Indians feel better about bullpen against Astros

CLEVELAND — Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona has his bullpen security blanket back. That’s a good thing for Francona and a good thing for the Indians’ beleaguered bullpen.

On Friday night, the Indians, with a healthy Andrew Miller back in their bullpen, host the Houston Astros in the second game of a four-game series.

Cleveland’s bullpen has the fewest wins (3-11) and highest ERA (5.51) in the American League, but a big reason for that was the two weeks ace Miller spent on the disabled list and the three bumpy appearances he had after coming off the DL.

Miller was on the disabled list from April 26 to May 10 with a strained left hamstring. In his first three appearances after being activated, Miller pitched 1 2/3 innings, giving up four runs and three hits (two doubles and a home run) while walking five.

But in Miller’s last two appearances on Tuesday and Wednesday in Indians wins over the Chicago Cubs, he pitched two scoreless innings with two hits, two strikeouts and no walks.

“That was just what we needed,” Francona said. “Now that he’s pitched in a couple games (after coming off the DL), you’ll hopefully see him be the guy that we can really rely on.”

Miller didn’t get a chance to perform Thursday night in the first game of the series as the Astros routed the Indians 8-2, scoring five runs in the fifth inning, including three on a home run given up by Indians reliever Neil Ramirez.

Miller and closer Cody Allen have been the only dependable relievers in the Cleveland bullpen, which makes shutting down the Astros’ lineup problematic.

“Guys will emerge. We believe that,” Francona said of the struggles by his other relievers. “We’ll try to keep putting guys in a position to succeed.”

Miller and Allen aside, slumping bullpen in a series against the defending World Series champions is not how Francona would have drawn it up.

“These guys are really good,” Francona said of the Astros. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to back down, but we do respect how good they are.

“Last year, even before they won the World Series, the way they played the game really stood out. They’re fun to play. Not because you think you’re going to push them around, but because they’re so good it’s just fun to play them.”

Friday’s pitching matchup will feature two starters who between them have won three of the last four American League Cy Young Awards. Cleveland’s Corey Kluber won it in 2014 and 2017, and Houston’s Dallas Keuchel won it in 2015.

Kluber (7-2, 2.36 ERA) is off to another strong start this year. Keuchel (3-6, 3.43) has been a little more inconsistent.

Friday’s Kluber-Keuchel duel will be an encore from a week ago. In their last starts, Kluber and Keuchel faced each other on May 19 in Houston. Kluber and the Indians won 5-4.

In that game, Kluber pitched seven innings, giving up two runs and six hits with 10 strikeouts and no walks. Keuchel gave up four runs and six hits in five innings with three strikeouts and two walks.

In nine career appearances against the Astros, Kluber is 6-3 with a 3.17 ERA. In seven career appearances against the Indians, Keuchel is 4-1 with a 2.76 ERA.