Losing a key player is tougher, especially when it’s a dependable starting pitcher.
But doing all the above in two days — that’s really tough.
So it has gone for the Cleveland Indians, as they have lost twice to Detroit when their closer and top starter did not come through, then lost probably their second best starting pitcher to an unexpected injury just before Tuesday’s game.
Corey Kluber was placed on the disabled list one night after he threw a shutout into the eighth inning against the Tigers. Losing Kluber to a sprained middle finger on his pitching hand will have a significant affect on the team the next few weeks.
Wednesday, the team said Kluber will miss four-to-six weeks. Which means he could be back in early or mid-September, but he also could miss the rest of the season.
“It makes it harder for us,” manager Terry Francona said. “It doesn’t mean we can’t do it. It just makes it harder.”
The Indians have not had great luck with pitching finger injuries. Think Alex White and Adam Miller. Then earlier this season Zach McAllister missed seven weeks with a finger injury.
“We’re right in the thick of things,” Francona said, “and we’re running Corey Kluber out there feeling pretty good about ourselves.”
It’s been a challenging few days. Especially because the Tigers continue to treat the Indians like a little kid. The best image to describe the way the Tigers have toyed with the Indians is to think of the big kid who puts his hand on the little kid’s forehead and holds him at bay while the little kid flails away at the air while the big kid laughs. The Tigers have their hands firmly on the Indians forehead.
Tuesday starter Justin Masterson had a five-run fifth inning, and that was all Justin Verlander needed. Masterson again made Don Kelly look like Don Mattingly, as Kelly hit his second three-run home run off Masterson this season and the Tigers moved five games up in the AL Central.
“If I was Superman he’d be my kryptonite,” Masterson said. “He salivates when I get up there. How it happens, I don’t know.”
Masterson’s five runs allowed marked the first time since July 6 an Indians starter had given up that many. In three starts against Detroit, Masterson is 0-3 with a 6.86 ERA.
Kluber had been perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the Indians season. He’s been throwing mid-90s while mixing in an excellent sinker. His 7-5 record and 3.54 ERA don’t really reflect how well he’s pitched because he left six starts with the lead when he went at least five innings. In those six games, Kluber got one loss and five no-decisions.
The worst was the most recent, when he didn’t allow the vaunted Tigers to score into the eighth, but saw Chris Perez blow the 2-0 lead in the ninth.
Francona said Kluber felt the problem on his finger when he threw a breaking ball on his 101st pitch Monday night. The Indians sent him for an MRI on Tuesday, and results came back about 6 p.m., when he was suddenly placed on the DL.
“You got to be patient with these type of things or you can get yourself in trouble,” Francona said.
The Indians had horrible luck when minor leaguers Miller and White had these kind of injuries, so they were especially cautious with McAllister’s. Which they’ll no doubt do with Kluber.
How the Indians proceed without him will be interesting. Danny Salazar makes his second career major league start Wednesday against the Tigers, and Francona said only that Salazar would make that start.
Salazar is on a strict innings count this season as he comes back from Tommy John surgery, but GM Chris Antonetti had said earlier he expected Salazar to contribute in Cleveland before the year ended.
Other options include usual candidates Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer.
A darkhorse: Daisuke Matsuzaka, who in his last five starts at Columbus has thrown 35 innings, given up eight runs and has 31 strikeouts, five walks, a 2.06 ERA and 3-1 record.
A stretch? Maybe, but Carrasco and Bauer didn’t take advantage of their opportunities earlier this season, and the Indians are being careful with Salazar.
The Indians walk a fine line with their team, and losing Kluber has the earmarks of a potential tipping point. It hurts.
No, these two days have not been kind to the Indians.