Rzepczynski now a fixture in Indians' bullpen

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Marc Rzepczynski is no longer the new guy. The left-hander is comfortable in Cleveland's clubhouse, and he heads into camp this spring as a virtual lock to open the season in the Indians' bullpen.

Rzepczynski earned that opportunity with the way he pitched down the stretch after the Tribe pried him away from St. Louis prior to the non-waiver July 31 Trade Deadline last year.

"Zep came in, and he pitched so well that it really helped the bullpen," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Not only his numbers, but it helped everybody else."

As things currently stand, Rzepczynski joins Josh Outman (acquired via trade from the Rockies in December) as the two lefties primed for spots in Cleveland's bullpen. Closer John Axford and setup men Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw also project to be among the Opening Day relievers. There is a long list of pitchers vying for the final jobs.

The Indians capitalized on a rough start last season from Rzepczynski, who posted a 7.84 ERA in 11 games for the Cardinals, who sent him to Triple-A Memphis for most of the first half. After joining the Indians, the 28-year-old left-hander turned in a 0.89 ERA, yielding only two earned runs in 20 1/3 innings. Rzepczynski struck out 20, walked six and held lefties to a .128 average with Cleveland.

With that performance, Rzepczynski helped shore up the Tribe's left-handed relief, which had been a problem for the team early in the year.

"I just wanted to pitch well," Rzepczynski said. "They tried to get me for a reason. Usually when you get traded mid-season, you try to help, and it actually means something [for contending]. Last year, I know we needed that lefty depth a little bit, and I wanted to prove myself. This year, it's trying to build off what I did last year.

"I got back to being able to throw my breaking ball for strikes. ... When you're able to throw two or three pitches for strikes, it helps you out later on. That was the big thing for me, especially in St. Louis at the time. My breaking ball was flat and I had to rely too much on my fastball."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.