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Baseball is Back: Cleveland Fields a Team of New Faces, Young Pitching

Cleveland Indians field
Sean Fitzgerald
/
WKSU
Shane Bieber will take the mound in Detroit when the Cleveland Indians open their season Thursday with fans in attendance.

Major League Baseball is back. The Cleveland Indians open their season Thursday in Detroit, and are scheduled to play 162 games following a pandemic-shortened season last year.

WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says there are many new faces, including a very inexperienced pitching staff.

Youthful, talented and inexperienced pitching
Shane Bieber, the 2020 AL Cy Young winner, will take the mound Thursday afternoon. While Bieber has pitched a full season's worth of games and 64 overall starts, Pluto said he's concerned about the lack of experience that rounds out the rotation.

"After [Bieber] the second most starts by any Indians starter is 29 [by] Zach Plesac. In a regular season, you hope your starters are getting 30 or more starts," Pluto said.

The other starters include Aaron Civale, Triston McKenzie and Logan Allen. Allen, who broke camp as the fourth starter and has only four major league starts to his name, will be the first southpaw to open the season in the Indians rotation since Scott Kazmir in 2013.

"I'm dwelling on the pitching because I don't think they're going to hit," Pluto said, adding the bullpen should be pretty good this year, which will help buoy the young staff.

The new guys on offense
Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez were part of the return for Francisco Lindor in the offseason. Gimenez will open the year as the team's starting shortstop.

"Gimenez is going to be playing there everyday, and he's only 22. I really like him defensively. I think he'll hit a little bit, just don't compare him to Lindor," Pluto said.

Pluto acknowledges it will be somewhat of a struggle for the team's lineup to get going without Lindor and other players like Carlos Santana, who signed with Kansas City as a free agent.

"It's a difficult situation, let's not kid ourselves," he said. "They're going to have a hard time scoring runs. That's why I mentioned the pitching is the key. Those young guys have to come through faster than I think to be a contender."

"Pitching is the key. Those young guys have to come through faster than I think to be a contender."
Terry Pluto

A wake-up call
With eight straight winning seasons and five trips to the postseason, Cleveland fans have been used to the team being near the top of the AL Central for nearly a decade. That may very well change this season.

"This reminds me more of the teams I covered in the 80s when I was on the Indians beat or that I grew up with in the 60s or the 70s," Pluto said.

Pluto hopes that this new era of Cleveland baseball doesn't mirror a short stretch of futility from the past decade.

"Between 2009 and 2012, in three of those four years, the Indians lost more than 90 games. [The Indians] want to avoid that," he said.

Still, Pluto said for baseball purists like himself, it's fun to watch the young players, like Owen Miller.

"They got him in one of their trades with the Padres and is an infielder. He just hits rockets. He's going to go to the minors, and he could come up quickly and help," Pluto said.

The return of the minors
The minor leagues, which had their seasons entirely scrapped last year because of the pandemic, are set to return in May. The Akron Rubberducks will start with 30% capacity at Canal Park.

Pluto noted that while major league teams still got TV revenue last year, the minor leagues "didn't make a dime."

"In fact, they had to refund money to people who had season tickets and some people who had bought advertising and signage at the park. It was a total bloodletting financially for those in the minors," he said.

Another team that will be on the field is the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, after an uncertain 2020. Major League Baseball eliminated 40 teams as part of a contraction. The Scrappers, a single A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, were one of the few teams saved and given a spot in the inaugural Draft League.

"They'll be playing ball and supposed to start in June with around 30 home games," Pluto said.

Vaccinations
The Cleveland Indians expect to get their players COVID-19 vaccines within the next couple of weeks.

"That will make a big difference," Pluto said, adding that he's just glad baseball is back on schedule this year.

"At this point a year ago, I was watching Korean Baseball in the KBO because there was nothing going on with no indication of when," he said.

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Amanda Rabinowitz has been a reporter, host and producer at WKSU since 2007. Her days begin before the sun comes up as the local anchor for NPR’s Morning Edition, which airs on WKSU each weekday from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. In addition to providing local news and weather, she interviews Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com for a weekly commentary about Northeast Ohio's sports scene called The View From Pluto. She also hosts and produces Shuffle, a podcast focusing on Northeast Ohio’s music scene.
Sean Fitzgerald is a senior journalism major at Kent State University. Sean has been with Black Squirrel Radio, Kent State's student-run radio station since the spring of 2018 as a sports show host and co-host, a web article contributor and now serves as the sports department director for the station. Sean hopes to pursue a career in sports journalism once he finishes school.