GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — Shane Bieber and all the young Indians starters have pretty much gotten used to being without stalwarts Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer in Cleveland’s rotation. They got a head start last season on what it would be like without them.
“We didn’t have much of a choice last year,” said Bieber, the MVP of the All-Star Game in Cleveland last summer. ‘“I guess that kind of benefits us moving forward in this year because we’re already kind of familiar with it, and the roles that we have to step into.”
Kluber suffered a broken right forearm when struck by a comeback liner in his seventh start last season. That was three months before the Indians traded Bauer in a deadline deal, and two-time Cy Young winner Kluber sustained an oblique injury when close to his return. The unquestioned ace then got traded to Texas the week before Christmas by Cleveland, which initially exercised a $17.5 million contract option for Kluber only days after the season ended.
With those All-Star pitchers now on other teams, two of Cleveland’s returning veteran starters have had some early setbacks this spring.
Carlos Carrasco, now the rotation’s elder statesman, sustained a mild strain of his right hip flexor after feeling discomfort while doing squats in the weight room. Mike Clevinger tore meniscus in his left knee after getting to Arizona, requiring surgery that will force him to miss the start of the season.
Carrasco, who turns 33 five days before the season opener, made an inspiring comeback last year after being diagnosed with leukemia. Clevinger, the 29-year-old right-hander who is 38-18 over the past three seasons, was 13-4 with a 2.71 ERA in 21 starts last year while missing two months with a back strain.
Before last year, Kluber and Bauer combined to make more than 50 starts a season from 2014-18. The duo also accounted for nearly one-third of Cleveland’s wins during the five-year span that included three consecutive AL Central titles and the 2016 American League pennant.
“It’s kind of settling in that things are changing around here,” said Zach Plesac, the 25-year-old right-hander who was 8-6 with a 3.81 ERA in 21 starts as a rookie last season. “It’s just cool to see where those guys came from and the dynasty they created, and kind of like the culture they created and then kind of see how they leave, and it’s a new direction, but almost like same type of mentality.”
Aaron Civale had a 2.34 ERA when making his first 10 big league starts, all but one coming after Bauer was traded to Cincinnati on July 31, but has been slowed this spring by discomfort in his groin. Adam Plutko (7-5, 4.86 ERA) made all 20 of his starts last season after Kluber got hurt May 1, and Plesac’s MLB debut also came after then.
“The guys we’re transitioning to, the Clevingers, the Biebers of the world, we’re kind of excited about that. They have shown there’s no reluctance to carry a little bit more of the load,” manager Terry Francona said. “And then the younger kids that we probably pushed, like Plesac and Cilvale, they pitched right in the middle of a pennant race and it didn’t seem to faze them.”
Cleveland was 11 1/2 games out of first place in the AL Central after Pleasac lost his first big league decision in his second start June 2, despite allowing only one run and four hits over seven innings against the Chicago White Sox.
The Indians caught the Minnesota Twins in early August, and briefly went ahead of them in the AL Central. Cleveland won 93 games, two more than its division-winning 2018 season, and wasn’t eliminated from postseason contention until a loss in the 160th game during a season-ending five-game losing streak.
“We just grew closer as a unit, just being around each other, knowing kind of where our backs were against the wall, against the Twins there in that stretch,” Clevinger said.
“We were ready to take everything on our shoulders, and I think we did for quite a while. And you know the whole team really stepped up,” Bieber said. “We just faced too many injuries and a lot of adversity that inevitably we weren’t able to kind of pull through, but made a good run at things last year.”