How can Indians weather Ramirez's absence?

Beat reporter Mandy Bell answers questions from fans

August 26th, 2019

CLEVELAND -- The Indians are anxiously waiting to hear from the doctor in New York who will be performing Jose Ramirez’s surgery on his fractured right hamate bone later on Monday afternoon. Once the procedure is complete, they will have a better idea of how long their third baseman will be away.

Whether Ramirez could return for the playoffs remains to be seen, but his extended absence would leave a gaping hole in the Indians’ lineup. Just how much does losing the former American League MVP candidate hurt the Tribe? What other questions are left entering the final month of regular season play? Let’s take a look in this week’s Inbox:

It’s no secret that the Indians have tremendous starting pitching depth, and they were forced to put it on full display after losing (fractured right forearm, oblique strain), (upper back strain), (leukemia) and Trevor Bauer (traded at the Trade Deadline) at different points throughout the year.

Yu Chang made a strong first impression on Sunday, going 2-for-3 with a triple, but as Indians manager Terry Francona said prior to the game, Chang has been streaky in the Minor Leagues this year. But when he’s hot, he’s been pretty impressive. Only time will tell if the club can once again be saved by its farm system.

Despite Chang’s production, Ramirez is a tremendous loss. His bat started to heat up in June and it never cooled off. Since June 14, he was hitting .313 with a 1.003 OPS, 16 home runs, 54 RBIs and 22 doubles in 60 games, and his worth to his club cannot be overstated. The Indians are 38-7 in games that Ramirez recorded an RBI, while going 38-47 in contests he did not. So, yes, they’ve overcome plenty of adversity this season, but this one may be more challenging to work through than the injuries to the pitching staff.

Jefry Rodriguez has been on the injured list since June 4 with a right shoulder strain and began his rehab assignment on Aug. 16 in Arizona. He’s since made two appearances with Double-A Akron and could work his way back into the Indians’ bullpen when the rosters expand in September. But because it’s already mid-August, the team didn’t think it would make sense to take more time to stretch him out as a starter. In his last two outings, he’s combined to allow one run -- a solo homer -- on two hits with three strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings.

The Indians bumped the start date of Bradley Zimmer’s rehab assignment back so that it would line up perfectly with Sept. 1. That seems like a pretty good indication that he’ll be back with the big league team when the rosters expand to 40 players.

It’s important to note that this will be the final year that teams can add up to 40 players when the calendar flips to September. Beginning in 2019, MLB is going with 26-man rosters (as opposed to 25) from Opening Day through August, and a 28-man roster in the final month of the regular season.

Aside from Carrasco, Dan Otero (right shoulder inflammation), Zimmer, Rodriguez and possibly Tyler Olson (shingles) -- who could all be back in the Tribe’s clubhouse next month -- there are a few other players who could make appearances at the big league level. The biggest one to keep an eye on is James Karinchak.

The 23-year-old reliever turned plenty of heads at the beginning of the year, owning a 0.00 ERA through his first 13 outings. But then a strained hamstring sidelined the righty on May 13 and, after his return, he took a few games to get back into form. After two three-run appearances in July, Karinchak has given up two runs in his last eight innings (2.25 ERA).

Other pitching help could come from Logan Allen, Jon Edwards and Josh Smith. It’s also likely that Jake Bauers could re-join the team after getting sent down to Triple-A on Aug. 1 to make room for Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes. Since joining Columbus, Bauers has hit .270 with an .839 OPS, three homers, 13 RBIs and 22 strikeouts in 20 games.

I’m not exactly sure the timetable of this question, but there’s no doubt the Indians think extremely highly of Nolan Jones. The team’s No. 1 overall prospect, as ranked by MLB Pipeline, represented the Tribe at this year’s SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game and was promoted from Class A Advanced to Double-A right after the Midsummer Classic.

In 2019, the 21-year-old has hit .273 with an .850 OPS, 14 homers, 61 RBIs with 141 strikeouts in 119 Minor League games. As his scouting report on MLB Pipeline reads, he’s working to increase his range at third base to back his strong arm. If he can’t, he could be a first baseman or corner outfielder. However, he has a chance to get his first look at the big leagues as soon as 2020.