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Francona's pitching moves backfire in loss

MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- The plan did not work in the end, but the blueprint was certainly recognizable. In a potential preview of American League Division Series opponents, Indians manager Terry Francona used his pitching staff in a postseason-like manner against the Twins on Tuesday night.

Minnesota prevailed with an 8-6 win -- one highlighted by a three-run homer by Brian Dozier in the eighth inning -- but the game served as a trial run of sorts for the AL Central-champion Tribe. After Josh Tomlin exited an abbreviated start, Francona leaned on converted reliever Mike Clevinger to help bridge the gap to the late-inning arms.

Full Game Coverage

CLEVELAND -- The plan did not work in the end, but the blueprint was certainly recognizable. In a potential preview of American League Division Series opponents, Indians manager Terry Francona used his pitching staff in a postseason-like manner against the Twins on Tuesday night.

Minnesota prevailed with an 8-6 win -- one highlighted by a three-run homer by Brian Dozier in the eighth inning -- but the game served as a trial run of sorts for the AL Central-champion Tribe. After Josh Tomlin exited an abbreviated start, Francona leaned on converted reliever Mike Clevinger to help bridge the gap to the late-inning arms.

Full Game Coverage

"Ideally, if we could set it up," pitching coach Mickey Callaway said, "we would have been able to do something like this this week. So the opportunity presented itself, and I think [Francona] managed the bullpen like he would have in a playoff game."

The formula should have looked familiar for Indians fans.

During the Indians' run to the World Series last fall, the team's starters logged fewer than five innings in eight of the team's 15 postseason games. One instance was due to injury and a few others were short-rest situations for the starters, but the rest of the usage was mostly by design.

Francona showed an extreme willingness to leverage his best bullpen arms, to the point where the relievers logged nearly as many frames (64 2/3) as the rotation (69 1/3). Armed with a lead in the middle innings, the Indians did not hesitate to ring the bullpen's phone.

Tuesday's scenario? Tomlin struggled out of the gate, forcing Francona's hand, and from the fourth inning on, it felt as though Francona was reacting the way he would in a playoff setting.

"It could be, yeah," Francona said.

Specifically, Francona had left-hander Tyler Olson (1 1/3 innings) and Clevinger (one inning) hold things in check until relief ace Andrew Miller was summoned. When the Indians struck for a run in the sixth to take a 5-4 lead, the plan looked to be working to perfection. Miller entered for the seventh, struck out the side around a pair of singles and looked very much like the overpowering pitcher who stalked batters last October.

Video: MIN@CLE: Miller strikes out Kepler and strands two

"The stuff was good," Callaway said. "The break on the slider. Obviously, the velo was there. He felt really good. You could just see it -- the conviction behind the pitches, the way he was using his body. It was really good, very encouraging."

And then the plan backfired.

Setup man Bryan Shaw took over in the eighth and struck out Byron Buxton, then the game unraveled in a span of three batters. Jason Castro and Robbie Grossman hit consecutive singles to center, then Dozier drilled a cutter low in the strike zone out to right-center for his three-run shot. Dozier pumped his fist repeatedly as he tore around the bases.

Francona still saw positives within the defeat, one of which was the outing from Clevinger, who excelled as a starter this season but was moved to the bullpen to give the Indians "another weapon" for the postseason. Clevinger had two strikeouts in his one shutout inning of work.

"The ultimate goal is to win the World Series," Callaway said. "Last year we had three starters, and they were worn out by the end. If we go to four starters, [and] if we have Mike Clevinger in the bullpen, it gives us a better chance to complete our ultimate goal."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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