CLEVELAND — The Indians know that as long as Jose Ramirez is out of the lineup his production will not be duplicated.

Ramirez, who was placed on the 10-day injured list after fracturing the hamate bone in his right hand on Saturday, had been one of the most dangerous hitters in the game over the last several weeks, finally looking like his MVP finalist self and providing a significant boost to the middle of the lineup.

Clarity about how long Ramirez will be sidelined isn't yet available. For the time being, his spot in the lineup will be handled by a combination of Yu Chang and Mike Freeman, both of whom can move around the infield. But that spot in the lineup cannot be entirely filled — that much is clear.

The Indians (76-55) entered Monday 3½ games behind the Minnesota Twins (79-51) in the American League Central Division and in a neck-and-neck race with with the Tampa Bay Rays (76-56) and the Oakland A's (75-55) for one of the AL's two wild card spots. The Indians know they have to quickly move on from the significant blow to their lineup.

"We can’t just every day lament the fact that Josey’s hurt," Indians manager Terry Francona said on Sunday. "That’s not going to help us win games. Everybody has to chip in anyway. When we win, that's the way we win."

This will be Chang's first extended stint in the majors. Ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the system, Chang has never been viewed as a top prospect, but he has had his name thrown around in trade rumors in the past as a coveted asset. He now will be thrust into a bigger role in the heat of a postseason race.

But the Indians don't want his focus to be on replacing Ramirez. Those are difficult shoes to fill.

"That’s the message I tried to give him this morning — to be yourself," Francona said. "... Sometimes guys come up and they try to be something they’re not, and then they’re not what they are."

 It will still be a smaller sample size and it won't entirely dictate his future, but Chang does have a bit of a window to impress the Indians over the next couple of weeks (at least). Jason Kipnis is more likely than not to have his club option for 2020 declined, opening a spot in the Indians' future infield.

Chang had a positive showing on Sunday, collecting his first two major-league hits, including a triple. A continued productive stretch could force Chang into a larger role in the club's future plans, or at least open that door a bit further.

Had an injury like this happened in the past, the Indians might have found a trade partner for a player who had cleared or been claimed by the club on waivers. But, with the elimination of that process, Chang and Freeman must cover third base for as long as Ramirez is out.

"[We have] got to deal with it. It sucks," said starter Shane Bieber on the loss of Ramirez. "It’s a big blow, but him being him and producing even when he was struggling, the numbers that he was putting up, he was producing and being productive within the lineup and now that he’s tearing the cover off the ball, it’s a tough loss.

"But Yu filled in really nice today and got his first knock and first triple and made a couple good plays at third, so we’re not really faced with a choice. It’s just next man up.”

 

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.