Indians could conclude regular season Sunday

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Cleveland Indians could end their regular season Sunday against the Kansas City Royals after 161 games.

Or they could play a makeup game Monday in Detroit if it has playoff ramifications for either or both clubs.

But this the Indians do know for sure: They will be playing Thursday in the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox.

Indians manager Terry Francona said “it's not that tough” balancing the finish of the regular season and knowing the playoffs are ahead.

“It's kinda nice in the fact that even though they're playing, it could mean home field, but it's not life or death if we lose,” Francona said. “So it gives the guys a little bit of a mental break, which I think is good. You don't want to take too much (off) because it's hard to turn that button on, but I think our guys have handled it pretty good.”

While Francona managed the Red Sox to two World Series championships, he does not want the series against Boston be about him versus his former club, but keep the focus on the players.

“The one thing I think I need to be cognizant of is the players have worked so hard to, both sides, to get to this,” Francona said. “I can't let my personal feelings ever get in the way of or take away from what they've done. So, whatever my feelings are need to remain my feelings and let the players, like I said, they've worked so hard for this. It needs to be about them.”

Francona named Trevor Bauer his starting pitcher for the series opener Thursday while staff ace Corey Kluber, who has not pitched since Sept. 26 at Detroit and leaving after four innings with quadriceps tightness, starts the second game Friday.

Kluber will throw a bullpen session Sunday and an extended mound session Tuesday. Francona said he did not think it would fair to the team or Kluber to ask him to pitch Thursday and possibly on short rest for the fifth game of the ALDS if necessary.

“In fact I know it's the right thing for everybody,” Francona said. “I don't think it's fair for Kluber to have him sit for 10 days and have him pitch two games in four days. He certainly wanted to. I kind of — again not just me, but talking to everybody — I just took it out of his hands, Now he can prepare for Game 2. He can do that without the anxiety and worry of rushing.”

Francona jokingly had one message for Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who has announced this is his final year.

“I wish Ortiz would consider retiring early, but I don't see that happening,” Francona said.

With Carlos Carrasco on the 60-day disabled list (broken finger) and Danny Santana out since Sept. 9 with a forearm strain, the Indians' rotation is shallow entering the postseason. With the injuries, Bauer emerged as the starter for the opener after beginning the year in the bullpen.

“He's had some ups and down, like everybody pretty much,” Francona said. “I think he relishes what's ahead of him. Obviously, he's going up against a good lineup, but I think he'll be OK.”

The Royals, who start right-hander Ian Kennedy on Sunday in their season finale, try to snap a three-game slide. They need a victory to finish with a winning record for the fourth straight year.

“We've talked about it,” said utility player Whit Merrifield, who made a costly fielding error leading to three unearned runs in the eighth inning of the Indians' 6-3 victory Saturday. “We've talked about needing a win this series. We have one more chance at it. We'll come here tomorrow and be ready to go.”

The Royals, however, have lost 13 of 18 to the Indians this year and have been outscored by 32 runs.

Right-hander Josh Tomlin, who has not pitched in six days, will be the Indians starter. This will be his 17th career start and 22nd career appearance against the Royals. He is 7-4 with a 4.24 ERA in his 16 starts.

And if the Indians play Monday, Francona said he has “no idea” who would start.

“Some of it may depend on what the game's for,” Francona said. “We'll see. Some of it will depend on who pitches tomorrow (Sunday) and how much.”