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Inbox: What's Plan B with Clevinger injured?

@MandyBell02
February 25, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The first two weeks of Spring Training are in the books. In that span, Mike Clevinger underwent surgery to repair a partial meniscus tear in his left knee, the Indians dodged a big bullet when Carlos Carrasco’s MRI revealed just a mild right hip flexor strain, Franmil

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The first two weeks of Spring Training are in the books. In that span, Mike Clevinger underwent surgery to repair a partial meniscus tear in his left knee, the Indians dodged a big bullet when Carlos Carrasco’s MRI revealed just a mild right hip flexor strain, Franmil Reyes put his power on full display and Francisco Lindor showed that not all players get rusty over the offseason.

Over the next four weeks, the Indians have a lot more to figure out. Let’s take a look at a few questions they will have to answer before Opening Day:

With Clevinger out at least the start of the season, how does the rotation look to line up for the first month of the season?
-- @JakobClaesson

Clevinger’s surgery was on Feb. 14, and he was expected to need six to eight weeks to return to Major League game activity. The six-week mark will be March 27, which is the day after Opening Day. The right-hander is hoping to beat the timetable to be back for the start of the season. If he doesn’t, he still would be expected back within the first three weeks of the season, which means he’d miss three or four starts. In that case, the rotation could consist of Shane Bieber, Carrasco, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale and Adam Plutko out of the gate.

Do you expect Triston McKenzie to get a good look for the Major League squad this year?
-- @lariccia4

Because Triston McKenzie missed all of last season with upper back and lat strains, he’ll need some time in the Minors before he would get called up to the big leagues. The 22-year-old righty has made only 16 starts at Double-A and has yet to reach Triple-A Columbus. Once he gets a few reps under his belt and makes a few starts for Columbus, then he’ll be back in the conversation for the Tribe.

When will we see Nolan Jones hit the field?
-- @JiggyCLE

When Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti was asked at the Winter Meetings in December if Nolan Jones was playing a role in his decision to either leave José Ramírez at third base or move him to second, he said the 21-year-old wasn’t.

“At some point he could,” Antonetti said. “But for our offseason planning, that’s not a primary consideration.”

The Indians extended Jones a non-roster invitation to big league camp on Monday, and manager Terry Francona’s message to him was to have fun and learn as much as he can in his time around the big league club. It’s likely Jones could play a role for the Tribe in 2021.

What are the chances Bradley Zimmer makes the Opening Day roster?
-- @Angelo7266

As of now, his chances are low. Outfielder Bradley Zimmer missed the majority of last season because of shoulder and oblique injuries. He might not have played enough games in the Minors or with the Tribe after he began his rehab assignment in August to be able to break camp with the Indians in four weeks. He’ll probably start the year in Triple-A.

Who will be the starting outfielders on Opening Day?
-- @JoeyJumpoff23

Right now, Oscar Mercado is the only guarantee. It’s early, but it seems like the Indians really want to keep Reyes in left and put Domingo Santana at DH. In that case, a way-too-early projection of the Opening Day outfield could be Mercado CF, Reyes LF and Jordan Luplow RF (especially if a lefty is on the mound).

Do you think the 26th roster spot will be used for a third catcher, a revolving reliever spot or something else?
-- @jbigkaz

Because rules now state that teams cannot carry more than 13 pitchers on a roster, the final spot on the 26-man roster will have to go to a position player. A third catcher could be in consideration, but it’s more likely that the vacancy will go to either an infielder or an outfielder. The Indians have 10 outfielders on the 40-man roster and Jake Bauers’ versatility to play outfield and first base could help him secure the final spot. The team also has the option to carry both Christian Arroyo and Mike Freeman if they want another infielder. Freeman isn’t on the 40-man roster, but because he’ll see time at all four infield positions and the outfield this spring, it’ll be hard to ignore the versatility he could bring.

With César Hernández seeing time as a leadoff hitter in Philadelphia last year, is Francona open to the idea of having him lead off and moving Lindor down to the middle of the order?
-- @AndyMees216

Francona has said he’s open to anything. Over the next four weeks, his plan is to talk to his staff and players to bounce some ideas around about the order of the lineup, and Lindor has already said he’s open to change. A handful of players could be in that mix, including César Hernández and Delino DeShields.

“When somebody asked about it, it wasn’t like a front burner like I’m dying to move Frankie,” Francona said. “I said I’m always open to discussing any way we can get better. It’s not my plan just to move him out of there. I like the idea of him hitting first because he gets to hit a lot more times -- and when we turn the lineup over, he’s sitting there.”

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.