Thursday, May 5, 2011

Central Arms On The Way Back

Yesterday the Tigers and reliever Joel Zumaya decided to go under the knife to try to determine why he was still experiencing pain in his surgically repaired elbow a month after the pain first manifested itself. But for other AL Central teams dealing with injuries to key arms, the news is better as those pitchers are getting close to returning.

In Toledo White Sox starter Jake Peavy made the last of his scheduled rehab starts today and will rejoin the team tomorrow. Elsewhere, Twins stater-turned-reliever Kevin Slowey, and Indians starter Carlos Carrasco are all nearing returns.

Obviously the biggest of those three names is Peavy, and with his final rehab start out of the way as of today, his path to the Majors is clear. Peavy will rejoin the team in Seattle tomorrow and is scheduled to make his first start on the 11th against the Angels in Anaheim. Peavy hasn't regained all of his velocity yet, and works mostly in the 89-91 range but he's touched 93-94 and his stuff should still be good enough to get the job done and he looked strong in spring training, for whatever that's worth.

His return does nothing to help the White Sox recover what has become an almost utterly unbelievable offensive power outage, but he'll almost provide more quality innings than Phillip Humber who, to his immense credit, has done a far better job in Peavy's stead than I think almost anyone could've or would've expected.

Slowey on the other hand appeared poised to make his return to the Twins rotation after not making the cut out of spring training. However with ace Francisco Liriano lost in debilitating control problems, it appeared that Slowey, who the Twins had been stretching out as he recovered from a strained biceps muscle in his pitching arm, would take his place in the rotation upon his return. Liriano of course screwed up all those plans by going out and throwing the first no hitter of the 2011 season which will certainly earn him another start or two.

Still, after walking six while striking out just two, the no-hitter was far more of a mask than a cure. Liriano's control issues haven't gone away and it appears a mere matter of time until Slowey eventually replaces either him, or the also struggling Nick Blackburn. While Slowey has always struggled with allowing too many fly balls, and works himself into too many deep counts, he maintains a solid strikeout rate and is an elite control pitcher who has consistently posted solid FIP marks and should be a fine #3 or #4 option in most rotations.

Of the three however, it's possible that it's Carrasco who could end up meaning the most to his team. The Indians are off to the best start in their storied Franchise's 111 year history at 21-9. Gone since he felt pain in his elbow on the 24th of April, he'll be eligible to return from the DL on the 10th.

While the team has, not surprisingly, received strong performances from essentially every member of their rotation, Carrasco has the stuff to be a true plus pitcher. At his best, Carrasco will miss bats, limit his walks, and induce large quantities of ground balls. While he's not truly elite in any one category, he's plus in all, and projects as a solid #3, or even a borderline #2.

If the Indians intend to carry their utterly unexpected, and equally incredibly hot start forward, they're going to need to get consistently strong pitching from a rotation that lacks a true ace. To that end, Carrasco can help provide still more quality depth throughout their rotation.

Injuries are a part of the game, and the teams that can sustain them the best through quality minor league depth have a huge edge on their competition. It's never good to lose a key player, but getting one back can help propel a struggling team like the Twins or White Sox, or allow a team to reach even greater heights, which the Indians will strive to accomplish.

Corey Ettinger is a Senior Writer for Baseball Digest as well as a proud contributor to both,, and He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates, random thoughts and general tomfoolery. 

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