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Bullpen day backfires in Indians' loss to Sox

MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- The Indians will not need a five-man rotation in the playoffs. The only problem right now is that the calendar has not yet flipped to October, Cleveland lacks a fifth starter and the team has yet to officially punch its ticket to the postseason dance.

The situation has left Indians manager Terry Francona a few pieces short in a complicated pitching puzzle. To date, Francona has found ways to navigate around the gaping hole in his rotation. On Saturday night, though, circumstances caught up with Cleveland in an 8-1 loss to the White Sox, and cost the Tribe a chance to clinch a postseason berth.

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CLEVELAND -- The Indians will not need a five-man rotation in the playoffs. The only problem right now is that the calendar has not yet flipped to October, Cleveland lacks a fifth starter and the team has yet to officially punch its ticket to the postseason dance.

The situation has left Indians manager Terry Francona a few pieces short in a complicated pitching puzzle. To date, Francona has found ways to navigate around the gaping hole in his rotation. On Saturday night, though, circumstances caught up with Cleveland in an 8-1 loss to the White Sox, and cost the Tribe a chance to clinch a postseason berth.

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The Indians' magic number now sits at two, putting Cleveland in position to potentially celebrate an American League Central championship on Sunday at Progressive Field.

"They've done the best job they could have," said Indians catcher Chris Gimenez, referring to how Francona has handled the fifth spot. "Nobody really plans to lose two of your five starters in 10 days. Thankfully, it did happen in September, where we have plenty of people to kind of come up and fill that role. I think it's a little unconventional, obviously, and it also might not be ideal to have bullpen days every fifth day."

The two sidelined starters are Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. Salazar has resumed throwing after sustained a forearm injury earlier this month, but he will return as a reliever in the playoffs, if he returns at all. Carrasco is done for the year with a non-displaced fracture in his right hand. The injuries have whittled the starting staff down to Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger.

For the fifth spot, Francona has asked his army of bullpen arms to assume the necessary innings. On Saturday, right-hander Cody Anderson started and worked two innings, and was followed by Jeff Manship, Kyle Crockett, Perci Garner, Shawn Armstrong, Joseph Colon, Austin Adams and Adam Plutko. That cast includes four rookies, including Plutko, who made his Major League debut in the loss.

That approach has worked this year, but it backfired on Saturday. The White Sox scored twice in the first, and continued to spread the game apart as the night wore on. Six of the eight runs came between the fifth and eighth innings.

"The parts can reach," Francona said of the bullpen-day approach. "They didn't tonight, but that doesn't mean it won't."

The fifth spot will come around again for the Indians on Saturday in Detroit.

Saturday marked the seventh time this season that Francona has used eight or more pitches in a game. Four of those have come within September, with three being planned bullpen days. The other occurrence this month came on Sept. 17, when Carrasco exited with injury after two pitches and the bullpen combined for 10 shutout innings in a walk-off win over Detroit.

In the game Cleveland lost Carrasco, the club set a Major League record for pitchers used (nine) in a shutout. In Saturday's loss to the White Sox, the Indians set a franchise record for most players used (24) in a game. It represented the most players used in a game by the Tribe since May 3, 1952, when 23 players made an appearance against Washington.

"You know what? That's kind of what September baseball's all about," Gimenez said. "You get a lot of the younger guys an opporunity to come in and play a little bit, even if it's for an inning or two, or an at-bat. You can never take something like that for granted, because you never know when your last day in the big leagues is going to be."

Of course, September is also about clinching postseason spots, and champagne celebrations.

The Indians are hoping to enjoy that experience on Sunday.

"That would be ideal for us, to be able to clinch in front of everybody here," Gimenez said. "There's no extra pressure. We just know we have to continue to win. Honestly, too, if and when we do clinch, we still have the best record in the league on our minds. That's something that's definitely within reach. We just have to continue to go out and play and win and let the chips fall where they may."

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 listen to his podcast.

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

Cleveland Indians, Cody Anderson