The Indians' pitching depth is about to be tested to a severe degree.
Ace and two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber was hit by a comebacker on his throwing arm during his start Wednesday night against the Miami Marlins. Kluber ran after the ball to try to flip it to first base with his glove but didn't raise his right arm.
X-rays performed at Marlins Park revealed close to the worst-case scenario for the Indians: Kluber suffered a nondisplaced fracture of the right ulna bone. He was to be further evaluated in Cleveland, and the team is expected to have an update Friday.
Assuming the initial diagnosis is confirmed, Kluber will join Mike Clevinger, rehabbing from an upper back strain, on the injured list. And it will create additional chaos for the unit the Indians have needed to act as their rock this season.
The Indians' list of in-house options to replace Kluber temporarily all have some variation of a question mark attached to their resume.
Jefry Rodriguez has been filling in for Clevinger on a spot-start basis and has performed well. After Rodriguez, though? Adam Plutko will be the natural choice to join the major-league rotation once healthy, although he's been dealing with a forearm strain. Cody Anderson recently was optioned to Triple-A Columbus to join the rotation, although he's still being lengthened out to a full workload. Danny Salazar, meanwhile, still has a lengthy road ahead of him.
Chih-Wei Hu and Shao-Ching Chiang have both been in the Triple-A rotation as well, but neither has pitched well this season (5.01 and 7.62 ERA, respectively). Asher Wojciechowski, who was brought into spring camp as a nonroster invitee, could be an intriguing option, as he's posted an ERA of 0.82 with 16 strikeouts in four starts. And, of course, it's possible this injury pushes the Indians to an outside move to bring someone into the organization.
Clevinger's absence from what was labeled to be the best rotation in baseball and the backbone of the roster has caused enough headaches for the Indians. Having to replace 40 percent of the starting rotation for an extended period of time is another battle altogether.
Relying on Rodriguez and, say, Plutko (once healthy) for that many starts certainly wasn't the ideal scenario, particularly as it comes shortly after the Indians started the season without their starting middle infield in shortstop Francisco Lindor, one of the game's young stars, and second baseman Jason Kipnis.
And it goes without saying that substituting Wojciechowski for Kluber every fifth game, considering the former wasn't in the organization until Valentine's Day, wouldn't be an optimal situation.
As this season continues to follow a doomsday path for the Indians, it is becoming clear it might feature the kind of dogfight in the American League Central that has been absent the past couple of seasons when the Indians have had little to no competition. The three-time reigning division champion Indians are 16-13 and three games behind the Minnesota Twins (19-10) for the division lead.
The Indians went into Wednesday's game ranked 28th in baseball with a team .641 OPS. Having Lindor back, along with the return of Kipnis and the addition of Carlos Gonzalez, will help compared to the Opening Day lineup, but question marks remain.
The Indians have largely survived that weaker offense on the right arms in the starting rotation, and now the scramble begins to replace another key starter. The Indians no longer have the kind of cushion in the AL Central that might have softened such a blow. Although they might remain the favorites over the Twins, that gap is certainly closing.
The past couple of seasons, the Indians have been asked if the lack of a need for a sense of urgency during the regular season might have hurt them as they entered October and postseason baseball. The roster, and particularly the rotation, being ravaged with injuries will help to make sure that isn't a question this season.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.