CLEVELAND -- Four days after the Indians dealt away one of their best starting pitchers in Trevor Bauer, their key potential rotation reinforcement stepped to the mound at Progressive Field on Saturday afternoon and fired away.
Corey Kluber’s “outing” was only two innings, and it was a simulated session against some batters who had temporarily trekked north on I-77 from Double-A Akron. But it was major progress for the Indians’ ace, and it was possibly the final step before Kluber begins a Minor League rehab assignment.
Assuming Kluber’s once-fractured right forearm and body respond well to Saturday’s roughly 35-pitch sim game over the next couple days, he will be on a Minor League mound Thursday at a to-be-determined location (though Triple-A Columbus is the only nearby affiliate at home that day).
“Obviously, I can’t snap my fingers and be back to where I want it to be,” Kluber said. “But it's not that different from the offseason, where you progress to live BPs and stuff. It’s a progression, and it’s not a finished product by any means right now, but before too long, it will be.”
Kluber hasn’t pitched in a game since May 1, when a comebacker struck him in Miami and threatened the rest of his 2019 season. Fortunately for the Indians, Kluber’s recovery from the non-displaced fracture has gone smooth so far, and the club feels that the work he has put in to maintain his strong lower half should pay dividends as he progresses back to game activity.
On Saturday, Kluber’s fastball sat around 88 or 89 mph, per manager Terry Francona, which is obviously shy of Kluber’s ordinary velocity, but was considered a strong first step for a side session.
“I was kinda surprised [Kluber] was actually at that point, just because the lack of what he’s been doing for three months,” Francona said. “His breaking ball at times looked really good. He got under some pitches, which I think is expected.”
How many Minor League starts Kluber would require for reactivation will be determined as he progresses.
“He has time to perfect his craft, which he's really good at,” Francona said, “and we need to give him that time.”
Kluber said that he is throwing his entire repertoire with no hesitation.
“I’m just trying,” he said, “to not look at it as a big picture, but trying, for my sanity, to break it into smaller pieces and accomplish those pieces and then move on to the next one.”
Salazar has 'mild' groin strain
The MRI on Salazar’s injured right groin came back with a mild diagnosis. Francona announced that Salazar will head to Tampa, Fla., to rehab the injury with a trainer recruited by the Tribe’s head athletic trainer, James Quinlan.
In other words, Salazar won’t be with the big league club or back at the Indians’ facility in Arizona, where he has spent so much time the last two years that teammates and Tribe employees jokingly refer to him as the “Mayor of Goodyear.”
Given the ongoing complexity of getting Salazar in a position where he and his body can be trusted for consistent innings at the big league level, it appears that his 2019 campaign would be in jeopardy. The four innings that Salazar pitched against the Astros on Thursday were the only innings that he’s pitched over the last two years -- a period in which the Tribe has been on the hook to pay him a total of $9.5 million.
Minutiae of the day
• The Indians are not sure when to expect word on whether Yasiel Puig’s three-game suspension for his involvement in a brawl between the Reds and Pirates on the night that he was traded will be upheld or altered.
“That’s a hard one, because you’re kind of at [MLB’s] mercy,” Francona said. “I don’t mean that in a bad way. But sometimes it depends on what’s going on in the league or if they’re backed up.”
• With Jake Bauers dispatched to Triple-A earlier this week, utility man Mike Freeman is now the Indians’ backup first baseman, with catcher Kevin Plawecki also an option.
Francona does not consider newly acquired designated hitter Franmil Reyes an option at first.
“I don’t ever want to say never, but he’s only been there a time or two, and it’s been in blowout games,” Francona said. “I don’t think that’s probably his first choice. I think we’re better suited to DH him now and work with him in the outfield and try to make him the best outfielder we can.”
• Infielder Eric Stamets, who was designated for assignment earlier this week and went unclaimed, was outrighted to Columbus.