- Corey Kluber’s recent setback was due to abdominal tightness experience during a rehab start on Sunday, the Indians announced. The final diagnosis was an internal oblique strain. Kluber has been shut down to begin a rehab program with the hopes of being reevaluated and cleared to resume throwing in two weeks time. Obviously, that’s a very loose timetable, as Kluber’s return will depend entirely on his progress over this next fortnight.
This season has already tested the Indians’ vaunted pitching depth, and the latest development regarding venerable righty Corey Kluber will do so further. He’s now slated for at least a two-week shutdown after leaving his most recent rehab start with an abdominal issue, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reports.
It had seemed that Kluber was finally nearing a return after a lengthy layoff owing to a forearm fracture. He’s closing in on three months away from the MLB roster. While it’s good that he hasn’t suffered another elbow ailment, the new malady is worrisome in its own right.
The trouble now is with the calendar. Kluber will need to ramp back up a bit once his rest period is over, all while the team keeps a close eye on his arm health and tries to ensure he does not make things worse in his core. While there’s an obvious desire to take things slowly, the opportunities for minor-league rehab work will expire in early September — though there could be some innings to work with if the division-leading Columbus Clippers can mount a Triple-A postseason run. Beyond that practical concern, there’s simply not much time remaining to build up a pitch count before the season ends.
It’ll be interesting to see how things progress. The Indians will be able to work with an expanded roster once Kluber is ready for action. But they’ll also need to feel good about inserting him into a postseason race in order to get him much-needed work.
The entire situation is loaded with risk and upside for the Cleveland organization. At his best, Kluber is one of the game’s preeminent starters. Even if he’s not capable of working as a full starter in the postseason, he might be a key piece of the roster. It’s stunning just how effective the Indians rotation has been despite the huge in-season changes it has undergone, but it’s not as laden with aces as was expected entering the year. In the background is Kluber’s contract, which includes a pair of options — $13.5MM and $14MM, each with $1MM buyouts — that could be a major organizational asset if he’s able to regain his form.
After just one inning of work in a rehab start on Sunday, Corey Kluber was removed from the game due to left abdominal tightness. (Cleveland.com’s Joe Noga was among those to report the news.) Kluber is expected to receive further tests on Monday, though the early word is that Kluber was simply removed as a precaution. While the Indians and their fans won’t fully exhale until those tests come back clean, it’s at least some measure of good news that Kluber didn’t have a setback involving his forearm, which was fractured back on May 1. Sunday’s start could potentially have served as Kluber’s final rehab outing before being activated from the injured list, and now it seems as if he’ll likely have to get one more minor league start under his belt before the Tribe can be fully prepared to bring him back to the 25-man roster.
The Twins hold a 2.5-game lead over the Indians in the AL Central after today’s action, and in addition to fighting for the division crown, both clubs are desperately trying to avoid facing even more competition in the AL wild card hunt. Cleveland (74-51) is currently in possession of the top wild card spot, with the Rays (73-52) in the second slot, just a game behind.
Despite taking three of four games from the Astros, the Athletics are still 7.5 games behind Houston in the AL West, leaving the wild card as Oakland’s most realistic shot at a postseason berth. The A’s (71-53) are 1.5 games behind the Rays.
Had this poll been posted even a couple of days ago, the Red Sox would likely have been omitted, yet a five-game winning streak merits them a mention. Boston (67-59) is still 6.5 games behind Tampa Bay, and don’t have many head-to-head opportunities remaining against their division rivals, as the Sox and Rays only play four more times this season. The Red Sox do have a three-game set against Minnesota on September 3-5 at Fenway Park.
The Twins have six critical September games lined up against the Tribe, but beyond those two series, Minnesota has a clear advantage over Cleveland in terms of benefiting from their weak division. Twenty-six of the Twins’ remaining 38 games are against the White Sox, Royals, and Tigers, while the Indians only face the AL Central’s lesser lights 16 times in their final 37 games.
It all adds up to a wild final six weeks of action, particularly since injuries, roster shuffles, and players on both incredible hot streaks and cold streaks continue to change the narrative on a near-daily basis. In particularly, all three non-AL Central teams face looming questions about their pitching staffs. Can the A’s get their long-awaited influx of young pitching reinforcements once multiple arms return from the injured list? Can the Rays get by three-fourths of their regular rotation (Blake Snell, Yonny Chirinos, Tyler Glasnow) still hurt? Can the Red Sox mount a late-season comeback even as their own inconsistent rotation has suffered perhaps a critical blow?
Which two teams do you think will emerge from the fray to play in the one-game Wild Card playoff in October? (Poll link for app users)
Indians righty Carlos Carrasco, out since late May after being diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, is set to appear in a rehab game for AA-Akron on Monday, per The Athletic’s Zack Meisel. Carrasco will be limited to just an inning in preparation for a bullpen role upon return, per Meisel. The rotation lynchpin, who last appeared regularly in a relief role back in 2014, was “excited” about the imminent transition, according to manager Terry Francona, who offered little window into the timetable for the 32-year-old’s return.
It’s obviously an encouraging development for the surging Tribe, who’ve been stripped near to the bone of the AL’s most intimidating starting corps entering the season. Righties Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar remain on the mend, while righty Mike Clevinger, who’s now pacing the AL is park-adjusted FIP and xFIP, missed much of the season’s first half. Ascendant righties – the team seems to have a near-limitless supply – Shane Bieber and Zach Plesac have kept things afloat, though the latter’s ERA far outstrips his less-encouraging peripherals.
The bullpen has been stellar throughout, though the team’s ERA/FIP gap is the widest in the majors, and the back end, apart from a dominant Brad Hand, is still absent the wipeout bat-missers that populate so many of the games best ’pens these days. A healthy Carrasco, who’s set down hitters at the highest rate of his career thus far, would seem to be the perfect antidote.
Before the illness, Carrasco’s 2019 season was in some ways his best: in addition to the aforementioned strikeout rate, the 32-year-old had also posted his lowest career walk rate (1.52 per nine) and a swinging strike rate that checked in among the league’s best. His homer rate was off the charts, but a 20.0% HR/FB suggests the 1.94/9 mark is hardly sustainable (though with balls continuing to fly out at record-shattering paces, expectations may need to be adjusted).
- The Indians’ Carlos Carrasco took a significant step Friday toward returning to a major league mound, Mark Feinsand of MLB.com explains. Carrasco, out since the end of May because of a leukemia diagnosis, threw his first live batting practice session, tossing 25 pitches to Single-A hitters. The Indians are deciding on a next step for Carrasco, who still doesn’t have a timetable for a return. Regardless of whether the 32-year-old does come back this season, manager Terry Francona said what Carrasco accomplished Friday was “a huge boost to him.”
The two best teams in the American League Central brutalized their opponents on Thursday. The Twins crushed the Rangers, 13-6. The Indians pulled off an even more decisive victory, destroying the mighty Yankees by a 19-5 score. On the heels of those wins, Minnesota and Cleveland entered play Friday neck and neck in the division, which has largely been the case over the past couple weeks. The Twins hold a half-game lead over the Indians, the three-time reigning AL Central champions.
The fact that the race has gotten this close is somewhat hard to believe. For most of the season, the division has looked like the Twins’ in a runaway. They owned an 11-game edge over the Tribe as recently as June 15, but the Indians have chipped away since then. Despite the long-term absences of arguably their two top pitchers – Corey Kluber (out since May 1 with a fractured forearm) and Carlos Carrasco (out since May 30 because of leukemia) – the Indians have remained on the Twins’ heels. The Indians also traded away high-end starter Trevor Bauer prior to last month’s deadline, though they received immediate help for their lineup in outfielders Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes in return.
Cleveland’s starting staff, which should at least get Kluber back sometime soon, has gotten by mostly because of young sensation Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger. Meanwhile, the ERAs of rookie Zach Plesac and Adam Plutko have far outperformed much weaker peripherals, while first-year right-hander Aaron Civale has been excellent over his first few starts. And the Indians’ lineup, which was a sore spot earlier in the season, has risen from the dead with help from Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis – both of whom struggled mightily at the outset of the campaign – among those complementing Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor.
The Indians went into play Friday with 169 home runs – 67 fewer than the major league-leading Twins’ 236. Minnesota’s on track to breeze past the single-season record of 267 that the Yankees set just a year ago, but the Twins’ co-leader, designated Nelson Cruz (32 HRs), has been on the injured list since last week because of a strained wrist. Their lineup’s still in enviable shape – Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Mitch Garver, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Luis Arraez are among those enjoying standout seasons – but the team has nonetheless stopped operating at a breakneck pace. Since it held its 11-game lead over the Indians two months ago, Minnesota has gone a mediocre 26-26. Starters Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez have all slowed down to some degree as the season has moved along, while the Twins’ bullpen – despite the acquisitions of Sam Dyson and Sergio Romo before the deadline – hasn’t thrived.
Considering the Twins have been atop the AL Central throughout the year and currently lead the division, they’re the front-runners to take it this year. Indeed, FanGraphs gives the Twins a 60.6 percent chance to win the division and the Indians 39.4 percent odds. But it would be unwise to count out Cleveland, which has remarkably rallied to make it a legitimate race and still has six regular-season matchups left against Minnesota. Which of the two teams do you expect to win the division?
(Poll link for app users)
Though Allen debuted in the majors earlier this year, this’ll be his first action in Cleveland. The 22-year-old, who was widely considered a top-100 prospect entering the season, landed with the Indians in this summer’s three-team Trevor Bauer blockbuster.
The expectation is that Allen will open his tenure with his new organization in a relief capacity, according to MLB.com’s Jon Morosi (via Twitter). While the Indians will surely hope to utilize their new hurler as a starter in the long run, he’ll be tasked with contributing right away while cutting his teeth from the bullpen.
Allen didn’t exactly thrive in his first taste of the bigs, working to a 6.75 ERA with 14 strikeouts and 13 walks over 25 1/3 frames in San Diego. And he hasn’t excelled this year at Triple-A, before or after the swap. But Allen was a quality performer in the upper minors and the Indians evidently feel he can be a useful piece right now. If nothing else, he’ll help the club cover some innings for the time being.
- Indians righty Carlos Carrasco has been battling leukemia, which has kept him out of action since May 30, but he’s champing at the bit to return, Mandy Bell of MLB.com explains. Carrasco, who fielded grounders off the mound at Progressive Field on Tuesday, is hoping to throw to hitters Friday. Manager Terry Francona wasn’t prepared to state whether that’ll happen, saying: “That’s still to be determined. I mean, the idea that he wants to, I think is terrific. But there’s got to be some sign-off from the medical people. But the fact he feels he’s ready to do that is tremendous.” Meanwhile, fellow key righty Corey Kluber was effective over four innings during a rehab start at the Double-A level Tuesday, Bell tweets. Afterward, Kluber called it “the last big step” in his rehab (via SportsTime Ohio). The two-time Cy Young winner has been out since fracturing his right forearm May 1, but the Indians have nonetheless gone 72-47. With a half-game lead in the AL Central, they have the inside track on a fourth straight division title.
With over two-thirds of the 2019 season in the books, let’s check in to see how seven players are progressing towards possible vesting options in their contracts. For those unfamiliar with the term, a vesting option is an agreed-upon threshold within a player’s contract (usually based on health and/or playing time) that, if achieved, allows the player to alter the terms of the contract for the next season, and perhaps beyond in some cases.
Some vesting options aren’t reported, so it could be that more players beyond this septet could also be playing towards gaining more guaranteed money or contractual freedom for the 2020 season. For now, let’s examine just these seven names…
Yonder Alonso, Rockies: Under the terms of the two-year, $16MM deal Alonso signed with the Indians in the 2017-18 offseason, his $9MM club option (with a $1MM buyout) for 2020 becomes guaranteed if the first baseman first passes a physical, and then hit plate-appearance benchmarks. Unfortunately for Alonso, he has only 287 PA this season, so he’s on pace to fall well short of reaching either 550 PA in 2019 or 1100 total PA in 2018-19 — either of which would’ve caused his option to vest.
Andrew Cashner, Red Sox: Having struggled through six starts since coming to Boston in a trade from the Orioles, the Sox have a legitimate performance-related reason for moving Cashner out of their rotation. There would also be a financial motive involved, as Cashner’s $10MM club option for 2020 would become guaranteed if he amasses 340 total innings in 2018-19. After today’s abbreviated outing against the Angels, Cashner now has 279 2/3 IP over the last two seasons, putting him within distant range of causing his option to vest if he keeps receiving starts. (Incidentally, the option could also vest into a player option if Cashner hits the 360-inning threshold.)
Sean Doolittle, Nationals: The closer finished his league-high 47th game of the season today, giving him 82 games finished since the start of the 2018 season. Should Doolittle reach 100 games finished, the Nationals’ $6.5MM club option ($500K buyout) on Doolittle for 2020 would vest into a mutual option, giving him the opportunity to opt out of his contract and enter into free agency. This is definitely one to watch down the stretch, since with the Nats in a postseason race and the rest of their bullpen struggling, D.C. won’t hesitate to use their closer for every save situation possible. Manager Davey Martinez has used Doolittle in a traditional late-game role, so shifting him into high-leverage situations outside of the ninth inning to cut down on his games-finished numbers would be a risky (and controversial) tactic, to say the least.
Chris Iannetta, Rockies: With 110 starts at catcher since the beginning of the 2018 season, Iannetta won’t reach the 220 catching starts he needed to convert the Rockies’ $4.25MM club option on his services for 2020 into a guarantee.
Wade LeBlanc, Mariners: The unique extension signed by LeBlanc in July 2018 carried three $5MM club option years for 2020-22 that can all vest into guarantees. That 2020 option turns into guaranteed money if LeBlanc throws 160 innings in 2019 and doesn’t have a left arm injury at season’s end. A month-long IL stint due to an oblique strain earlier this season almost certainly ended LeBlanc’s chance at the 160-inning plateau, as he has only 98 IP thus far. While he’s still eating a good share of innings as a “bulk pitcher” behind an opener in most outings, it seems likely that LeBlanc won’t reach his vesting threshold.
Brandon Morrow, Cubs: Morrow’s two-year, $21MM deal carried a 2020 vesting option worth $12MM, or a $3MM buyout. It wasn’t actually known what the terms were of this option, though since injuries have kept Morrow from pitching since July 15, 2018, it’s safe to assume the option won’t vest, and Morrow will be a free agent this winter.
Oliver Perez, Indians: The veteran southpaw appeared in his 49th game of the season today, so barring injury, he’s a lock to hit the 55 appearances required to guarantee his $2.75MM club option for 2020. He also seems like a pretty safe bet to lock in even more money, as that option will be guaranteed at $3MM if Perez pitches in 60 games. The Tribe likely won’t at all mind having Perez back for another season, as the reliever continues to dominate left-handed batters.