Notes: Closing plans; Plesac vs. Santana

Karinchak, Clase and Wittgren expected to get save chances

March 29th, 2021

It looks like the Indians won’t be naming a closer prior to Opening Day.

After the Tribe decided against picking up Brad Hand’s $10 million option for 2021, it was assumed that would be his successor after his outlandish strikeout-per-nine innings ratio of 17.7 in '20. However, the club seems to be leaning toward a closer-by-committee approach.

“We talked to [Emmanuel] Clase, [Nick] Wittgren and Karinchak about how if we have a lead late in the game, depending on how we get there, those three, we’ll certainly look to get the ball to,” Indians manager Terry Francona said on Sunday. “The other thing we talked to them about is because there’s so many days off early on, you want to keep workloads kind of even. So, there may be times they will pitch even when we’re losing.”

Karinchak has had a rocky spring camp, but Francona was hesitant to name one person as the Tribe’s closer from the start. Cleveland's skipper voiced multiple times that he likes the flexibility of being able to turn to his best reliever -- whoever that ends up being -- in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning, depending on when the most dire situation is during a game.

So despite Karinchak’s struggles during Spring Training, the Indians may have gone in this direction, regardless. But his inconsistencies could’ve made it easier to lean this way. In 11 Cactus League games, Karinchak owned a 6.52 ERA with 19 strikeouts and 10 walks in 9 2/3 innings.

“I’ve said it multiple times, his stuff is really good,” Francona said. “Just the more he commands the strike zone -- he doesn’t even have to command; he just needs to throw strikes. His stuff is really good.”

When Bryan Shaw reported to camp as a non-roster invitee, he said he wanted to factor into the closer decision. Even though he made the team, Clase, Wittgren and Karinchak will handle the majority of the save opportunities. But the Indians are still hoping for Shaw to fill a key role.

“Bryan is gonna work his way into, I hope, being that wild-card guy,” Francona said. “We’ve always had one guy that you can kind of maneuver around that kind of makes your bullpen look a lot better.”

Santana takes Plesac deep
On Saturday, the Indians had some fun matchups against Trevor Bauer. In Monday’s 5-4 loss to the Royals, Carlos Santana joined in on the fun.

While a second homer wasn’t something Zach Plesac wanted to surrender, he said if it was going to happen, he was glad it was his former teammate, Santana. Plesac had never faced Santana before, including his time in Spring Training last year.

“I didn’t want to look him in the eyes at first,” Plesac said. “I didn’t know if it was like, 'We were cool,' or if it was kind of like keep-your-distance kind of feel. But it was cool to see him give a head nod and me give it back. Just the respect. It was just fun facing him.”

Reyes gets a chance in right
If you ask Franmil Reyes, he’d much prefer to be in right field than strictly be a designated hitter. However, the Indians limited his reps in the field because of an ankle sprain before camp started.

The Tribe knew he wouldn’t be a starting option in the outfield, but the hope was that he could go out there a handful of times -- including against National League teams to keep his bat in the lineup. But when the outfield position battles started to heat up, it was difficult to find time to get him innings. Now that the roster is set, Reyes got his first chance at playing right field on Monday.

“I don't know what's going to happen,” Francona said. “We play Cincinnati early on. I don't know quite what we'll do, but I didn't think it would be fair to Franmil to throw him out in a game without letting him play a game in the outfield here.”

Plans for rotation
We now know that Logan Allen will pitch in the fourth game of the regular season, which happens to be the Tribe’s home opener on Monday against the Royals. The Indians just have to determine if Allen will start or piggyback off an opener (who could be Triston McKenzie).

The Tribe will utilize a four-man rotation until April 13 against the White Sox. Cleveland will use the next two weeks to determine whether McKenzie or Cal Quantrill is the best option to take the fifth spot. The other will remain in the bullpen.

“Triston’s had a little bit tougher camp,” Francona said. “We’ve talked about possibly splitting that game, because we’re also looking at coming off of what we came off of, 60 games, and Triston has only pitched in, what, the last two-and-a-half years, maybe 40 innings? So there are some things to think about. Ultimately, the No. 1 thing is to win. But we’re trying to also balance workload with certain guys and then competitive advantage is the other one.

“When we get to the 13th, we want to be able to pitch whoever we want and I include Quantrill in that, too. We’re gonna try to -- I’m guessing that first 10 games, there will be a game or two where we can stretch him out, which will be really good.”