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Checking in on the Indians' potential rotation

@MandyBell02
February 29, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Carlos Carrasco’s much anticipated return as a starter may finally be in sight. After being sidelined with a mild right hip flexor strain, the right-hander threw live batting practice on Friday and, assuming he continues to bounce back well, he’ll make his spring debut on Tuesday against

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Carlos Carrasco’s much anticipated return as a starter may finally be in sight. After being sidelined with a mild right hip flexor strain, the right-hander threw live batting practice on Friday and, assuming he continues to bounce back well, he’ll make his spring debut on Tuesday against the Angels at Goodyear Ballpark.

Carrasco missed three months of the regular season last year while he battled leukemia and returned to the mound as a reliever in September. After having a normal offseason, the 32-year-old was ready to slide back into the starting rotation before he suffered his hip flexor setback. Even though he’s ready to make his first start, those hoping for Carrasco to be the Opening Day starter after his incredible journey last year may be out of luck.

Because Tuesday marks the halfway point of Spring Training, it’s reasonable to wonder whether he’ll have enough time to build himself up to be ready for the start of the season. Indians manager Terry Francona said he believes that Carrasco will be good to go, but was hesitant to say it confidently.

“I mean, we’re going to run up against how stretched out a few of these guys are,” Francona said. “It’ll be interesting. I don’t think that -- if I sat here and said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to get guys out to 100 pitches,’ that wouldn’t be true.”

The Indians certainly don’t want to rush their starters back, but because of a few bumps and bruises this spring, they could find themselves in a difficult position. Here’s a quick refresher on the Tribe’s rotation injuries:

Mike Clevinger partially tore the meniscus in his left knee on the second day of camp while doing agility drills. He underwent surgery on Feb. 14 and was given a six- to eight-week timetable. However, on Friday -- just two weeks later -- he began a throwing program to keep his arm built up throughout his recovery.

Aaron Civale has been dealing with a sore groin and threw a two-inning simulated game on Saturday morning. His first start in Cactus League action is still to be determined.

• Carrasco sustained his hip flexor strain while squatting during a workout on Feb. 19.

Potential rotations

Let’s look at the absolute perfect scenario. If Clevinger only needs six weeks to return to the mound, he could be back during the first week of the season. The Indians could also plug Carrasco and Civale at the back end of the rotation to make sure they have enough time to build up their arms over the final three weeks of camp. If this would play out, the Indians could end up having their top five starters despite all the hurdles they’ve gone through in Goodyear, including Shane Bieber, Adam Plutko, Clevinger, Carrasco and Zach Plesac/Civale.

If Clevinger isn’t cleared for the start of the year, the rotation then could sport both Plesac and Civale to join Plutko -- who is out of options -- Bieber and Carrasco.

Pressure on the young arms

There is a situation where Carrasco, Clevinger and/or Civale aren’t quite ready to rush back into the cold temperatures of Cleveland at the end of March and beginning of April, putting pressure on the young hurlers in camp.

The Indians have been flush with starting pitching depth over the last few years and with all the excitement that’s surrounded No. 9 prospect Triston McKenzie, many have wondered if he’ll be able to compete for a spot. But the righty will need to get some games under his belt in the Minors before he’s able to be in that conversation. McKenzie missed the entire 2019 season with upper back and lat strains and has yet to advance to game action this spring. The 22-year-old could be someone the Indians call on in the second half of the year.

That leaves Scott Moss, Logan Allen and Jefry Rodriguez as the top candidates remaining in camp. Allen got off to a slow start this spring, allowing two earned runs in one-third of an inning in his first appearance. Then, on Friday, he started to see better results in his second inning of work.

Rodriguez has allowed four runs in three frames thus far, while Moss gave up his first runs of the spring on Saturday on a two-run homer after tossing 1 2/3 scoreless frames in his first outing. With just three weeks remaining until camp breaks and so many question marks still left regarding the rotation, these three young hurlers will garner a lot of attention.

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