CLEVELAND — In the World Series for the first time since 1997 and trying to win the title for the first time since 1948, the Cleveland Indians gathered Sunday evening for a workout in preparation for Tuesday’s Game 1 against the Chicago Cubs. Their drought is overshadowed by the Cubs’ 108-year dry spell, but 70 seasons is a long time, too. Manager Terry Francona, a man fully embraced by this town, has a way of deflecting the topic.
“I don’t feel responsible for the fact my dad didn’t win,” Francona said of his father Tito, an Indians player in the 1960s. “That’s his fault.”
In regard to the business of beating the Cubs, the Indians set their rotation for the opening three games. Ace Corey Kluber will start Game 1, followed by Trevor Bauer in Game 2 and Josh Tomlin in Game 3.
Bauer could be pushed back to Game 3 if his right pinkie finger, last seen leaking blood all over the Rogers Centre mound owing to a now-infamous drone accident, requires more time to heal. Bauer planned to play catch Sunday night and throw a bullpen session with hitters standing at the plate Monday. So long as doctors don’t recommend giving him two extra days, Bauer will start Wednesday.
“It’s going to be TBA after Game 3 probably the rest of the way,” Francona said. “Kluber is certainly an option. It could be a lot of things. We’re just kind of keeping it open. We found out the last series that’s probably a good way to do it.”
In the American League Championship Series, the Indians had to turn to rookie Ryan Merritt, a soft-tossing left-hander with one career start under his belt, in a clinching game after they lost Bauer’s services. Merritt pitched the Indians into the World Series, holding Toronto scoreless into the fifth inning of Game 5.
The Indians’ beat-up pitching staff could receive a reinforcement. All-star right-hander Danny Salazar, who has not pitched since he exited a start Sept. 9 with a right flexor muscle strain, might be able to pitch, and even start a game in the World Series.
Salazar threw one inning in the Arizona instructional league and faced a few Indians hitters in Toronto during the American League Championship Series. Sunday night, he planned to throw a three-inning simulated game and use his full repertoire of fastballs, change-ups and sliders.
“I’m hoping it’s going to go well, and then it’s their decision,” Salazar said. “I’ll be ready whatever they want me to do. If they want me to start or reliever, I’m good.”
Salazer’s presence would boost an Indians rotation that’s operated without Carlos Carrasco in the postseason. Salazar went 11-6 with a 3.87 ERA this season, striking out 161 batters in 137 1/3 innings. Stepping straight into the World Series after taking nearly a month off would be a significant jump, but Salazer was not concerned.
“That’s why we’re doing the live BP and facing our own guys,” Salazar said. “I think they’re good enough. That’s why we’re here, to have a feeling of what it’s like.”
The Indians’ rash of starting rotation injuries caused many to count them out this postseason, and Bauer’s mishap only further depleted them. But with dominant relief pitching and an able cast of fill-ins, the Indians have won seven of eight playoff games while allowing only 1.9 runs per game.
“Whoever we throw out there, I’m going to have confidence,” designated hitter Mike Napoli said. “Whoever’s ready, we’re going to do the right things to get through it. There’s been a lot of people who have been able to step up. So it’s not like we’re all praying. At the same time, we want all our big dogs to be healthy and be ready to go.”
The Indians do not need any more bad luck, but they nearly received horrible news in the aftermath of their ALCS celebration.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis, one of the Indians’ most important players, suffered an ankle sprain during Cleveland’s celebration of the ALCS title. Kipnis rolled his ankle stepping on shortstop Francisco Lindor’s foot during the booze-spraying bedlam. Kipnis practiced fielding groundballs on his own before the Indians’ workout Sunday, and Francona said he expects he will be fine for Game 1.
“Some of the guys had kind of a tough time getting through the celebration,” Francona said.