CLEVELAND -- The Indians will carry a depleted rotation into the American League Championship Series against the Blue Jays, their starting group so bruised and battered by injuries that manager Terry Francona is considering a bullpen game when the clubs meet Tuesday in Toronto for Game 4.
Without Carlos Carrasco (fractured hand) and Danny Salazar (strained forearm), Francona will have to get creative when attempting to find answers to the question he posed on Thursday on the eve of Game 1 at Progressive Field (Friday at 8 p.m. ET on TBS in the U.S., Sportsnet and RDS in Canada): "How do we win four games before they do?"
Ace Corey Kluber hopes to make things easy for the Indians on Friday, just as he did last week when outpitching Red Sox ace David Price with ease in Game 2 of the AL Division Series. Kluber fired seven scoreless innings despite throwing on extended rest because of a groin injury.
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Kluber's gritty performance, which featured just three Boston hits next to seven strikeouts, offered relief in more than one way: a taxed bullpen was afforded needed rest, while the Indians were reassured of Kluber's health.
"It was huge, just to make sure he was healthy," said right-hander Josh Tomlin, who will start for the Tribe in Game 2 (Saturday at 4 p.m.). "I think everybody in the league knows what kind of pitcher he is when he's healthy. What I don't think people really understand is how much of a gamer he is. He wants to be out there. He doesn't ever want a break. If he could pitch every other day, he probably would.
"Just seeing him being healthy and that quad issue or whatever it was, that his leg was OK, I think that bodes well for us no matter who we're facing. To have a guy like that -- to me, a premier, one of the best, if not the best pitcher in the American League, possibly in the whole league -- to be healthy is huge for us."
The 30-year-old Kluber, who will be opposed by proven postseason performer Marco Estrada in the ALCS opener, has been one of the game's best pitchers four seasons running. The 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner tallied 18 wins for the Indians with a 3.14 ERA, while quietly continuing his dominance.
So often, it goes unnoticed -- just the way a typically stoic Kluber likes it.
"What you see is what you get," Indians reliever Dan Otero said. "On and off the field, he sets a great example. He gets here early, works his butt off. He's one of the hardest workers we have and goes about his business the right way, and everybody kind of looks up to him in that regard. He doesn't say much, but that's just kind of the way he is. He doesn't need to talk much to be a leader. He's mild-mannered, but I think that helps him on the mound, and I don't think he wants the notoriety."
Kluber, courtesy of a nasty cutter, routinely stymies right-handed batters, as they hit just .208 against him during the regular season. The Blue Jays have a lot of righty bats, yet they're one of a few teams to enjoy success against Kluber this year, tagging him for five runs on seven hits while drawing four walks in just 3 1/3 innings at Rogers Centre on July 3. Six weeks later, in a rematch staged in Cleveland, Kluber yet again issued four walks, but he was able to limit the damage to two runs across 6 2/3 innings, while fanning eight.
"They're a solid lineup, one through nine," Kluber said. "It's not just two, three, four guys that can hurt you. Everybody in that lineup can hurt you. They have a lot of power, but they're also patient. You have to go out there and execute pitches. There's not really a magic formula. Just like what we asked about with Boston, it's not a magic formula, they're just a really good offense."
"Corey's an ace," Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "We just have to put those playoff at-bats on him, which is working the count. He's going to come right after you. Have to be ready for the battle. Try to get some timely hits."
Kluber's velocity dipped from its customary levels in his ALDS start, but not enough to warrant concern. He downplayed the variation, as did Francona, noting the 10-day layoff could have played a factor in Kluber's four-seam fastball velocity, which was down to 93.4 mph from 95.5 in his final regular-season start on Sept. 26. Kluber experienced the slightest of drops in speed on other pitches, too, but his movement was tremendous.
A similar approach will prove paramount on Friday, when Kluber goes on six days' rest.
"If I can go out there and give the team seven innings," Kluber said, "I'm not really concerned with how hard I'm throwing."
"We expect a lot from him," lefty reliever Andrew Miller said. "It's tough to be in that situation. When he goes out to pitch, I feel like the team, the fans, the front office, everybody is expecting big things out of him. To carry that weight is not easy. He does such a good job of it. He's so even-keeled, and his attitude is so focused that I think it explains why he's had success with that pressure. He's prepared and incredibly talented, and it all adds up to who he is."