With overall positive marks on his stat sheet in his debut season in 2015, right-handed reliever Shawn Armstrong looked to be a potential option for the Indians bullpen for the next season. But while the Cleveland bullpen appeared at times to use a revolving door while players shuttled back and forth between Triple-A Columbus and the parent Indians roster, Armstrong did not get his first consistent taste of the Bigs again until the season’s final month.
In his fifth season in the Cleveland organization in 2015, Armstrong went 1-2 with a 2.36 ERA and 1.27 WHIP while working as a late inning option for the Clippers. He made a pair of appearances for the Indians in the first half of August that season and got a call-up for the final month when rosters expanded, finishing the season with eight games worked while failing to notch a decision for Cleveland.
The former 18th rounder out of the 2011 draft returned to Columbus to start the year after being optioned during spring training on March 19. He remained there through nearly all of the first two months of the season, working primarily as the team’s eighth inning option while saving three games in 16 appearances. Command seemed to be the glaring issue for the right-hander, who walked 17 batters in 18 innings while allowing just 12 hits (.188 batting average against). He showcased a live arm, striking out 30 in that span.
He was recalled by Cleveland on May 31 and allowed a run that day on two hits but was sent back down to Triple-A the next day as the Indians shuffled their bullpen deck repeatedly to keep the heavily used relief staff fresh.
His return to Columbus lasted two more months, where he cut back on his free passes while still proving to be a strikeout option. In 23 1/3 innings over his next 24 appearances for the Clippers, he struck out 32, walked ten, and allowed 14 hits (.173 average against) while posting a 1.93 ERA.
He was back on the Cleveland roster on August 3, working two scoreless innings while striking out two batters before he was again optioned back to Columbus after just one day in town. He wrapped up a stretch of 19 consecutive scoreless appearances with his final seven games of the Triple-A season before returning to Cleveland on August 30, when he walked a pair and gave up a hit before being optioned back to the minors again, this time taking a strange detour to Eastlake’s Class-A Lake County Captains club.
He faced seven batters with the Captains in a pair of appearances, striking out five, before returning to the Indians. He finished the year with seven appearances in September for Cleveland, giving up two runs on six hits with three walks and five strikeouts in seven innings of work.
The combined total of his 2016 work was a 3-1 record with nine saves, a 1.90 ERA, and a 1.14 WHIP. He struck out 84 batters in 61 2/3 innings, good for a 12.3 K/9 rate. But the benefits of his high strikeout rate were lost some with his 34 walks in that span, a rate of 4.96 per nine innings. Just seven of his strikeouts came in an Indians uniform, while he walked five in that ten and two-thirds innings stretch.
Armstrong, who turned 26 in September, has flashed the kind of stuff that made him one of the four players rumored to be heading to Milwaukee at the trade deadline in the vetoed Jonathan Lucroy trade. While he has consistently shown an ability to strike out batters while working as a reliever throughout his time in the Cleveland farm system, he will need to display an ability to limit free passes if he wants to make a more pronounced impact on the Indians roster in 2017. With several spots potentially open on the relief staff, the time for Armstrong to strike is now.
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