Cleveland Indians Considering Hybrid Starting Rotation for the Playoffs

The Cleveland Indians won’t have their full complement of starting pitchers in the postseason. So how might the team attack their playoff run on the mound?

With just under two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Cleveland Indians are closing in on the club’s first American League Central Division title since 2007, and find themselves in the final push for playoff positioning. But the injury bug has continued to provide challenges for the Tribe, as Carlos Carrasco was the latest player to be lost.

While Cleveland will be working with a skeleton crew of a starting rotation, the club’s ace is still confident in the staff’s ability to get the job done.

“I don’t think anybody’s in here feeling sorry for ourselves because of [Carrasco’s injury],” Corey Kluber said on Sunday. “I don’t think there’s a gloomy outlook or anything. Other guys have pitched well up to this point to get us where we are now, so I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t continue to going forward.”

As reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan on Monday, the Tribe has had internal discussions of using a hybrid three-man rotation in the playoffs after the losses of Carrasco and Danny Salazar to injury.

In this scenario, Kluber and Trevor Bauer would slot into the first two spots, while a combination of Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger (we’ll call them Mosh Tomlinger for these purposes) would piggyback, with each pitching a portion of the game on a more or less concrete pitch limit. All four would be expected to pitch on shorter than usual rest.

Pitching coach Mickey Callaway alluded to something similar on Saturday night, after the game in which Carrasco suffered a fractured hand.

“The good thing is Kluber and Bauer can probably pitch every fourth day, or whenever you need them to,” Callaway said. “Bauer’s arm never hurts and Kluber’s just a beast.”

Given the setup of the playoff schedule, this is doable for Cleveland. Days off are built into the format, which would allow the quartet enough rest, hypothetically, to recover.

Strong starting pitching, historically, has not been a prerequisite to winning a World Series, another fact that suggests the Indians are far from sunk. Most championship teams since the turn of the century have had starting pitching staffs in the middle of the pack statistically, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian pointed out, and last year’s Kansas City Royals were worse than that.

Much like that Royals club, the bullpen also works in the Tribe’s favor. In addition to having some truly dominant arms, the relief corps has gotten unique practice in the past few weeks, being utilized in a more non-mainstream way. Andrew Miller, in particular, has been used by manager Terry Francona as a relief ace in the old “fireman” mold, deploying him in high-leverage situations regardless of the inning.

That flexibility from Francona and Miller’s willingness to step outside the usual closer or setup role, coupled with the depth of a bullpen that includes Dan Otero, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen, among others, may be enough in this year’s playoffs to overcome the absence of Salazar and Carrasco.

Cleveland’s offense, perhaps the most surprising development in 2016, should be able to shoulder some of the extra load along with the bullpen, and there’s no denying that Kluber is one of the few pitchers in the game who has not only the stuff but the mental toughness to carry a rotation on abbreviated rest. The question for the Tribe will be whether Bauer and Tomlinger can follow his lead.

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