CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona has been hesitant to call on his Triple-A prospects, who are in the middle of making a postseason run. Even though he said that a recent MRI for Brad Hand wasn’t the determining factor to turn to prospect James Karinchak, it certainly presented the
CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona has been hesitant to call on his Triple-A prospects, who are in the middle of making a postseason run. Even though he said that a recent MRI for Brad Hand wasn’t the determining factor to turn to prospect James Karinchak, it certainly presented the Tribe with a big need in the bullpen.
The Indians announced prior to Friday’s series opener against the Twins that the club selected Karinchak’s contract and recalled outfielder Bradley Zimmer from Triple-A. To make room for Karinchak on the 40-man roster, the Tribe designated Josh Smith for assignment.
Karinchak got off to a hot start on the year, owning a 0.00 ERA through his first 13 Minor League appearances (10 with Double-A, three with Triple-A). The right-handed reliever racked up 32 strikeouts in 13 innings during that span before a hamstring injury sidelined him until the end of July.
“They say he really competes really well, like he’s not gonna back down from anybody,” Francona said. “I think that’s kind of obvious when you look at the numbers. There’s some things that we don’t know about him because they haven’t happened yet. That’s not his fault. You talk about the running game, fielding his position. When guys don’t hit it, it’s hard to blame the kid. He’s striking everybody out. Is that gonna play, how’s it gonna play here? There’s one way to find out.”
When he returned to Columbus, Karinchak struggled at first, allowing three earned runs in his first game back without recording an out. After working out the kinks through his first four appearances off the injured list, he posted a 1.76 ERA since the beginning of August, allowing three earned runs in 15 1/3 innings, including 3 1/3 scoreless frames in the Triple-A postseason. In 30 1/3 Minor League innings this year, he’s struck out 74 batters.
“I mean, I’m just trying to get outs and trying to execute pitches,” Karinchak said. “If I execute pitches, they usually don’t hit them.”
For an Indians bullpen that seems to be running out of gas in the final weeks of the season, Karinchak could be a much-needed boost to help the team secure a spot in the postseason. Entering play on Friday, the Tribe sat 3 1/2 games out of the American League Central standings and were a half-game back of the second AL Wild Card spot. Hand, the team’s closer, was sent home from its series in Los Angeles a day early to get an MRI on his fatigued throwing arm, though the results came back clear.
“The reason we’ve got him now is there’s 15 games left,” Francona said. “That potentially gives us a chance to pitch him in a couple games, maybe not with the bases loaded and two outs, that type of situation. To see if he could possibly help us down the stretch. At worst, what it does is it gives us a read on where this kid is going into Spring Training. … And again, that’s at worst. Maybe this kid comes up and gets everybody out. We’ll see."
According to MLB Pipeline, Karinchak is the Indians’ No. 21-ranked prospect after beginning the year rated No. 30 overall. Here’s how the Pipeline experts break down the right-hander’s stuff:
“Karinchak misses bats with two pitches that play well off of each other. He has a 95-98 mph fastball with riding life that he can throw by hitters at their letters, and a 12-to-6 curveball that he can get them to chase out of the bottom of the zone. He also threw a changeup/splitter as a starter but doesn't use it much while coming out of the bullpen.”
Hand out for Minnesota series
Hand said he felt good playing catch last Friday and Saturday in Minnesota, but when the team arrived in California, he realized he wasn’t bouncing back as well as he would’ve liked.
“I think on Sunday, I felt OK, but still should feel great,” Hand said. “I hadn’t been pitching often, wasn’t bouncing back. My arm [slot has] kind of been dropping for no reason, really. So just wanted to get it checked out and make sure everything was all right.”
Fortunately for the Indians, the 29-year-old lefty underwent an MRI that revealed nothing more than a tired arm. However, Hand has taken the last few days off from throwing and will not pick up a ball again until Sunday to make sure he doesn’t make anything worse.
“Leading up to that they’re obviously doing a bunch in the training room,” Francona said. “The idea is that when he picks a ball up again, we want him to feel great. He’s kind of champing at the bit, which is a great sign. But the medical people really feel strongly that if we want him to be good, this is the way to do it. So sometimes you have to sit back and abide by their knowledge and respect that.”
Zimmer is back on the big league roster for the first time since June of 2018. He underwent season-ending right shoulder surgery last July and suffered a setback with his oblique days before Opening Day. The 26-year-old was sent on a rehab assignment on Aug. 20 and hit .309 with a .966 OPS in 22 Minor League games –- split between Rookie ball, Double-A and Triple-A –- including seven postseason games for the Columbus Clippers.
“More than likely off the bench,” Francona said of how Zimmer will be used. “Utilize his speed. Saying that, I’ve said a lot of things and then a day later, somebody’s hurt. But more than likely [he'll] come off the bench and try to help us with his speed.”
Kluber and Ramirez make strides
• Corey Kluber, who’s been sidelined since straining his oblique in his Aug. 18 Minor League rehab start, played catch at 60 feet for the first time on Friday.
“That’s a long way from pitching, but it’s a very good step,” Francona said.
• After undergoing surgery on the hamate bone in his right hand on Aug. 26, José Ramirez was out taking ground balls Friday afternoon. Francona was hesitant to discuss when Ramirez could begin swinging again, but the skipper did say Ramirez is already able to grip a bat.
Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.