Going into this season, the unquestionable strength of the Cleveland Indians was their starting rotation. Sixty-two games on the season, 80% of that rotation is gone.
The last and most important piece of that disappearing act is current American League Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber, who was placed on the disabled list Monday for a right shoulder strain. Manager Terry Francona said Bieber, who leads the major leagues in strikeouts (130) and leads the American League in innings pitched (90), will not pitch for two weeks and then will be reevaluated.
“After his departure yesterday, he reached out to medical staff,” Francona said. “He wanted a bit of reassurance because I think he thought he could get over it. We did photograph it, and unfortunately there is some swelling there, so we have to let this settle down. “
It’s the latest blow for a Cleveland team that has consistently seen its starting rotation on Opening Day virtually wiped out by injuries and underperformance.
The only member of the Indians’ opening day rotation still in the rotation is Aaron Civale, who, with a 9-2 record, leads the American League in wins and is eighth in the league with a 3.17 ERA.
With their rotation in shambles, Francona and his pitching coach Carl Willis have a lot of work for them as they try to rebuild what was already a bruised and battered rotation, literally and figuratively.
“I don’t think by doing it in the normal way we can get over it,” Francona said. “Realizing that we set out to win, but we certainly don’t want to hurt anyone. It’s going to be a challenge. “
Cleveland’s opening day rotation was Bieber, Civale, Zach Plesac, Triston McKenzie and Logan Allen. One by one those dominoes, with the exception of Civale, have fallen.
Plesac, who with Bieber and Civale gave Cleveland a formidable Big Three at the top of their rotation, was placed in IL on May 26 with a fractured right thumb, sustained when he hit a chair while taking off “aggressively.” . his jersey after a disappointing loss.
Allen never made it out of the first month of the season. After going 1-4 with a 9.19 ERA and allowing seven home runs in 15 innings in five starts, he was sent to the Indians’ alternate site on April 29.
Triston McKenzie, one of the organization’s top prospects, has been up and down between Cleveland and Triple-A Columbus while creating some of the weirdest stats of any pitcher in the league. In 10 starts and one relief appearance, McKenzie averaged 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings and held opposing batters to a batting average of .188. Right-handed hitters have hit just .149 against him. But McKenzie is also 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA, mainly due to his 8.3 walks per nine-inning average.
In his last start on Saturday, June 12, McKenzie was pulled from the game after he walked four of the first six batters he faced and threw several pitches that crashed into the backstop on the fly. He was sent to Columbus after that game.
On Monday, the Indians lost Bieber to injury, leaving Civale the last man standing in the rotation. Where the Indians go from here is anyone’s guess.
Like a couple of mad scientists, Francona and Willis have feverishly juggled names on and off the rotation without much success, but they are running out of options.
Other pitchers who have made appearances in the rotation so far include Paul Quantrill (0-1, 10.80 ERA in two starts), Sam Hentges (0-1, 8.56 in four starts), JC Mejía (0-1, 9.82 in two starts), Eli Morgan (0-1, 20.25 in one start, rain and strong winds) and reliever Phil Maton (0-0, 6.75 as a “starter” in a bullpen game).
Through all of this, all Indians have relied heavily on Bieber and Civale. Cleveland is 20-7 in games started by its two aces and 14-21 in games started by anyone else. Bieber and Civale have a combined 3.23 ERA. In all other games, the combined ERA of the Indians starters is 6.55.
Bieber’s last start was a 7-4 loss to Seattle on Sunday, a game in which he gave up season-highs in hits (10), runs (five) and home runs (two).
“I didn’t want to go to IL. That’s the kind of teammate he is, ”Francona said. “But we told him that we want him to have a long and healthy career. We don’t want him limping through it. That is not fair to him. I think it will take his (rehab) out of the park. “