GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona wasted little time in naming ace Corey Kluber as the Opening Day starter in each of the past two springs. This year, expect Francona to take more time to see how the preseason plays out before declaring his starter for the season-opening tilt
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona wasted little time in naming ace Corey Kluber as the Opening Day starter in each of the past two springs. This year, expect Francona to take more time to see how the preseason plays out before declaring his starter for the season-opening tilt in Texas.
On Sunday, Francona reiterated that the Indians plan on easing Kluber into Cactus League games, considering the heavy load the right-hander shouldered last season. If Kluber's gradual spring schedule does not align precisely with Opening Day on April 3 against the Rangers, Francona will be open-minded about using another pitcher for the season's first game, and delaying Kluber's debut.
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"We've told Kluber," Francona said, "because we are slowing him down a little bit, if he's not ready for Game 1, we can adjust. And we're more than willing to, because there's a lot at stake over the course of the year. We all know Opening Day is a big deal, but we want him to position himself where he's ready to log as many innings as we need."
In the early portion of Spring Training, Kluber will be limited to simulated settings before working into spring games. Francona noted on Sunday that pitching coach Mickey Callaway has created a program that calls for Kluber to be ready to log three innings by the time he's ready for Cactus League play. The main goal is to control the level of intensity of Kluber's innings early on, and then ramping up later for the regular season.
Starter Josh Tomlin, as well as relievers Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw, will also have slower starts this spring. Kluber and Tomlin are tentatively scheduled to make their first spring starts on March 6 and 9, respectively, for Cleveland, which plays its first preseason game on Feb. 25 against the Reds.
Last season, Kluber logged 215 innings in the regular season and then another 34 1/3 innings during the Tribe's postseason run to the World Series. Within that playoff performance, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner started on short rest three times, including twice in the Fall Classic. Kluber's six starts in the playoffs were the most in a single postseason for a pitcher in franchise history.
• Francona noted that Callaway has already been in contact with Team USA pitching coach Jeff Jones to discuss how left-hander Andrew Miller will be used during the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Francona said he will reach out to Team USA manager Jim Leyland to talk about the plan for Miller.
"We fully support him and we're proud of him," Francona said of Miller. "And, our heart is in our throat. ... I would never tell somebody not to do it. I mean, my goodness, to represent your country, it's a huge honor. But, I'd be lying if I said we're not going to worry about him. He knows that."
• Barring any setbacks this spring, the Opening Day rotation projects to include Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and Tomlin. That leaves pitchers Cody Anderson, Mike Clevinger and Ryan Merritt as the main depth options. Francona said those three will be stretched out accordingly this spring. All have at least one Minor League option remaining.
• Right-hander Zach McAllister projects to be a part of the bullpen, but Francona noted the reliever will be prepped to handle multiple innings. The Indians are hoping to stretch McAllister out to three innings this spring. In all likelihood, Francona said the Opening Day bullpen will consist of seven pitchers.
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.