CLEVELAND -- Although Indians manager Terry Francona’s future in baseball is still uncertain, the hope for the team remains that he’ll be back as the skipper in 2022.
Francona stepped away from the game in the middle of the season for the second consecutive year to address health issues. This time, the news came at the end of July, as he announced he’d need hip surgery just a couple of days later before enduring a long rehab process for a toe surgery to repair the damage from a staph infection in his left foot that was discovered in January.
But the timing of this decision to take care of these problems was crucial. After a speedy recovery from hip surgery, Francona was already able to undergo his toe procedure on Tuesday, allowing him to begin the long road to recovery. Because he gave himself ample time to do so, a return to managing next season is still possible.
“The good news is, Tito continues to take steps in the right direction, first with his hip, now with his toe,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “That’s why we made the decision ... when we did ... to turn things around and help him start to make progress and get back healthy, and ... put him in the best position possible to be able to manage next year.
“Right now, he’s gone through the hip surgery, started the hip rehab, got the toe surgery. He’ll continue with the healing process and then begin that rehab. The outlook looks pretty good right now.”
Francona has been resting at his Cleveland apartment since the procedure, but he is scheduled to return to the Cleveland Clinic on Monday to be reassessed. According to Antonetti, Francona will soon have a cast placed on his left foot; the cast will need to stay on for eight to 10 weeks before it can be removed. However, since it’s still early in September, he has plenty of time to work through this process before Spring Training.
“He’s doing well,” Antonetti said. “It’s funny, one of our media members, I think, said he was ‘resting comfortably,’ and got chastised by Tito that there isn’t anything comfortable about this. … But he continues to make progress. There’s a path in front of him to continue through the healing and that process.”
When Francona announced his leave of absence for the rest of the season, the Indians and the Elias Sports Bureau worked together to determine that the wins the Indians have for the rest of the year will not be credited to any manager until it’s determined if Francona can return in 2022. If he does, he will receive the wins, as DeMarlo Hale served as the acting manager in his place. If Francona does not come back, Hale will be credited with the wins as the manager who took over for Francona after his departure.
The biggest reason this matters is because Francona was just six wins away from setting the franchise record for the most by an Indians skipper. If the season ended now, he’d have 19 more coming his way if he returns in 2022, easily allowing him to break the record even though he wasn’t physically at the ballpark.
Bieber to begin rehab assignment
Shane Bieber will begin his rehab assignment on Tuesday with Triple-A Columbus. Antonetti expects the Indians’ ace to work two or three innings, likely staying between 40 and 45 pitches.
“We do think Shane's on track to be able to pitch in Major League games before the end of the season,” Antonetti said. “And as much as anything, it could give [him and Aaron Civale] the peace of mind knowing that they're going into the offseason healthy and can have a normal offseason preparing for next season, rather than thinking about it more through the rehab lens.”
Karinchak still working on the side
James Karinchak has yet to work his way into a Triple-A game since he was optioned by the Indians on Aug. 28. The righty had struggled over the last three months to find the groove he was in all through 2020 and the beginning of 2021. The team knew it wanted Karinchak to take some time to work on his mechanics on the side before getting back into a game setting. As Karinchak continues to progress, Antonetti believes he should be getting into a game with Columbus soon.
“We continue to partner with James on the work that we're doing with him,” Antonetti said. “To this point, he's felt good about the work he's putting in and making progress. But we've made the determination together that getting back into games probably didn't make sense right now as he's doing some of the other work. But [we] think that's on the horizon here in the near term.”