The Indianapolis Indians’ parent club – the Pittsburgh Pirates – powered to a 17-6 finish over their final 23 games to earn home field advantage for a second consecutive Wild Card Playoff berth. Facing off against the National League West’s San Francisco Giants on Wednesday at PNC Park, the Bucs have the luxury of turning to numerous players for a game-changing spark, including a trio of 2014 Indians standouts who made their Major League debuts this season.
1. RHP Casey Sadler
Starting right-hander Casey Sadler marked the first of the three Tribers to reach the big leagues for his debut in 2014. The Indians’ ace won a career-high five consecutive decisions en route to finishing 11-4 at the Triple-A level with the International League’s second-best WHIP at 1.19 and third-best ERA at 3.03. Sadler piloted the Tribe to a 15-6 overall record when he took the mound in 2014, working six or more innings in all but five appearances while authoring 14 quality starts.
His dominant year was capped with accolades as the Club’s Starting Pitcher of the Year and a selection to the Midseason All-Star Game, where he recorded four outs in a scoreless fifth inning.
The righty made his MLB debut on May 2 vs. Toronto, and after retiring 2012 All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera (flyout), two-time Hank Aaron Award winner Jose Bautista (groundout) and three-time organizational “Best Power Hitter” Juan Francisco (lineout) for his first full Major League inning, he combined to limit the Blue Jays to just two hits in four scoreless innings over his first two outings.
Overall, Sadler worked 10 1/3 innings with nine earned runs, no homers and seven strikeouts in six relief appearances with Pittsburgh. The 24-year-old’s campaign featured action against Toronto, Milwaukee, Chicago Cubs, Detroit and Atlanta.
2. OF Gregory Polanco
Five-tool phenom Gregory Polanco drummed up support for his eventual promotion by ranking second in the IL with a .346 average (86-for-248) and pacing all league batters in runs (47), RBI (49), triples (T-1st, 5), hits, extra-base knocks (29) and total bases (134) prior to joining the Pirates. The Triple-A rookie reached base safely in 50 of 62 appearances, hit safely in 45 of 62 contests with 26 multi-knock efforts and led the Indians to a 41-28 record while he was on the active roster.
Polanco’s tear through the IL also featured the Tribe’s prestigious Most Valuable Player award for the 2014 campaign, honors as the Indians’ April Player of the Month and the franchise’s first two-time winner (in one season) of the IL’s Batter of the Week award via his accolades on April 14 and May 19.
The 23-year-old made his highly-anticipated Pittsburgh debut with a 1-for-5 effort and run scored on June 10 vs. the Cubs, before setting a franchise record by becoming the first Pirates player to hit safely in each of his first 11 MLB contests. Polanco, who was also the first National League player to accomplish such a feat since Juan Pierre’s 16-gamer with Colorado in 2000, went 19-for-52 (.365) with a home run, 11 runs scored and six RBI during his unmatched streak.
Around his pair of stints with the Indians, Polanco hit .235 (65-for-277) with nine doubles, seven homers, 50 runs scored, 33 RBI and 14 steals in 19 attempts at the Major League level. He put the exclamation point on his debut season by going 5-for-7 with his first MLB homer – a two-run shot in the 13th inning that proved to be the game-winner – on June 13 at Miami.
3. RHP John Holdzkom
Righty reliever John Holdzkom defied all odds along his path to the majors this season. Signed out of the Independent Leagues in June, the 6-foot-7 flamethrower cruised through his first action at the Double-A level with Altoona before reaching Indianapolis in early July. Holdzkom immediately earned his keep with a combined four scoreless innings and two wins over his pair of Triple-A debut outings on July 8 & 10. After allowing five of his six total earned runs through the end of his first month, he followed with a 0.87 ERA with one run, 13 strikeouts and a .114 average against through 10.1 innings in August.
Hurling what he calls “The Four” – or a ‘palmball’ – Holdzkom whiffed one or more batters in all but two of his 16 appearances, totaled nine multi-strikeout efforts and held opponents scoreless in 14 of 18 Triple-A games.
The right-hander reached the pinnacle of his storybook season when he was added to Pittsburgh’s 40-Man Roster on Aug. 31 and recalled for his MLB debut on Sept. 2. Holdzkom then officially burst onto the Major League scene by striking out the side in his debut, with a punchout of heralded prospect Peter Bourjos, Kolten Wong, who hit a game-tying, two-run homer off Gerrit Cole the previous night, and Matt Carpenter, who led the NL in hits in 2013.
Holdzkom picked up both a save and a win while making scoreless appearances in each of his first eight Major League games. Despite allowing a two-run homer in his most recent outing, the towering right-hander has held MLB batters to a .133 clip with a mere four hits in 30 at-bats, registered an impressive 0.67 WHIP and recorded 14 of his 27 outs via strikeout.
On Wednesday evening, the Pittsburgh Pirates will match Giants southpaw Madison Bumgarner with one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball during the last month, Edinson Volquez. Pittsburgh’s righty enters Wednesday with an 18-inning scoreless streak and having just concluded September with the second-best ERA in the majors during the month at 1.08 (4 ER/33.1 IP). Volquez, Bumgarner and the Tribe’s three MLB debuts will square off at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN.