By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: The Indians began a stretch of 17 games without a day off Friday night, and there’s a reasonable chance that the ace of the staff, Justin Masterson, won’t be available because of a strained oblique.
Will manager Terry Francona rely on the his newly revised rotation or throw a sixth pitcher into the mix for one or two starts to keep everyone fresh?
The Tribe’s rotation without Masterson is made up of Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar, Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir and Corey Kluber, who tonight will make his first start since Aug. 5 because of a sprained right middle finger.
“I’m excited to see Kluber,” Francona said Friday. “I’m expecting him to be just fine, although he’s going to be short. I watched him [in a simulated game] the other day, and I was amazed. He’s not just holding his stuff, he might be throwing harder.”
By short, Francona means that Kluber probably will be limited to 75 pitches, inasmuch as he was unable to go on a rehab assignment to stretch out his arm because the minor-league season was ending.
Even though he is missing an important starter, Francona has other choices if he wants to ease the burden on the favored five. Josh Tomlin is back on the roster after recovering from elbow reconstruction surgery, and Carlos Carrasco is a career starter who currently is pitching out of the bullpen.
“If we needed to do that, we could,” Francona said. “We don’t have a guy now who would go nine. But we also don’t want to do much tinkering.”
In addition to the limitations on Kluber, Salazar is purposely being limited to about 80 pitches, and Kazmir, who hasn’t pitched a full season since 2010, twice has been given extra time between starts.
However, there is more than one way to keep these pitchers strong besides inserting another starter into the mix. With 14 relievers in the bullpen, Francona doesn’t have to push a starter past his fatigue level.
This factor plays into the club’s other goal.
“We’re trying to win,” Francona said. “But we have other things we’re trying to accomplish, which might not be easy because we’re in the race. We want to get Vinnie [Pestano] back to where he was, and we want to get [C.C.] Lee some experience.”