CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Indians have been dealt a major blow at the worst time possible.
Third baseman Jose Ramirez, whose hitting tear has aligned with Cleveland’s surge in the standings, needs surgery on his broken right hand and will be sidelined indefinitely as the Indians try to catch Minnesota in the AL Central or capture an AL wild-card berth.
Ramirez was placed on the injured list Sunday with a fractured hamate bone, an injury that typically takes more than a month to heal. He was removed from Saturday’s game in the first inning after swinging at a pitch. Manager Terry Francona said the 26-year-old has been dealing with soreness in his right wrist for some time.
Francona said Ramirez would fly to New York on Sunday and undergo surgery Monday. The team will have a better sense of when Ramirez will return after the procedure by hand specialist Dr. Thomas Graham.
Cleveland, which has won the past three division titles, entered Sunday’s series finale against Kansas City trailing the Twins by 2 1/2 games and leading the wild-card race by one-half game.
Losing Ramirez for any length of time would be tough, but not having him during the season’s home stretch is especially challenging for the Indians, who have been dealing with injuries all season.
"There’s two ways to look at it: You can feel sorry for yourself, which probably doesn’t end well," Francona said. "Or you can choose to fight back and feel like this is our time to shine. And I would choose No. 2. I’m aware that it got more difficult. We lost a great player.
"That doesn’t mean you can’t win. Just makes it a little harder."
Francona said the medical staff doesn’t believe Ramirez’s injury is connected to his previous soreness.
Ramirez started slowly this season — he was batting .201 on June 20 — but he has been playing like a two-time All-Star again and has been one of the Indians’ best hitters. Ramirez has always been an elite fielder, and the Indians’ defence could take a dip without him on the left side of the infield.
Ramirez is batting .254 with 33 doubles, 20 home runs and 75 RBIs in 126 games. He went into Sunday second in the majors in extra-base hits (32) and third in RBIs (40) in the second half.
Ramirez’s injury is the latest setback for the Indians, who have managed to stay in the playoff hunt despite being without two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber since May 1 with a broken arm and while starter Carlos Carrasco works his way back after being diagnosed with leukemia.
To take Ramirez’s roster spot, the Indians recalled infielder Yu Chang from Triple-A Columbus. He was starting Sunday and batting seventh against the Royals.
Francona will use Chang and utilityman Mike Freeman at third while Ramirez is out. Freeman replaced Ramirez in Saturday’s game and had two hits and drove in a run as the Indians beat the Kansas City Royals 4-2.
Francona said the versatility of Freeman and Chang gives him options.
"It’s not going to be a straight platoon," he said. "I don’t think that makes sense. Plus, we’ve moved Freeman around anyway. And Chang’s been moving around at Triple-A. He’s been playing three at short, three at third and three at second. So we have the ability to move guys around. We’ll let them know the night before and we’ll try to put two guys out there to try to take Josey’s place.
"Freeman’s done everything and more that we could have asked. So, I think we’ll be OK."