CLEVELAND — The Indians decided during the winter their starting pitching would carry them to another October.
Cleveland’s ride might end before then.
Corey Kluber‘s broken right arm may alter the plans for a season the Indians hoped would include a fourth straight AL Central title.
Kluber sustained a non-displaced fracture Wednesday night when he was struck by a line drive in the fifth inning of a start against Miami. Kluber, who struggled through the season’s first month, couldn’t avoid the 102-mph comebacker hit by Marlins infielder Brian Anderson. After being nailed, Kluber chased after the ball while his right arm stayed motionless against his side. He swatted the ball with his glove toward the bag before walking dejectedly back to the mound.
The 33-year-old underwent further imaging tests Thursday to determine the length of his absence. The team is reviewing those results and will place him on the 10-day injured list while providing an update Friday before the opener of a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners.
Based on the initial diagnosis, and assuming there’s no other damage, Kluber will likely miss more than one month to allow his ulna bone to heal.
The loss of Kluber, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, for any time will hurt. He’s been among baseball’s most consistent pitchers for the past five years, and the Indians are already without starter Mike Clevinger, who is out with a strained upper back muscle.
Without 40 per cent of their starting staff, the Indians look vulnerable. They already trail the improved Minnesota Twins by 2 1/2 games, and Cleveland’s offence has been in a prolonged slump. The Indians are batting an AL-low .215 and have 111 runs in 29 games.
All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor hasn’t taken off after being sidelined to start the season with a sprained ankle, and All-Star third baseman Jose Ramirez has yet to break out of a slump that stretches back to August.
When Cleveland’s front office chose not to trade Kluber or Trevor Bauer and to reconstruct the team’s roster by allowing All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley to leave as a free agent and trading sluggers Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonzo and Yandy Diaz, it did so behind the belief that the pitching depth would be enough to get the Indians back to the playoffs.
That theory is about to be tested.
Clevinger is still probably a few weeks from returning, although he played catch this week and appears to be ahead of schedule.
The Indians will likely go to a five-man rotation in May with Jefry Rodriguez getting one of the spots. He’s made two starts while filling in for Clevinger and is scheduled to start Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox. Kluber would have started Monday, and manager Terry Francona will either juggle his rotation or reach down to Triple-A Columbus and bring up either Adam Plutko or Cody Anderson.
Plutko opened the season in the minors and has been recovering from a forearm strain. Anderson has missed most of the past two seasons after Tommy John elbow surgery, but the Indians think he could be ready soon.
When Francona went to the mound to check on Kluber, what he saw was alarming.
“It looked ugly,” he said.
Right now, it’s not the only unpleasant sight for the Indians.