CLEVELAND — Now that the tarps have been taken down in the clubhouse and the champagne corks have been cleaned up, the Indians can officially turn their attention solely to preparations for the postseason, although that was only a technicality in a divisional race that was over months ago.
The Indians clinched their third consecutive American League Central title on Saturday, allowing them to unveil a post-celebration lineup — giving many of their regulars a day of rest — before Monday’s off day.
“If I had to draw it up, this is exactly how I would have drawn it up,” manager Terry Francona said.
The Indians have 13 games remaining on their schedule with plenty still to sort out. At the top of the list is Josh Donaldson, who is still building up volume before Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Oct. 5, when the Indians will most likely travel to Houston to face the defending champion Astros.
Donaldson is set to take the next step starting Tuesday, when he’ll play in back-to-back games for the first time since joining the Indians, according to Francona. Donaldson could also see some time at designated hitter to balance playing time with rest.
Donaldson is 2-for-13 with the Indians, with one of those hits a towering home run, and he’s also driven several balls to the warning track. Donaldson’s swing, for the last few years one of the most dangerous in baseball, has looked up to speed.
“It looks terrific,” Francona said. “He’s so violent, but he’s on time. I used to [watch] when he was on the other team how many good swings he could take. Even when he fouled a ball back, you’re like, ‘Jeez.’ … When he misses, you can almost hear it. It’s unbelievable.”
Mike Clevinger’s goal heading into the season was clear: he wanted to be effective and efficient enough to log 200 major-league innings. Thus far, he’s remained on that path and proved to be another talented arm in a what had already been a loaded starting rotation.
Clevinger is 12-8 with a 3.06 ERA, 3.42 FIP and 196 strikeouts in 188 1/3 innings this season, and after his latest outing on Saturday, was fifth in the American League in innings. So, figuring he has two appearances left, he’s right on track to accomplish his goal.
And Clevinger seems to be handling himself just fine. After posting a 2.21 ERA with a 9.6 K/9 rate in six August starts, he has a 2.00 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 18 innings in three September outings.
His fastball velocity has also steadily jumped. According to Brooks Baseball, Clevinger's fastball in April averaged 93.3 and hovered between 94.2 and 94.6 from May to August. In September, it’s averaged 95.09.
Even so, as a pitcher who is handling a heavy workload, Clevinger is among the players the Indians will be keeping an eye on over these last couple of weeks. Like many others, some extra rest might be beneficial, but only if it doesn’t take a player out of his rhythm.
“We try to use common sense,” Francona said. “I think sometimes when you’re competing, if you try to — almost use the word 'careful' — it doesn’t work. You play the game the right way, and if we think we need to take a guy out of a game some time, we will.
"But to me, his tank looks like it’s going back up as opposed to the other way.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ.