ANAHEIM -- The Indians know exactly what they have to do in September if they want to get to October: win, win and win. They did just that in their series against the Angels at Angel Stadium, completing a sweep with a 4-3 win on Wednesday -- even without closer Brad Hand available.
Hand, who’s been dealing with what manager Terry Francona described as a “tired arm,” was sent back to Cleveland on a red-eye flight for an MRI on his pitching elbow on Wednesday. Francona said the team knew Hand wouldn’t pitch on Wednesday, so they preferred to go ahead and get him checked out sooner rather than later.
“He just hasn’t been bouncing back,” Francona said. “And he’s been getting lower on his lower arm slot. We can’t treat the guys right when it’s convenient. You gotta do the right thing, regardless of the time of year.”
Francona has relied on Hand heavily this season. The left-hander has thrown 56 1/3 innings across 59 appearances in 2019, pitching on back-to-back days 18 times. The fatigue was starting to show in his results -- in 10 appearances since Aug. 11, Hand has blown three saves, allowing nine earned runs on 17 hits and five walks over nine innings.
Still, Hand is the team’s closer, and not having him for a tight, bullpen-heavy game was suboptimal. Francona made the call to remove starter Adam Plutko after 4 1/3 innings and 76 pitches, citing the number of fresh relief arms available. Carlos Carrasco had an encouraging performance of 1 2/3 scoreless innings, while Tyler Clippard and Nick Goody got the game to the ninth inning with a one-run lead.
It then took a combination of three pitchers to get through the final frame. Ultimately, Nick Wittgren, Oliver Perez and Adam Cimber were able to get the final three outs, with Cimber earning his first Major League save with a strikeout of Albert Pujols.
“For us, it’s really bad,” Perez said of not having Hand available. “But at the same time, we have to face the game. We have to do everything we can, and we know we can do our jobs, and that’s what we need to do. We stay one out at a time.”
The Indians have an off-day on Thursday as they head back to Cleveland for a three-game set against the Twins at Progressive Field starting on Friday. Hand will rejoin them there, but whether he’ll be able to pitch if needed remains to be seen.
“Now, we just gotta build him back up,” Francona said. “How that goes will be determined by how he feels. He’s obviously gonna get treatment -- he did today and tomorrow. We’ll see how he shows up Friday.”
And if he’s not available?
“We’ve won the last three without him,” Francona said. “We’ll figure it out. That’s how we always think -- we’ll figure it out.”
Regardless of Hand’s status, the Tribe did a nice job setting itself up for the upcoming series against Minnesota. The Twins lost to the Nationals on Wednesday, moving Cleveland within four games back of first place in the American League Central. With the A’s win over the Astros, the Indians remain a half-game back of the second AL Wild Card spot. They are also now a game back of the Rays for the first AL Wild Card spot after Tampa Bay lost to Texas.
While the Indians are off Thursday, the Twins have one more game in D.C. If they lose, Cleveland will enter the series on Friday just 3 1/2 games back of first place in the division; if they win, it’ll be 4 1/2. The A’s also play on Thursday. A loss would tie Cleveland for the second Wild Card spot, while a win would move them to a full game back of it.
“I think we’ve kind of earned the right to be able to look at the scoreboard,” Francona said. “It’s fun to look at the scoreboard. It’s [more fun] when the other teams are losing, but if we win, we’re gonna end up where we’re supposed to. I think that’s how we look at it.”