CLEVELAND — Trevor Bauer found it amusing that a Cubs’ fan sent him a miniature drone as a gift before Wednesday night’s Game 2 at Progressive Field. Bauer, of course, sliced open the pinky finger of his pitching hand — from handling a drone propeller — during the ALCS against the Blue Jays, a gruesome wound that dripped blood like a faucet until he had to leave Game 3 at Rogers Centre after only two outs.
As far as we know, Bauer didn’t open the package, and he didn’t suffer any new cuts or bruises that prevented him from facing the Cubs. Once Bauer climbed the mound, however, it wasn’t very long before the Indians probably wished that he hadn’t. And to make matters worse, manager Terry Francona intends to bring him back on short rest, just like Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin, because the shorthanded Indians plan to go with three starters in their pursuit of a first World Series title since 1948.
It’s a bold move, but injuries to Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco forced Francona’s hand back when this playoff run began. The Indians swept the Red Sox in the Division Series, so that wasn’t an issue. They needed five games to conquer the Blue Jays, but rookie lefthander Ryan Merritt, who baffled them with super-slow breaking stuff, stepped in to handle the clincher after Kluber made his first-ever start on three days’ rest in a Game 4 loss.
In one of this October’s great mysteries, the Indians had been able to cover up their rotation deficiencies, mostly riding Kluber, Bauer and Tomlin to go 8-1 through Tuesday night’s World Series opener — or until Bauer screwed it up in Game 2. Overall, the Cleveland starters had a 1.61 ERA with a 0.99 WHIP, and had held opposing hitters to a .199 batting average. They also had 49 strikeouts and 12 walks in 44 2⁄3 innings.
No wonder Francona felt confident in this three-pronged attack, especially after Kluber’s historic night beating the powerful Cubs in Game 1. Kluber struck out nine in six scoreless innings in the 6-0 win and required only 88 pitches to do so, easily setting him up for a Game 4 return. Francona didn’t want to announce his plan until Wednesday, but when he did, that meant the rest of his rotation also was put on notice for short rest in this World Series.
“If they don’t, now all of sudden, you’re sacrificing,” Francona said. “You have one or two pitchers going short, and you’re still pitching a bullpen day. So that doesn’t necessarily help us as much as we want to. So we tried to think it through ahead of time. I think we’re OK.”
Francona probably didn’t feel as great about it after watching Bauer struggle in the Cubs’ 5-1 victory. Maybe the finger was functional, but Bauer labored from the outset, with a sluggish pace and a rapidly escalating pitch count that turned this one into a bullpen game well ahead of schedule — and without Andrew Miller, who needed a breather because of his 46-pitch effort in helping to secure the Game 1 win.
After two innings, Bauer already had thrown 51 pitches, and surrendered a run on Anthony Rizzo’s RBI double in the first. He threw 20 more in the third inning, and a two-out walk to Rizzo, followed by Ben Zobrist’s base hit, set up Kyle Schwarber ripping a 3-and-0 pitch into centerfield to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead. It was a painful display. The only positive? At least we were spared the sight of Bauer smearing his bloody hand on his uniform between pitches, as he did up in Toronto. After wearing a Band-Aid during his side session — something you can’t do in a game — Bauer was able to stop the bleeding. But now the Indians may have to worry about a potentially leaky rotation going forward.
“I’m not concerned about anything,” Bauer said on the eve of his Game 2 start. “They’re obviously very talented, but the Red Sox were very talented, and the Blue Jays are obviously very talented, too. At the end of the day, they’re just hitters.”
The Cubs, however, are still very much a problem for Bauer, and the Indians.