CLEVELAND -- The Indians' bullpen got the reinforcements it needed last month when the team acquired All-Star Brad Hand and sidearmer Adam Cimber in a trade with the Padres. Now, manager Terry Francona has his favorite leverage weapon back in the fold.
Prior to Friday's 7-4 loss to the Angels at Progressive Field, Cleveland activated relief ace Andrew Miller from the 60-day disabled list. Combined with Hand and Tribe closer Cody Allen, Francona now has a formidable late-innings trio, provided that Miller is back at full strength and over the right knee issue that has ailed him for parts of the past two seasons.
"It gets exciting," Francona said. "Just having Andrew back is exciting. And we know it might not be midseason form yet, but he'll get there. You start thinking about shortening games, and some of those guys back at the end there can do that."
On Friday, Miller took the mound in the seventh for his first outing with the Tribe since May 25. The lefty received a standing ovation when he entered, and then tossed a scoreless inning with one strikeout and one walk.
"There are nerves every time you pitch in a Major League game," said Miller, who threw 16 pitches (10 strikes). "I don't think that's going to go away. I think you do a better job of controlling them. Part of that is just getting back into a rhythm in everything. Ideally, the game will go slower for me next time and I'll have better command and it will come a little smoother."
The good news of Miller's return necessitated a tough conversation between Francona and right-hander Zach McAllister, who has been with the Indians for parts of the past eight seasons. In order to clear room on both the 25-man and 40-man rosters for Miller, Cleveland designated McAllister for assignment.
When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster, and 25-man roster if he was on that as well. Within seven days of the transaction (it was previously 10 days), the player must either be traded, released or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.
Miller, who has had two DL stints this year due to a left hamstring problem and the right knee discomfort, completed back-to-back outings on Monday and Tuesday with Triple-A Columbus to conclude his Minor League rehab assignment. In 18 appearances this year for the Tribe, the lefty has a 4.11 ERA with 24 strikeouts against 11 walks in 15 1/3 innings.
The Indians hope that the time lost in the regular season will lead to strong production down the stretch and throughout the postseason for Miller, who was the Most Valuable Player Award winner of the 2016 American League Championship Series during the team's run to the World Series. Cleveland headed into Friday with a 10-game lead on Minnesota atop the AL Central, putting it on target for a third straight division crown.
"[The bullpen has] a chance to be the strength of a really good team," Miller said. "Maybe we weren't as strong as we wanted to be at the start of the year. I don't think it was for lack of ability or effort or intention or anything. Things maybe didn't go our way, and everybody kind of kept grinding it out. But between the new guys and the way guys have been throwing the ball lately, hopefully I come back and jump in and add to it."
Miller, Hand and Allen will divvy up the bulk of the late-inning matchups, with lefty Oliver Perez and right-handers Dan Otero, Neil Ramirez and Cimber filling out the rest of the bullpen. Since the July 19 deal that netted Hand and Cimber in exchange for catching prospect Francisco Mejia, the Indians' relief corps has ranked second in the AL in ERA (2.78), WHIP (1.18) and opponents' on-base percentage (.296) before Friday night's game.
McAllister, 30, has turned in a 3.99 ERA in 277 career games with Cleveland, and the big right-hander enjoyed a breakout showing as a reliever a year ago (2.61 ERA in 50 games). This year, McAllister has posted a 4.97 ERA with 34 strikeouts against 10 walks in 41 2/3 innings. Right-handed batters were hitting .253 (.775 OPS) off McAllister, who is earning $2.45 million this year. He will be a free agent after the season.
"We didn't really want to lose anybody, but we just felt like it was the right baseball decision to make," Francona said. "As excited as you are to get Andrew back, you have to talk to a kid that you care about, it's hard. So, that's not the funnest way to start your day."
• The Indians announced on Friday that outfielder Tyler Naquin (10-day DL) underwent surgery on his right hip on Thursday to stabilize a stress reaction. Dr. James Rosneck performed the procedure on Naquin's right femur, using three screws in the operation. Naquin is expected to be able to return to full baseball activities within six to 10 weeks.
"Whether he had surgery or not, the timetable was going to be just about identical," Francona said. "That was I think why they elected to have surgery. So when he does come back, he's not going to have to worry about this happening again. It actually made a lot of sense. And we could see him back this year."
• Now that the Indians are beyond the non-waiver Trade Deadline and Miller is back in the fold, Francona met with his team prior to Friday's game against Los Angeles. The manager said his message for the season's home stretch was straightforward.
"It's the first time where everybody's in the same room and that's going to be our team," Francona said. "I just wanted to tell them that this group, our goal is not to be good, it's to be special. That's really basically what it is. We have the ability to be special. We just have to go do it."
• Right-hander Josh Tomlin (10-day DL, right hamstring) began a Minor League rehab assignment with Columbus on Friday. Cleveland plans on having Tomlin log two- or three-inning outings over the next few weeks in the Minors prior to being activated.
• MLB and the Indians will unveil the official logo of the 2019 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard on Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET at Progressive Field. Next year's 90th Midsummer Classic will be the sixth hosted by Cleveland in the event's history.