Notes: Stanford at crossroad with Tribe
Starting prospect Minor League free agent after season
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Drop the word "frustrating" in front of Jason Stanford with regard to his 2006 season, and the left-hander just laughs."That doesn't even begin to sum it up," Stanford says. In Spring Training last year, he was seldom-used in Grapefruit League games, making just four appearances and no starts. During the season at Triple-A Buffalo, the throwing elbow that had forced him to have Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in 2004 flared up and sidelined him for a month. And he was never once considered for the regular outbound train of callups from Buffalo to the big-league bullpen. By the end of the year, Stanford had lost his spot on the 40-man roster, which is why he's here at Chain of Lakes Park as a non-roster invitee to big-league camp. All this causes one to wonder where or even if Stanford, who won the fifth starter's job out of camp in '04 and made two strong starts before the injury, fits into the Indians' plans. "I think he has actually put himself back on the radar," manager Eric Wedge says. "Because if you look at his experience and our starting pitching depth, a lot of it is young pitchers." But reclaiming the form he had in 2004 has been a struggle for Stanford in the aftermath of the surgery. He missed the remainder of '04 and more than half of '05 because of the elbow. Last season, he went 6-6 with a 4.01 ERA in 22 outings, 21 of which were starts. An appearance out of the Buffalo 'pen toward the end of last season was one of only a handful the 30-year-old Stanford has made in his six-year career. He's always been groomed as a starter, which makes his prospects for landing in the Tribe bullpen this year appear slim. "I've always had the mentality of a bullpen guy," he says, "and the stuff of a starting guy." The Indians also have plenty of competition for their Buffalo rotation. Fausto Carmona, Brian Slocum and Adam Miller appear to be the only locks for that starting five. Stanford admits he's too often rushed himself to overcome such competition and reclaim his former place in the bigs, rather than focusing on staying healthy and regaining his form. That's a mistake he worked to overcome in the second half of '06, when he went 4-2 with a 3.20 ERA, striking out 43 batters in 64 2/3 innings. And at this stage in his career, with Minor League free agency approaching after '07, Stanford knows the Indians aren't the only team he's auditioning for, though they're certainly his first preference.
"I know some other teams out there are interested in me, because of some stuff that happened this offseason," he says. "I believe if I come back and I'm at the point I believe I'm at right now and I can go out and throw and be effective, there are other teams that would be interested in a left-handed pitcher with big-league time who has had some success up here, too. We'll see what happens."Know your role: Jason Davis thinks he benefited quite a bit from finally having a full-time job as a reliever last season. The stats certainly back up that belief. Davis went 3-2 with a 3.74 ERA and one save in 39 relief appearances for the Indians and 0-2 with a 0.54 ERA and four saves in 11 games for Triple-A Buffalo. Most importantly, he went 1-1 with a 1.14 ERA in 17 outings for the Tribe from July 25 through the end of the year.
"I was throwing strikes and pitching primarily out of the stretch," Davis says. "That was the key."And finally getting out of the trap of going back and forth between starting and relief work helped, too. "It helped groom me," Davis says. "I got a taste of what a full year in the bullpen is like and how to handle it." Baby, it's cold outside: Teams don't report to Florida expecting to be training in 50-degree weather. But that's been the case for the Indians in the opening days of camp. Wedge says the cooler conditions can be a problem for pitchers, if they're not handled correctly. "The only part where I get concerned about is after they throw," he says. "If they stand around too much, they get stiff. So I make sure they get in [the clubhouse] right away [after their work is done]." They're here: The Tribe's clubhouse is beginning to fill up with position players reporting early. On Sunday, the two notables to arrive in camp were center fielder Grady Sizemore and designated hitter Travis Hafner. Only six position players have yet to report to camp. They have until Tuesday to do so. Wedge says he doesn't put much stock into guys showing up early, though it's always nice to see. "I do believe there's certain people that need to be here early," he says. "If that's the case, I usually let them know."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.