Plenty of conversations revolving around the Cleveland Indians during the spring and into the first few weeks of the 2016 season have pondered how the team’s roster would look once Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley returned from their stays on the 15-day disabled list.
Arm chair general managers looked to the outfield first, as the two veterans would be rejoining what was already a crowded outfield mix that included Rajai Davis, Tyler Naquin, Marlon Byrd, and Collin Cowgill, plus Jose Ramirez in a utility role. Others thought that the Indians could make their cuts from the bullpen as well, where the eight-man relief staff seemed to be a luxury for a team with strong starting pitching that would presumably not need late inning help as much with the quality of the starters in the rotation. Some others still may have thought the club could consider sliding Trevor Bauer back into the rotation and optioning Cody Anderson back to Triple-A.
The Indians may have gotten their answer on Sunday for the final of the two moves, but it was not the resolution that anyone associated with the organization would have wanted.
It was the third inning of the Indians and Tigers series finale when starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco’s season may have taken a disappointing and disastrous turn for the worst. On a grounder to first baseman Carlos Santana by Detroit’s Andrew Romine, Carrasco broke for first base to cover. As he began some stutter steps while closing in on the bag, his gait changed and his legs began to go from under him. He still caught Santana’s flip to the bag to retire Romine, but fell to the Comerica Park dirt. He rolled over in what appeared to be an extreme amount of pain and tried to stand up and walk, but immediately grabbed the back of his left leg and dropped back down to his knees. He needed assistance off of the field and, after sitting in the dugout for a stretch, needed the help of several others to get him back to the clubhouse.
“We sent him back to Cleveland, he’s driving back. He’s on his way there now,” said Indians manager Terry Francona during the postgame interview of Cleveland’s 6-3 win to claim a sweep in Detroit. “Without an MRI, we’re not going to know the severity of it. He’s going to be a DL. The hope is that it’s not terrible. I think when you see a guy go down like that, it’s not just something that grabbed at him. So we’ll just wait for the MRI and we should get the results in the afternoon tomorrow.”
On Monday, the Indians are expected to activate Brantley from the disabled list. He was scheduled to join the team in Minneapolis on Sunday night in advance of the team’s three-game series against the Twins from Target Field beginning Monday night.
“When we get to the ballpark on Monday, we’ll sit and talk with him and assess what the next step should be and what we should do,” Francona shared with the media prior to Sunday’s game.
Brantley hit .238 during a seven-game rehab assignment from April 12 to April 23, with five hits (two doubles), three walks, and two RBI in 21 at bats. He played back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, fulfilling one of the expectations of the Indians prior to activating him.
The Indians are also expected to place starting pitcher Carrasco on the 15-day disabled list with a left hamstring injury, one whose severity is not yet known as of this morning. The results of an MRI are not expected back until sometime Monday afternoon.
The injury to Carrasco creates a series of questions. How serious is his injury and how much time will he miss? Will the Indians opt to use his move as the corresponding move to activate Brantley from the DL and do nothing else? Will the Indians make a series of moves, placing Bauer in Carrasco’s rotation spot while sending someone else out to make room for an additional arm from Columbus? Can Cleveland drop to a four-man rotation for a spell to bypass the need to make any additional moves?
The Indians had previously optioned Cowgill to Triple-A Columbus to make room for Chisenhall’s return. They could continue to cut from the crowded outfield, possibly sending the rookie Naquin back to the minors for a stretch, but it is a horribly tough decision to make with him hitting well this season in his limited playing time. Able to finally play regularly for a stretch of games, he has rewarded Francona’s decision and faith in him with a five-game hitting streak while utilizing his speed to track down several balls in the spacious confines of Comerica Park over the weekend.
The short outing from Carrasco exhausted the Indians bullpen some, which did not help as the team was already getting mixed results from the most important members of the staff, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen. Shaw struggled again on Sunday, his third such outing of the season, but Allen secured his sixth save in as many opportunities on the year and his second of the weekend after being dealt a loss in a multi-inning effort on Thursday in a 10-7 extra inning loss to Seattle to end their most homestand.
The Indians could leave Bauer in the bullpen and operate with a four-man rotation for the immediate future, as there is no need for a fifth starter with several off days in the schedule over the course of the next eight days, which could give Cleveland a little time to play around with their roster. Danny Salazar, Anderson, and Josh Tomlin are lined up for the series against the Minnesota Twins on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Corey Kluber would then be set to start Friday in the opener in Philadelphia after Thursday’s off day. Salazar and Anderson could each pitch on regular rest on Saturday and Sunday, skipping over the number two starter’s regular turn on Saturday, and with an off day on Monday, an equally rested Tomlin could pitch the series opener in Cleveland against the Tigers, with Kluber, Salazar, and Anderson each able to go on usual four days rest on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of that week.
In this scenario, the Indians would not be in a bind until Saturday, May 7, against Kansas City.
The Indians have a decision (or possibly a series of decisions) to make this afternoon. The full domino effect of Carrasco’s injury may not be felt for several more days, but it is an unfortunate blow to a team that looked ready to finally field its best 25-man roster it could play.
Photo: Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch