On July 30th, the Indians were in the midst of trading several players, including two pitchers (Jake Westbrook and Kerry Wood) within a 24-hour period. They had also completely burned out their bullpen because of short starts the last two games of their series against the Yankees (Andy Marte was called on to pitch to the 9th inning of the Thursday night game). So, with Jake Westbrook scheduled to start that day's game, but it appearing more and more likely that he'd be dealt before the game began, the Indians needed long relief badly. So they recalled Jensen Lewis from Columbus, and purchased the contract of Justin Germano.
Germano, after spending the 2009 season in Japan, didn't get an NRI from a major-league club, and didn't even sign with a club until late in Spring Training, when the Indians, responding to an e-mail from him, signed him to a minor-league contract and sent him to extended spring training. Even though he had pitched at the AAA level or higher since 2004, he started with Akron as a reliever; after seven appearances (1 start, 6 relief appearances), he was sent to Columbus, where he at first relieved and then moved into the rotation as other pitchers were either called up or were placed on the Disabled List.
Although his recall seemed like a short stopgap given the circumstances, he pitched well that first game in relief of Jeanmar Gomez (2.2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 SO, 1 BB), and was kept around. He didn't give up an earned run in his first 10 appearances (16.2 IP). Even with the four runs given up in last week's series against Chicago, his ERA is still below 2.00 (1.37), and his strikeout/walk ratio (3.40) is still pretty good.
Justin essentially throws three pitches: a fastball (88-89 mph, 55%), a curve (70 mph, 21%), and a changeup (81-82 mph, 23%). His curve is a slow overhand version, so that there's a roughly 10 mph difference between each pitch.
I had an opportunity to ask Justin some questions over the weekend, touching on his arrival in Cleveland and his transition from starter to reliever, among other things.
Justin Germano: The Indians did not tell me anything more than I was coming up to help out the bullpen that had been exhausted in back-to-back games. Since I am out of options, I knew if I pitched well, I had a great opportunity to stay. Otherwise, the team would risk losing me, passing me through waivers.
LGT: Before this season, you hadn't really pitched out of the bullpen much, but you've had great success in relief with Cleveland this year. How were you able to make such a smooth transition from starting to relief?
Germano: Well, I'd say pitching in relief in the minor leagues this year helped me get adjusted to the relief role. I had to learn how to stay fresh, when to work out, and when to limit my pregame throwing so I could be ready to face hitters that night. It wasn't something I just did overnight; I went through stages where my arm didn't feel good, and it was a lot of trial by error.
LGT: When watching you pitch, I’'m struck at how much of a difference in velocity there can be from pitch to pitch. You could throw a fastball in the high 80s, then a curve that registers in the high 60s on the next pitch. How much work goes into maintaining not only those differences in velocity, but also similar release points?
Germano: I'm not really sure how I do it. I was taught a curveball at a young age, and just always had a feel for it. As far as the release points, it's just something that I've figured out over the years from throwing it. It's a huge "feel" pitch. Some guys look at targets when they release their curve, but mine is more muscle memory of where my arm needs to be when I release it. And for the slow velocity, I'm not sure how I do it. I don't even try to; sometimes I throw it as hard as I can and it's still only 70mph. I guess it comes down to the release point and the spin I'm able to generate on the ball.
LGT: There aren't that many pitchers in the majors who throw an overhand curve any more, never mind as one of their primary pitches. Why do you think that is?
Germano: I'm not really sure why that is. The slider is a great pitch. It looks like a fastball out of your hand and at the last minute breaks off. I think maybe guys feel it's a harder pitch to pick up out of your hand, because of that same fastball slot. Also I think it may be easier for some guys to throw.
LGT: How has your pitching approach changed now that you only have to get a batter out once a game instead of three or four times?
Germano: Our bullpen is awesome! We have a great time down there. I'm not sure who the funniest guy would be, but we all have our quirks, and we all make each other laugh. We know when we can have fun and when we need to be locked in and ready to go.