GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It's nearing mid-March and Indians manager Terry Francona is feeling very good about his pitching staff.Aside from the usual wildness and ineffectiveness of early spring in the desert, the probable starting rotation of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Josh Tomlin is fully healthy
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It's nearing mid-March and Indians manager Terry Francona is feeling very good about his pitching staff.
Aside from the usual wildness and ineffectiveness of early spring in the desert, the probable starting rotation of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Josh Tomlin is fully healthy and intact for the first time since last August.
The back end of the bullpen is set with Andrew Miller and Cody Allen together now for a full season. And after months last year working with Miller, Allen is still the closer, Francona said.
Kluber, who has been slow-walked this spring after pitching so deep into the postseason, is the projected starter for the opener April 3 against the Rangers in Texas.
"The way it's set up, if [Kluber] is ready, then he will start," Francona said. "If he needs one more start, then we can adjust."
Although Francona is still looking at a few options in the rotation, "we hope we know who the five guys are," he said.
That's a good thing. From last August on, Salazar was in and out of the rotation, and out for good after Sept. 9 with a right elbow injury. A week later, Carrasco fractured his right hand courtesy of a line drive off the bat of Detroit's Ian Kinsler, and he missed the remainder of the season and postseason.
It left Francona juggling and stop-gapping a three-man rotation of Kluber, Tomlin and Bauer, which he did adroitly until the Indians lost the World Series to the Cubs in Game 7.
"We really didn't have time to think about it," Francona said. "You just line 'em up and keep going."
Without two of their key starters, the Indians ran the table, winning the American League Central title, the AL pennant and had a 3-1 lead in the World Series before Tomlin and Kluber faltered in the final two games at Progressive Field. That meant a lot more work out of the bullpen for Miller, Allen and Bryan Shaw.
Kluber won Games 1 and 4, but the Cubs finally got to him, scoring four runs on six hits and knocking him out after four innings of Game 7. William Fowler opened that game with a homer to dead center.
The right-hander started Game 7 on three days' rest. It was Nov. 2. Kluber threw 215 innings last regular season and 34 1/3 in the postseason.
Thus, Francona and his pitching coach Mickey Callaway have been trying to balance the need to ease Kluber into the season, while giving more work to Carrasco and Salazar simply because they need it.
"We just wanted to manage innings and intensity of innings for Kluber, Allen and Shaw," Francona said. "We're trying to balance the amount of innings they pitched last year and the amount we want them to pitch this year, we hope, without wasting valuable innings. In Mickey's mind, having Carrasco and Salazar throw a lot more innings in the spring is a good thing. Because they missed some time, that's part of his plan. And for guys like Kluber, who really got extended, cut him back a little bit."
Thus far, Salazar has walked eight batters in 6 1/3 innings, a minor cause of concern. Carrasco struggled early in Cactus League action, but he came up with a gem on Wednesday, tossing three scoreless innings against Seattle. Kluber made his first start on Monday against Milwaukee and gave up six earned runs on eight hits in 2 1/3 innings.
Hey, it's early, too early to worry about it with everyone healthy.
"We have our guys back now and we're trying to get them situated for the season," Francona said. "To this point, we've had some normal hiccups. We have had some bouts with wildness, of working behind in the count. And it's OK. I'm not sure right now that you want pitchers, especially the veterans, to already be locked in. As much as you hate to see them get hit around, you want them to be working toward being ready for Opening Day."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.