strange places, but nothing is staring me in the face, shouting, 'This guy is going to be a closer.' It's not impossible, but it's not probable, either. We are going to have to address that in the offseason."
Thor Nystrom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.