CLEVELAND -- The Indians' starting rotation is set.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona said he talked to Adam Plutko on Tuesday and informed him that he'll begin the season in the bullpen, leaving Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac to serve as the fourth and fifth starters, respectively. Shane Bieber will get the ball on Opening Day, Mike Clevinger will take the rubber on Saturday and Carlos Carrasco will follow on Sunday.
"Well, I think what we're getting is a really mature kid," Francona said of Plutko. "And I think he would prefer to start, and I don't blame him one bit. And I don't think he's done anything to not start or [not] be worthy of starting. I just think the way we're set up right now, we feel it puts our team in the best position to succeed. And he's extremely mature when you give him a message like that, like he's been through everything, through negotiations. The kid's growing up right in front of our eyes. It's fun to watch."
The Indians had been debating whether to use a five- or six-man rotation for the first week or two of the season while rosters are expanded to 30 players, but Francona and his coaching staff decided that having more depth in the bullpen would be more beneficial than an extra man in the rotation.
"Really, up until yesterday, we had discussed it back and forth with a lot of guys," Francona said. "I think we finally fell on the fact that … even though our guys have done a really good job of being stretched out, they're still not quite where you would be in a normal spring, and we want to be able to protect our bullpen. So with a guy that is stretched out some, it really gives us some insurance in the bullpen."
Throughout Summer Camp, the Indians stuck to a five-day rotation that began in the Bieber-Clevinger-Carrasc-Civale order. On the fifth day, both Plutko and Plesac started intrasquad games opposing each other. Because of that, it's been assumed that the two had been competing for the fifth spot since scrimmages began two weeks ago.
In their first outings, Plutko allowed seven runs on 11 hits, while Plesasc permitted three runs on four hits with four strikeouts in five innings. On their next turn through the rotation, Plutko remained at Progressive Field to throw a simulated game, while Plesac got the start at PNC Park in an exhibition game against the Pirates. After Plesac's strong outing, giving up two runs on six with six strikeouts in five frames, he secured his spot in the rotation.
"The thought with six pitchers is if somebody has a hiccup, and it's probably not realistic that somebody won't, then all of a sudden you're burning through your bullpen, and you've got 17 [games] in a row," Francona said. "There's going to be a lot of days early on, guys potentially go back to back, but not much more than that, at least for a while. So we want to divide the workload as much as we can."
Hand inching closer to game-ready
After having to miss a few weeks at the end of last season due to left arm fatigue, having the last few months without a rigorous baseball schedule probably wasn't the worst thing for closer Brad Hand. Even though he's been hit around in a few appearances during Summer Camp, including a homer by Josh Bell in Monday's exhibition game, the Indians are optimistic to see his velocity continuing to increase.
"I think you're seeing him tick up closer to his velocity as we get closer," Francona said. "I think the ball is spinning really good out of his hand. … I mean, how many times with Bryan Shaw did we leave Spring Training and he had a 10.00 ERA and then the season started. I think you're just not gonna see the real guys sometimes, whether it's Spring Training or Spring Training 2.0. They need the lights to be on."
Plan for the rest of the week
The Indians will travel back to Pittsburgh on Wednesday to wrap up the three-game exhibition series against the Pirates. Civale will get the ball and Jordan Luplow is expected to see more time in the outfield after missing the majority of the past two weeks due to back pain. On Thursday, Plesac will head to Lake County to toss four simulated innings against the hitters at Classic Park, while the Indians will host a more generic workout to get ready for the first game of the year on Friday.
"What I'd like to do with the rest of the team is come in at 7 o'clock that night and have a quick, energetic, good workout," Francona said. "You know, get the blood flowing, get your arm loose, take some BP and get out of here."
The Indians will travel to PNC Park to finish a three-game exhibition series against the Pirates on Wednesday. Cleveland has taken victories in the first two games. Civale will get the ball for the series finale in his final tuneup before the regular season gets underway. First pitch is slated for 5:05 p.m. ET, and fans can watch the action live on MLB.TV.