Indians starters need to start producing

CLEVELAND — The only thing that kept the Indians from using their seventh starting pitcher in their first nine games Wednesday night was rain.

A deluge and a postponement means the Indians have used six starters in eight games.

Since the afternoon of opening day, the Indians have called up Trevor Bauer and sent down Trevor Bauer. They’ve started Carlos Carrasco, then sent down Carlos Carrasco. They had to place their fifth starter, Scott Kazmir, on the disabled list after he inexplicably hurt himself playing catch in the outfield.

Wednesday the Indians called up Corey Kluber to start  against the Yankees. He’ll go to the bullpen on Thursday.

“I don’t think,” manager Terry Francona said, “it’s quite as chaotic as maybe it seems.”

In spring training Francona said he traditionally does not learn much about his pitchers in spring training, but he does when the season starts.

What he’s learned so far can’t be comforting.

The Indians have started their season scrambling to put together a group of starters.

And the starters they have put together have struggled.

Other than that Mrs. Lincoln … 

That being said, it is only eight games into a 162-game season. But eight games in, the numbers aren’t pretty.
Indians starters are 2-5, with a 5.86 ERA.

Those numbers come with Justin Masterson 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA.

Take away Masterson and the rest of the Indians starters are 0-5 with an 8.10 ERA.

There have been capers and madness, with Trevor Bauer walking the first four hitters he faced in his first major league start. Then there was Carrasco, who spent a year-and-a-half recovering from Tommy John surgery. Then he spent  the first six games of the season finishing a suspension from 2011 when he threw at Kansas City’s Billy Butler after giving up a home run.

What did he do in his first start?
He hit Kevin Youkilis high on the shoulder after giving up a Robinson Cano home run.

Carrasco apologized after the game and told Francona and the media he slipped as he threw and did not intend to hit Youkilis.

“I know how it looked,” Francona said. “And I also know what he told me and I believe him.”

Francona might be in a small minority who believe him.

Replays seemed to show Carrasco going to the ground only when he saw the pitch rising toward Youkilis’ head. The ball hit his shoulder only because he turned to protect himself. Had the ball kept rising, who knows how the Yankees dugout would have reacted.

Carrasco now faces the real possibility of another suspension.

“The league is pretty good about listening,” Francona said.

He best hope.

Francona does not agree that it’s kosher to hit a batter if the previous guy hit a home run.

“I don’t buy into that,” Francona said. “Again, the game has a way of taking care of itself sometimes when it needs to. That’s not what happened, and I fully believe that.

“Nobody on their team needed to be hit, and nobody got hit intentionally.”

General consensus, though, was that the pitch to Youkilis was not Carrasco’s smartest moment.

To say the least.

A guy returning from Tommy John surgery throwing 95 doesn’t need to hurt the team by losing his composure. Carrasco seemed to — call it a Carrasco fiasco. Less than a day later, he was headed to Class AAA.

Carrasco gave up seven runs.

Forced to adjust, Francona turned to starter Brett Myers to finish the game. He gave up seven runs. Tuesday Ubaldo Jimenez gave up seven as well.

At least there’s symmetry.

Myers, paid $7 million (more symmetry) to move from the bullpen to the rotation, has given up 14 earned runs and seven home runs in 10 1/3 innings.

 The Indians stand by him.

“If I can’t think positive, who is?” Francona said.

He pointed out that a starter entering a game with the team down 7-0 is facing a bunch of free-swingers, and the Yankees crushed every mistake.

“You can harp on that as a staff, or you can look to what he did well and try to capitalize on that,” Francona said. “So that’s what we chose to do.”

The main positive: Myers saved the bullpen for a night.

To Francona that is vital. He pointed out he could have used two or three bullpen pitchers and lost 8-1 instead of 14-1, but he preferred saving his bullpen to try to win the next game.

“Keeping your bullpen in order,” he said, “is the most important thing you can do as a manager.”

The starter’s struggles have revealed a lot about Francona’s thinking. He continually looks big picture, he protects his players and his emphasis on protecting the bullpen is unshakeable.

Somewhere in there, though, is the desire to see the starting pitching come around.

Call it an early-season necessity.