CLEVELAND: The Indians will be getting one of their top pitchers back on Thursday when Carlos Carrasco will return to the starting rotation following nearly a six-week absence.

Carrasco strained his left hamstring on April 24 in Detroit covering first base on a ground ball, warranting a stint on the 15-day disabled list. He threw a rehab outing for the Double-A RubberDucks on Saturday with positive results. Following his side session on Monday, the Indians were ready to deem him able to return.

Carrasco will have a “guideline” of about 80 pitches when he faces the Kansas City Royals.

“Everything feels good, “ Carrasco said. “I don’t feel anything different. So, everything was fine.”

Carrasco has been focusing on pitcher-fielding-practice (PFP) and covered first base during his rehab start in Akron. He hasn’t felt anything troublesome in his hamstring since he started testing it.

“I thought I was going to feel something in my bullpen [session], but I didn’t feel anything,” he said. “Actually, when I started running, I thought I was going to feel something, but I didn’t really feel anything.”

Carrasco’s return is certainly a welcomed sight for the Indians. Before he went down, he was 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA to go with 20 strikeouts in 22 innings pitched. At the time of the injury, it appeared as though he might have torn his hamstring, which could have put his season in jeopardy.

“Extremely,” said Indians manager Terry Francona when asked if he felt lucky, all things considered.” I think there was a chance, when it happened, that the trainers thought that maybe that was a potential surgery. … We’re very fortunate.”

After Carrasco on Thursday, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin and Corey Kluber are expected to pitch in the weekend series against the Royals.

It’s likely that Carrasco’s addition to the starting rotation means rookie Mike Clevinger, who’s made three starts and struggled in his past two, will be optioned to Triple-A Columbus. Clevinger was knocked around by the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, raising his ERA to 8.79.

Francona said Clevinger will have the night off Tuesday and then be available in the bullpen if needed on Wednesday.

Bullpen shuffle

The Indians on Tuesday promoted relief pitcher Shawn Armstrong and demoted Ryan Merritt to Triple-A Columbus.

Merritt made his major-league debut on Monday, throwing 4? scoreless innings. He wouldn’t have been available for a short stretch and will again be able to start in Triple-A.

He also spent a week with the Indians waiting to make that debut. While adjusting to the major leagues, he was also adjusting to life in the bullpen.

“Shoot, the other day, we got him up in the ninth inning,” Francona said. “We were going to have him ready for [the Orioles’ Chris Davis]. I look out there and he’s throwing out of the windup. At first he was doing toe touches. I called down [to bullpen coach Jason Bere] and said, ‘JB, get him loose. This isn’t the instructional league.’ But it’s kind of funny because he’d never been in the bullpen. So you kind of live and learn and you forget maybe he didn’t know any better.”

Armstrong has a 2.50 ERA and three saves to go with 30 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched for Columbus. Those are positive numbers, though he’s also walked 17 batters. Armstrong made his major-league debut last season, throwing eight innings with a 2.25 ERA for the Indians.

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com.