The Indians announced Tuesday that they’ve selected the contract of right-handed reliever George Kontos from Triple-A Columbus and placed fellow righty Evan Marshall on the 10-day disabled list due to inflammation in his right elbow.
Kontos, 33, was released by the Pirates in late May and signed a minor league pact with Cleveland a few days later. He’s been in the organization for a bit more than two weeks and has tossed 7 2/3 shutout innings in Columbus, allowing seven hits and no walks with six strikeouts and a 61.9 percent ground-ball rate.
That’s encouraging progress for the veteran Kontos, who posted respectable numbers in the Giants’ bullpen from 2012-17 and was terrific for the Pirates late in 2017 before faltering in 2018. Kontos was unable to recover from a dismal start to the year with the Buccos, as he struggled to a 5.03 ERA in 19 2/3 innings before being designated for assignment and released.
More troubling than his ERA was the fact that Kontos, who entered the season with a career 7.4 K/9 mark, managed just nine strikeouts in those 19 2/3 frames (4.1 K/9). His swinging-strike rate was nearly cut in half (from 16.4 percent to 8.5 percent), and his average fastball velocity dipped from 91 mph last season to 89.6 mph in 2018. Unsurprisingly, Kontos’ lack of whiffs translated into more hits, as he averaged a career-worst 10.5 H/9 and 1.8 HR/9 with the Pirates through the season’s first two months.
The Indians will hope that the heartening results Kontos displayed in Columbus can carry over to the Majors and help to stop the bleeding for a porous relief corps. Indians relievers rank 28th in MLB with a 5.42 ERA, and their 4.71 FIP checks in at 29th. No team’s collective bullpen has averaged more than Cleveland’s 1.63 HR/9.
Certainly, the team has missed Andrew Miller, who has been limited to just 14 1/3 innings this season while dealing with injuries. However, virtually every reliever on the Cleveland staff has taken a step back. Zach McAllister (5.40), Dan Otero (6.12), Nick Goody (6.94) and Tyler Olson (7.27) all have ghastly ERAs thus far after functioning as core pieces of a strong bullpen in 2017.