Injuries Altering Indians’ Opening Day Roster Outlook
Bob Toth | On 23, Mar 2019
For the most part, the Cleveland Indians have survived Cactus League play with a minimal number of injuries. But there have been a few that have changed manager Terry Francona‘s roster construction for next Thursday when the team opens play in Minnesota against the Twins.
The most notable of the bunch was the biggest loss as the Indians settled in to Goodyear, Arizona, for their month and a half stay in the desert in mid-February. The moderate right calf injury suffered by three-time All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor before arriving to camp left many wondering if the 25-year-old would be ready within the seven- to nine-week time table expected for his injury. While there were plenty on the social media landscape calling for Lindor to take it slowly and ease into the season, the young superstar returned to action in minor league camp but has yet to play in an official Cactus League game for Cleveland.
The Indians announced on Friday that Lindor will be placed on the 10-day injured list and is eligible to return to the Tribe roster on April 4 at the earliest.
“I think, like most players, he had Opening Day as that marker, which I respect,” said Francona in an MLB.com story on Friday. “I think the best way to explain it is sometimes you got to do the right thing even when it’s not convenient. It’s so hard when he wants to play so bad to put him on hold for a little bit, but it’s the right thing to do.”
Second baseman Jason Kipnis is also dealing with his second injury of the spring as right calf tightness, felt last week, has him out of action for the next seven to ten days. Kipnis left Wednesday’s game against the San Francisco Giants early due to the injury, and an MRI indicated a mild calf strain.
Kipnis has appeared in ten games this spring, getting six hits in 25 plate appearances (.240/.240/.320) with two doubles and seven strikeouts.
Complicating the potential losses of Lindor and Kipnis for the first week or two of the season is the status of utility man Ryan Flaherty. In Goodyear on a minor league pact with an invite to spring training, the 32-year-old opted out of his contract early in the day on Wednesday, leaving the Indians thin for depth as Kipnis’ status worsened. Flaherty hit .243 with two doubles and two home runs while driving in eight over 17 games with the Indians this spring.
As it stands, Max Moroff may see time at either position, and either Eric Stamets or Yu Chang could be thrown into action as well, pending the length of Kipnis’ absence. Stamets may have been the favorite while still in big league camp, but he left Wednesday’s game with his own injury – left hip tightness. Despite the precaution, he is still expected to appear in the team’s last three spring training contests before camp breaks.
In other injury news, outfielder Bradley Zimmer has shown significant progress in his return from right shoulder surgery in July that cost him the rest of his 2018 campaign. Francona indicated that he was far ahead of the team’s expected schedule, but that he needs to continue to work through his rehab. The Indians’ outfield picture has been a murky one all offseason, but Zimmer was never in contention for one of the open roster spots with the club due to his rehabilitation needs.
Zimmer was limited to just 34 games last season in his second big league season before a collision with the wall at Yankee Stadium knocked him out of the lineup. While he returned for one game, he landed on the disabled list and missed nearly a month, coming back for two more games before he was optioned to the minors. There, a back injury cost him time and the next month he went under the knife to have his labrum repaired.
All three of the injured players are expected to remain in Goodyear when the Indians depart from their spring home next week, with at least Lindor and Zimmer landing on the new injured list.
Starting pitcher Danny Salazar, 29, will also begin the year on the injured list, but the Indians have not made the move official. While Salazar will not pitch in a spring game for the second straight year, he is inching closer to working full bullpen sessions. Salazar has said throughout camp that his hope is to return to the big league roster by the All-Star break, but that time table may be moving up. June appears to be the new target month.
The bullpen puzzle has yet to be solved, but several candidates were removed from the race this week. The Indians announced on Wednesday that right-handers A.J. Cole, Justin Grimm, and Alex Wilson would not make the Opening Day roster in the team’s bullpen. Cole was reassigned to the minor league camp. Grimm opted out of his minor league deal and became a free agent. Wilson also opted out and signed a Major League deal with the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday.
Another relief candidate returned to the mix on Wednesday, when righty Tyler Clippard re-signed with the club after his release from his minor league contract. Less than a month after initially signing with the Tribe, a right pectoral strain took him out of action and landed him on the shelf for three to four weeks, eliminating him from a chance of opening the season with Cleveland. He made his way into just three games, facing ten batters while allowing a hit and a walk and striking out three in two and two-thirds scoreless innings.
While the team will await Clippard’s return to health for a potential role at some point during the season, the bullpen is slowly coming together. In addition to closer Brad Hand, Adam Cimber, Dan Otero, and Oliver Perez will compose the primary pieces of the staff. The remaining ‘pen arms for Francona should include a selection of Jon Edwards, Tyler Olson, Neil Ramirez, and Nick Wittgren, while Nick Goody could eventually factor in (the 27-year-old has appeared in just seven spring games with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP). Goody may be an injured list candidate as a result, with a rehab assignment allowing him time to get in extra work on the mound.
Cleveland could also look to address the bullpen problem by swimming in the free agent pool again, with plenty of new names surfacing as teams trim down their rosters ahead of the start of the season.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images