By Marla Ridenour
Beacon Journal sports columnist
ATLANTA: In general, Tribe manager Terry Francona is not a fan of piggybacking.
He was referring to using two starting pitchers in one game, especially in September, when rosters are expanded.
But the Indians also have a unique situation with the impending return of right-hander Corey Kluber, on the disabled list with a sprained right middle finger. Since the end of minor-league seasons will leave Kluber no opportunity for a rehab start, Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway suggested Wednesday that Kluber could piggyback with Danny Salazar. The Indians are monitoring rookie Salazar’s pitch count as he returns from reconstructive elbow surgery in August, 2010.
“I’d rather have [Kluber] pitch three or four innings for us,” Callaway said.
That might take some convincing.
“I don’t think we’d pitch him out of the bullpen,” Francona said of Kluber before the Indians faced the Atlanta Braves Wednesday night at Turner Field. “You can talk about piggybacking guys … It’s just not as easy as it sounds. When you get in that sixth or seventh inning and you have a tie game and a lefty’s coming up, it doesn’t quite work.”
Kluber will pitch a simulated game Saturday, Callaway said, after throwing off the mound for the second time in three days Wednesday.
“I felt surprisingly good, both today and Monday,” Kluber said. “I hadn’t been off the mound in three weeks before Monday, I was expecting it to be more erratic than it was.”
The Indians could apply the same concept with right-hander Josh Tomlin, who has made nine rehab starts since undergoing right elbow reconstruction on Aug. 22, 2012. But Tomlin might be the No. 2 man in a piggyback tandem. As well as he’s pitched — no walks, 16 strikeouts, a .165 batting average against and a 1-0 record with a 1.61 ERA in 22⅓ rehab innings through Tuesday — Francona said Tomlin “has got a little ways to go.”
“You don’t just grab a ball and all of a sudden you’re getting everybody out,” Francona said. “But he’s doing a really good job.”
Tomlin might be perfect to pair with right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who made his third appearance out of the bullpen Tuesday. He hasn’t given up an earned run in nine innings out of the bullpen, but Francona said Carrasco remains a starter in his mind.
“I think he’s embraced being in the big leagues. He’s done a very good job out of the bullpen,” Francona said. “But when you have guys who can touch 97, 98 with a clean delivery, you want to exhaust the starting opportunity. Right now we’re trying to win. But you would never let go of the starting opportunity until he couldn’t do it.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.