KANSAS CITY -- The Indians knew what they had coming into this season in closer Chris Perez and setup men Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith. The unanswered question was whether the middle relief would do its part to bridge the gap to that solid trio.
So far, Indians manager Terry Francona has been pleased with the results.
"I've been a part of teams where you have guys that you're trying to get to," Francona said, "and you maneuver it around. So often you've heard me say it, 'If you get to the bullpen before you want to, it has a chance to blow up.' But we've been going to guys like Cody [Allen] or Bryan Shaw early, and they give us a chance to win.
"It's good and it's deep, and we intend to keep it that way."
The middle-relief situation was an issue at times last season for Cleveland. If you remove Perez, Pestano and Smith from the equation -- they posted a 3.01 ERA combined a year ago -- the rest of the Indians' bullpen turned in a 4.56 ERA in 2012. The Tribe went 52-8 when it had a lead after six innings last season, but ended with 94 losses overall.
Through 19 games this season, Perez, Pestano and Smith have again been stellar, combining for a 0.83 ERA (two earned runs in 21 2/3 innings). Excluding the emergency relief appearance by starter Brett Myers on April 9, the rest of Cleveland's relief corps (Allen, Shaw, Rich Hill, Nick Hagadone and Matt Albers) have combined for a 2.65 ERA (10 earned runs in 34 innings).
Entering Friday, the Indians' bullpen was riding a streak of 19 consecutive scoreless innings, marking the fifth-longest run of its kind for the ballclub dating to 2000, and tied for the longest current streak in the Majors this season. Over the last 10 games, Cleveland has lowered its bullpen ERA from 5.14 to 2.73.
"Not having a traditional long man in the 'pen," Pestano said, "just speaking for myself, I didn't really know how things were going to shake out down there having a couple guys that have mostly gone strictly one inning the past few years. But Albers and Shaw and Cody have shown that they've been able to go multiple innings and do a great job of keeping those games close.
"If we get our starters to go at least five strong innings, and keep the game close, we have to cover one inning and then it's me, Joe and C.P. I'll take those odds all day long."
Francona is doing his part in trying to keep the odds in the Indians' favor.
"We have a good bullpen and part of a manager's responsibility is to keep a bullpen in order," Francona said. "Every once in a while, you have to take your lumps. But if you do that, you keep good pitchers healthy and they have a better chance of being productive. That's the whole goal."