NOAH TRISTER, AP Baseball Writer
DETROIT (AP) — Cleveland’s most pressing concern was the health of its ace. Tuesday’s 12-0 loss to Detroit was just another game.
Corey Kluber has a mild quadriceps strain, which could force the AL Central champions to delay his first playoff start. It’s another blow for the Indians, who already were missing starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.
“It’s obviously not the best possible news, but it is a heck of a lot better than it could have been,” manager Terry Francona said. “This will give him a chance to rest up and hopefully throw a couple bullpens. In the long run, that could help him.”
Kluber’s outing was cut short Monday, when Cleveland won at Detroit to clinch the division. The right-hander, who won the 2014 AL Cy Young Award and is a top contender for the honor again this year, had an MRI on Tuesday in Cleveland that confirmed the quadriceps injury.
The team says his timetable for returning to game activity is a week to 10 days. Cleveland’s first playoff game is Oct. 6.
The Indians fielded a makeshift lineup Tuesday night. Although Cleveland still has a chance to finish with the American League’s best record and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, Francona indicated there are other priorities to consider.
Cleveland also is bumping right-hander Trevor Bauer back to the weekend. The Indians will start Zach McAllister, who has pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen this year, on Wednesday night against the Tigers. On Thursday, Ryan Merritt makes his first career start.
“Our objective always is to win, but we’ll get to see everybody, we’ll try to manage people’s innings,” Francona said. “We really need to keep our pitchers healthy so they can be productive.”
That’s the big concern as the postseason approaches. The Indians entered Tuesday second in the AL in runs and first in ERA, but the team that’s available to Francona now isn’t the same as the one that controlled the division for much of the season. Now Cleveland looks like the AL’s version of the Mets, a team with a potentially outstanding starting rotation that’s been decimated by injuries.
But unlike New York, the Indians are safely in the playoffs already.
“People have come up and filled in,” slugger Mike Napoli said. “We were able to clinch the division. When you get there, anything can happen.”
Boston, Cleveland and Texas are in a tight race for the best record in the AL, but Francona is more concerned about having his team enter the playoffs rested and ready.
“If I had my choice, I’d rather play at home, I think anybody would, but not at the expense of burning out your entire rotation or your bullpen,” he said. “Having your guys ready to play is the most important thing.”
Salazar threw a bullpen session Monday, but Carrasco is out for the season.
Cleveland’s lineup Tuesday was almost unrecognizable. Napoli, Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez, Rajai Davis and Lonnie Chisenhall were left out.
Catcher Chris Gimenez got the start at third base. He had played five innings there previously in a major league career that began in 2009.
“We should be all right,” he said before the game. “Hopefully I don’t make five errors or something. That would be pretty embarrassing.”
Gimenez said bench coach Brad Mills passed along the news that he would be at third — while the team was still celebrating the night before.
“I just started spraying him with champagne,” Gimenez said. “He seemed serious, but I wasn’t really sure.”
Carlos Santana did play as the designated hitter Tuesday, although the switch-hitter’s power wasn’t the primary reason, according to Francona.
“That’s only because we ran out of guys,” the manager said.
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