Smoke Signals: Indians rotation making history again in 2018

Plus: Bauer open challenge, Donaldson doubling up

Alex Hooper
September 18, 2018 - 10:53 pm
Sep 18, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians pitching coach Carl Willis (51) talks to catcher Yan Gomes (7) and starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) in the eighth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Progressive Field.

© David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians starting rotation, almost exactly as currently constructed, has been making history since last year. The 2017 Indians (31.9) were the single greatest pitching staff in baseball history by fWAR.

In 2018, the team will set history again, barring a horrible turn in luck for breakout righty, Mike Clevinger.

Two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber struck out Chicago White Sox left fielder Ryan LeMarre in the 5th inning Tuesday, notching his 200th K of 2018. He joined teammates Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco at the milestone, becoming the fourth trio in the history of the game to strike out 200 hitters each in a season.

The Houston Astros’ Charlie Morton (195 Ks), alongside Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, will make the fifth trio later in the year.

No team has ever had four such players, and Clevinger sits just four punch-outs shy of making this year’s quartet the first to do so.

Kluber also joined Bob Feller as one of three Indians pitchers to have five consecutive seasons of 200 strikeouts. “Sudden” Sam McDowell had six consecutive from 1965-70. Kluber is the only pitcher in club history with 200 innings and 200 strikeouts in five consecutive seasons.

 The 2017 Indians will almost certainly fall to second all-time in one category: total strikeouts by a starting rotation. The 2018 Astros are 30 strikeouts shy of last year’s Indians squad, 1066-1036.

Bauer open challenge

Trevor Bauer got what he had been hoping for, or at least a sample of it, as the Indians righty pitched to hitters on Tuesday.

The All-Star threw a 40-pitch bullpen on Saturday and bounced back well, but had said he wished he could replicate the adrenaline of a game situation. Before the team opened their series against the White Sox, Bauer faced September call-ups Adam Rosales, Eric Haase and Brandon Barnes.

Bauer threw between 17 and 19 pitches over the course of three simulated innings.

“Seeing the hitters in the box helps a lot, because then it's more about trying to execute a sequence, a pitch. There's counts. There's feedback on your stuff,” he said. “You get to two strikes and go, 'OK, I want to put this guy away.' Or you go 2-0 and it's, 'I want to throw a strike here.'”

That adrenaline was enough to get Bauer’s focus on competing as opposed to gauging whether or not he feels any pain in his healing leg.

Aside from just revisiting the tape of his bullpen, Barnes and Haase each gave Bauer feedback on his outing. The latter was able to give a catcher’s perspective, which held weight with the pitcher himself.

All-Star third baseman José Ramírez did his best to jumpstart Bauer’s heart rate, trash talking his teammate as he rested between innings. The brash righty obviously chattered back, telling Ramírez that he would only feed him breaking balls, and maybe one fastball.

“Jose talks a lot. There's no action behind it,” Bauer said. “He's always telling me he's going to hit a homer off me and face me and all that stuff. And then he gets a chance, and it's, 'Nah, I don't want to face you.'”

The next step in Bauer’s return will be determined in a sit-down meeting with Manager Terry Francona, and members of the front office and training staff.

Bauer maintained that he would be available Tuesday night.

“I’m glad he feels that way,” Francona laughed. “I don’t think that’s going to happen, but it’s nice to hear him say that.

“We know Trevor wants to pitch. From our standpoint, the quicker we can get him in a game, without risk, the better. But that’s where you’ve got to listen to the medical guys, too.”

Cleveland Calves

The Josh Donaldson reclamation project has taken a large step forward. The former MVP played all nine innings at third base on Tuesday, and will start Wednesday, starting back to back days for the first time since May 27-28 with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The 32-year-old and his problematic calves were tested Tuesday following a 2nd inning walk, as Melky Cabrera’s next at-bat resulted in a double that scored Donaldson from first.

“I think when we saw him work out, we knew that he had worked really hard,” Francona said. “Just try to use common sense and not overdo it too quick. Everybody wants, myself included, you want to see him play, but I think we’ve tried to manage it pretty well. Pretty soon, we’ll be able to turn him loose.”

Donaldson finished the night 0 for 2 with two walks.

Parrot in the cage

Edwin Encarnacion was not in the lineup Tuesday after what was termed a ‘mild ankle sprain’ by the team in Sunday’s loss. Francona said the designated hitter was taking an extra day off and would play Wednesday.

“He’s fine, he’s fine. He could have played today,” the skipper said. “I told him to take BP and run and we’ll put him in there tomorrow.”