Change Of Plans: Indians Juggle ALCS Rotation Prior To Game 3

TORONTO (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians have been pretty unconventional in just about everything they’ve done this postseason. What’s one more thing?

The latest adjustment by the Tribe to their rotation involves their Game 4 starter, which will mainly be determined base on how their Game 3 starter, Trevor Bauer, fares against the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night at the Rogers Centre.

If Bauer, who will be dealing with the stitches on the outside of his right pinkie following a drone-related mishap last week, does not pitch well or is relieved early in the contest, the Indians will bump Corey Kluber up to pitch Game 4 on three days rest.

However, if Bauer pitches favorably on Monday night, Cleveland will start rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt on Tuesday afternoon at the Rogers Centre.

Yes, the same Ryan Merritt with just 11 innings and one career start in the Majors under his belt.

And it’s the Indians up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series. Incredible.

“Look what we’re trying to accomplish,” manager Terry Francona said. “We’re trying to get to the World Series, and this kid’s made what, one major league start? But I don’t think you see anybody that’s panicking about it. I think we’re kind of excited to see how he’ll do. If we didn’t think he was going to do OK, we wouldn’t have started him.”

Then again, the Indians, who have overcome challenge after challenge, injury after injury, don’t have many options.

The team’s original plan for Game 4 involved Mike Clevinger pitching in a bullpen-anchored matchup. But with Merritt capable of providing more length, Cleveland felt better about handing the ball to the 24-year-old southpaw in one of the next two games.

“The good thing is he’s going to throw strikes, so he’ll give himself a chance, too,” Francona said. “And we can bail him out if we need to, but I think he’ll be OK.”

That’s anything but a guarantee, however. He’ll be facing one of baseball’s most formidable starting nines if and when he gets an opportunity to pitch in the ALCS against the Jays.

Merritt has never faced anything like that. Nerves will obviously be a factor. And Toronto is fully capable of eating unsure pitchers for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But with so little big league experience — and even less of an infallible scouting report on the young lefty — could Merritt actually hold the advantage over a lineup who has never faced him?

“That would be some of the hope,” Francona said. I think when you face a pitcher that you haven’t seen, I would give the benefit of doubt to the pitcher… But, I told him, I said, ‘You don’t have to go nine. Just go inning by inning and get them out.'”

From the outside, several people have to be looking at the Indians in disbelief. Then again, they’ve become a pretty unbelievable to those that cover them on a daily basis.

Cleveland has made a habit out of proving doubters wrong this season, and they have proven that unconventional can work for them.

“It doesn’t really seem that nutty to us,” Francona said. “I think we’re just trying to be organized. And it helps when every single player we’ve talked to just says, OK.”

If things go well for Bauer and his finger — and the righty is able to avoid any sort of bloody baseball situation — then Cleveland’s ace, Kluber, would potentially pitch on short rest for the first time in his professional career.

The righty told his manager he’s up for the challenge.

“We wanted to talk to him first, because it’s fine for us to be organized, but if he’s not ready to do it or if it’s going to bother him, that doesn’t help,” Francona said. “He said, ‘Just let me know when and I’ll be raring to go.’ And same thing with Merritt. Everybody just kind of tries to do what you ask. It’s been kind of fun.”

The first and most important determining factor for Tuesday’s starter is Bauer in Game 3.

That question will begin to be answered on Monday night at 8:08 p.m. ET.

More from T.J. Zuppe | 92.3 The Fan

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