ST. PETERSBURG -- The Indians are hopeful that lefty Andrew Miller can finally advance beyond all the stops and starts of this trying season. Cleveland's goal now is to get the veteran relief ace primed for a marquee role on the October stage.
The Tribe activated Miller from the 10-day disabled list, following a left shoulder impingement, prior to Monday's game against the Rays. He worked a scoreless sixth inning in the 6-5 defeat, striking out two batters and forcing a ground out.
The American League Central-leading Indians are closing in on a third straight division title and there are roughly three weeks left before the postseason for Miller to try to regain his form and rebuild confidence in his delivery.
"He's raring to go," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "That's kind of exciting. Now, he doesn't have a Minor League game under his belt. He might not command [right away]. I hope he does. We've got 19 games [to get him ready for the playoffs]."
The latest trip to the shelf was the third DL stint of the season for Miller, who previously missed time due to a left hamstring issue and right knee injury. His return from the knee problem on Aug. 3 came after a little more than two months on the DL, leading Cleveland to treat his August schedule similar to a Spring Training regimen.
On Aug. 29, Miller landed back on the DL due to a shoulder setback and received a cortisone shot to help calm the discomfort. The 33-year-old threw off a mound in bullpen sessions Thursday and Saturday, and felt and looked strong enough to convince Cleveland to activate him ahead of the current series against the Rays.
"I would say this time is different," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations. "His mindset, his mentality is like, 'This is the best I've felt in a long time. And not only am I healthy, but I feel I'm ready to go and pitch at the level that you've seen me pitch.' So, that's exciting."
Through 27 appearances for the Indians coming into play Monday, Miller had a 3.38 ERA with 33 strikeouts against 13 walks in 24 innings. Per Statcast™, Miller has averaged 92.8 mph on his fastball this season -- down from 94.1 mph in 2017. He averaged 92.4 mph in August prior to landing back on the DL. Similarly, Miller's average slider velocity has dropped to 82.8 mph in '18, compared to 83.8 mph last year.
• Francona noted that right-hander Trevor Bauer (stress fracture in right fibula) is tentatively scheduled to throw off a mound in a bullpen session Wednesday. Antonetti added that it remains too early to know if Bauer -- if deemed healthy and available to pitch -- would figure into the postseason roster plans as a starter or as a multi-inning reliever.
"That's one of the things we continue to talk through," Antonetti said, "And will have to continue to talk through as we get more information over the coming days and the coming weeks. We've got a couple of meetings already planned to continue those conversations among our front office group and coaching staff to try to look at a variety of different scenarios, not only with Trevor, but with other roster considerations."
• Right-hander Triston McKenzie, ranked as the Indians' No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline (No. 36 in MLB overall), has been left off Double-A Akron's roster for the Eastern League Championship Series due to general fatigue, per Antonetti. McKenzie turned in a 2.68 ERA with 87 strikeouts vs. 28 walks in 90 2/3 innings for Akron this year, following an early-season right forearm issue.
"It's more fatigue than anything else," said Antonetti, who noted that the setback is not arm-related. "We just want to make sure that, if we were going to continue to have him pitch, he'd be at 100 percent. He's probably less than 100 percent right now, so we felt it made the most sense to [let him start his offseason]."
• The Indians are keeping a close eye on the workload of righty Cody Anderson (60-day DL), who only recently began throwing in games in his comeback from Tommy John surgery. Antonetti said that "based upon how his throwing has gone the last week," Anderson might be cleared to pitch for Akron during the upcoming championship series against New Hampshire.