CLEVELAND: When Andrew Miller left Wednesday night’s game, clutching his left hamstring, so too did the security blanket the Indians normally enjoy late in any tight game.

This absence is expected to be short-lived. Miller was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a lower-grade left hamstring strain. His expectation is to be ready once the 10 days are up, or close to it. As long as the injury is taken care of now, less than two weeks without Miller doesn’t stand as a major concern with the Indians still clearly the favorites in the division.

As it seems to happen so often in baseball, the first game with him on the DL exposed the hole on the roster. The Indians and Mariners entered the eighth tied 4-4 in Thursday night’s game. With the heart of the Mariners’ order due up in a tie game, that inning would normally fall under Miller’s jurisdiction. With him out, the Indians attempted to piece the eighth together with Dan Otero, Jeff Beliveau and Nick Goody. It resulted in back-to-back doubles against Goody and a 5-4 Mariners lead, and the Mariners went on to win.

The Indians have relievers who have said before that they are up to the challenge of replacing Jeff Shaw, for instance. It’s one of the characteristics the Indians like among the members of the bullpen who entered games before Miller or Cody Allen. As Zach McAllister said in the spring, everybody down there wants to compete. But finding a reliever like Miller is costly, as evidenced by the prospect package the Indians had to send to the New York Yankees to acquire his services.

Among the players sent to the Yankees for Miller were first-round draft pick Clint Frazier and promising left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield.

“I think, like the starters, the bullpen takes a lot of pride in a lot of things that are good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “One is being available. We’ve talked about it a ton, as we should. They work so hard to be available. And that’s an important thing. That way, we trust them so much that when they’re not available, that’s OK. But we can pitch them a lot without pitching them too much. Because that’s really the goal.”

There isn’t much cause to overly dissect one outing, or become too concerned with the fact that Miller could only be out for 10 days. This shorter stretch does, however, offer a snapshot of what life could be like without Miller after the 2018 season, when he could sign a lucrative deal elsewhere as an impending free agent. Cody Allen is also eligible for free agency, and the odds of the Indians being able to keep both isn’t high. Being able to retain one could prove to be difficult enough.

The recent free-agent market, even as dozens of players were unexpectedly left without deals, ended with relief pitchers such as Shaw and Tommy Hunter earning big contracts. Once Miller, who is already making $9 million this year, hits free agency this time around, he’s sure to see a significant raise and could challenge for the most lucrative deal ever signed by a reliever. That goes for Allen as well, if the Indians can’t lock either up before the winter.

The Indians stand a good chance of remaining a World Series contender through at least 2020, but this illustrates why there still is a sense of urgency to this season due to some potential free-agent losses. Primarily, that means in the bullpen, which has been among baseball’s elite since the 2016 trade deadline.

As long as Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber, Jose Ramirez, Carlos Carrasco and some others are in Indians uniforms, they should remain among the American League’s best. Miller and Allen served as the backbone to a deleted pitching staff during their run to the 2016 World Series. Replacing Shaw has been a project already, though it helps when four of the five starting pitchers reach the seventh or eighth inning each night. If Miller and/or Allen find homes elsewhere in 2019, it would leave one, and possibly two, massive holes to fill in the bullpen.

Miller isn’t expected to out for long this time, but if the Indians are going to have to move on from his military-grade slider next year, this week and a half or so will be a reminder of the challenges his absence would present. For now, the Indians’ way of life late in games is on the clock.

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RyanLewisABJ