CLEVELAND: The Indians on Saturday celebrated Frank Robinson’s contributions to the game of baseball and unveiled a statue in his honor in the middle of Heritage Park.

Robinson became the first African-American manager in the major leagues as a player-manager with the Indians in 1975. He also had a hall-of-fame career as a player, winning two MVPs, a Triple Crown and belting 586 home runs.

But it was his role in integrating and bettering the culture of the game that stands as Robinson’s lasting impact on baseball.

“Today is extra special because of the social significance, commemorating the role the game of baseball and one of its all-time greats played in affecting social change in our country,” Indians owner Paul Dolan said. “We welcome Frank Robinson and his family and all the special guests who are here with us today.”

In attendance were many of baseball’s pioneers and all-time greats, including Hank Aaron. Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, was also in attendance.

“Thank you to the Cleveland Indians, this city, the fans of the Indians, and to the Dolan family,” Robinson said. “It is a great day here. I didn’t think I would see this day, but it is wonderful to be here.”

Robinson also joked that the statue looked good, despite what he gave the sculptor to work with.

“It’s a great piece of artwork. I don’t know how you were able to do it with what you had to work with,” Robinson said. “Thank you very much for making me look good. I appreciate this day and I’ll enjoy it for the rest of my life. Thank you.”

Coming attraction

Indians ace Corey Kluber is close to returning to the starting rotation as he rehabs from a strained lower back.

Kluber threw 47 pitches in a rehab assignment for the RubberDucks on Friday night and was so efficient he needed to finish his outing in the bullpen. He reported normal post-start soreness on Saturday, a positive sign that the back issue that has plagued him for most of the regular season should be behind him.

The club has yet to finalize the plan but Indians manager Terry Francona said Kluber’s next start will be with the Indians and will most likely come on Thursday against the Oakland Athletics.

“We have so many days off coming off after that point that I’d like to sit with [pitching coach Mickey Callaway] and the other guys and kind of map out what’s in our best interest, putting some parameters in place like just who we’re playing, the days off, all those things,” Francona said. “We haven’t fit all those things together yet, but he will pitch for us.”

Kluber has dealt with back stiffness since at least his second start of the season against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He pitched through the discomfort until it became too much to handle in a start in the cold against Detroit earlier this month.

For Kluber, he began to walk the line between playing through the pain and trying to push something to the point of possibly hurting the club, not to mention himself.

“I think that’s obviously the point we got to,” Kluber said. “We tried for a while to kind of manage it and figure out ways to still be able to go out there and pitch and stuff. It kind of just got the point where, little by little, it got worse. It kind of got to the point where I wasn’t doing myself any favors, I wasn’t doing the team any favors by kind of guessing every time out how it was going to react.”

When Francona took Kluber out in Detroit, he knew something was off.

“When he came off the field in Detroit, when Mickey made that trip to the mound, he came off and he said, ‘This isn’t good,’?” Francona said. “So when he came off the field, I went down into the tunnel with him and I could tell. It had just gotten to the point that something needed to be done.”

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.