NOAH TRISTER, AP Baseball Writer
DETROIT (AP) — The aroma in Cleveland’s clubhouse was the first reminder of the team’s division championship — a smell left over from the bubbly celebration the night before.
The batting order was another sign the Indians were still basking in the glow of the AL Central title they clinched some 18 hours earlier.
Cleveland left several regulars out of its starting lineup Tuesday, and it lost 12-0 to Detroit a night after wrapping up the division with a win over the Tigers. Although the Indians still have a chance to finish with the American League’s best record and earn home-field advantage, manager Terry Francona indicated there are other priorities to consider.
Cleveland is also bumping right-hander Trevor Bauer back to the weekend. The Indians will start Zach McAllister, who has pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen this year, on Wednesday night against the Tigers. On Thursday, Ryan Merritt makes his first career start.
“Our objective always is to win, but we’ll get to see everybody, we’ll try to manage people’s innings,” Francona said. “We really need to keep our pitchers healthy so they can be productive.”
That’s the big concern as the postseason approaches. Cleveland was already without starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar when ace Corey Kluber left Monday’s game with right groin tightness.
Kluber had an MRI on Tuesday that showed a mild quadriceps strain, likely forcing the Indians to delay his first playoff start.
The team says Kluber’s timetable for returning to game activity is a week to 10 days. Cleveland’s first playoff game is Oct. 6.
“It’s obviously not the best possible news, but it is a heck of a lot better than it could have been,” Francona said. “This will give him a chance to rest up and hopefully throw a couple bullpens. In the long run, that could help him.”
The Indians entered Tuesday second in the AL in runs and first in ERA, but the team that’s available to Francona now isn’t the same as the one that controlled the division for much of the season. Now Cleveland looks like the AL’s version of the Mets, a team with a potentially outstanding starting rotation that’s been decimated by injuries.
But unlike New York, the Indians are safely in the playoffs already.
“People have come up and filled in,” slugger Mike Napoli said. “We were able to clinch the division. When you get there, anything can happen.”
Boston, Cleveland and Texas are in a tight race for the best record in the AL, but Francona is more concerned about having his team enter the playoffs rested and ready.
“If I had my choice, I’d rather play at home, I think anybody would, but not at the expense of burning out your entire rotation or your bullpen,” he said. “Having your guys ready to play is the most important thing.”
Salazar threw a bullpen session Monday, but Carrasco is out for the season. Francona was cautiously optimistic about Kluber on Tuesday.
Cleveland’s starting lineup Tuesday was almost unrecognizable. Napoli, Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez, Rajai Davis and Lonnie Chisenhall were left out.
Catcher Chris Gimenez got the start at third base. He had played five innings there previously in a major league career that began in 2009.
“We should be all right,” he said. “Hopefully I don’t make five errors or something. That would be pretty embarrassing.”
Gimenez said bench coach Brad Mills passed along the news that he would be at third — while the team was still celebrating the night before.
“I just started spraying him with champagne,” Gimenez said. “He seemed serious, but I wasn’t really sure.”
Carlos Santana did start as the designated hitter Tuesday, although the switch-hitter’s power wasn’t the primary reason, according to Francona.
“That’s only because we ran out of guys,” the manager said.
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