CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – As it stands now, Mike Clevinger is still scheduled to take the ball for the Indians in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at the Rogers Centre.
But Cleveland is certainly reserving the right to change their mind.
With several factors coming into focus — including a little uncertainty when it comes to Trevor Bauer’s Game 3 start following a drone-related mishap — Tribe manager Terry Francona is willing to keep all doors open.
That could even mean Corey Kluber, who threw 100 pitches over 6 1/3 scoreless innings in Friday’s Game 1 victory over the Blue Jays, could return on short rest in Toronto.
“I think we’ll go game by game,” Francona said prior to Game 2 at Progressive Field. “All of our pitchers are unbelievably cooperative, which is not shocking. And we’ll keep communicating with them. Because the one thing we don’t want to do is make a decision that we think puts our team in a good spot if the pitchers don’t feel that way.
Any consideration the Indians make, however, will have an impact on the rest of the team. For instance, if Kluber comes back on short rest in Game 4, that could force other pitchers into uncomfortable situations, including moving up Josh Tomlin or Bauer to also pitch on short rest.
The decision is not as easy as one might think.
“We’ll do what we think is in our best interest,” Francona said. “But it can’t just be for one game, because there’s always a trickle-down effect.”
If Clevinger remains the Game 4 starter, he will be backed by the bullpen in a game which will likely feature a number of pitching changes and heavy reliever usage. But before Cleveland can get to a fourth game, they’ll have two more hurdles to clear in Games 2 and 3.
The Indians’ plan could change drastically based on one ineffective pitching performance by Tomlin or Bauer.
Cleveland attempted to protect themselves in that regard during the series, opting to put left-hander Ryan Merritt on the 25-man roster to provide some length and insurance. Conceivably, he could also become an option to start a game if the series takes an unexpected turn.
The good news: It doesn’t appear that Bauer’s lacerated right pinky will keep him from making his Game 3 start after getting bumped back following Thursday’s accident. The righty was originally set to get additional stitches in his finger, but doctors decided his injury was healing well enough without them.
“I think the first one is that you hope that it wouldn’t interfere with his touch and feel,” Francona said. “I don’t think that’s an issue. He’s already thrown twice. Then, we just have to make sure that thing doesn’t open up where it’s bleeding, because then they won’t let him pitch. It needs to close.
“So, while he’s doing his throwing and things, he needs to make sure he keeps this thing not aggravated or pulling the stitches away. So far, he’s done a good job. The thing is healing nice.”
And how they get to Game 4 will likely be the most crucial part of their decision-making regarding who will start the matchup north of the border.
“I think we’d like to watch Trevor,” Francona said. “Common sense says see how he does.
“Because, if he’s struggling with it, that’s part of it, too. We’ll see. All the pitchers kind of understand. It’s not like the day before they pitch they have to know when they’re pitching the next time. This is a pretty easy group to work with anyway.”