CLEVELAND — The Central Division champion Indians held an intrasquad game Tuesday afternoon at Progressive Field.
The real deal begins Friday in Houston when they open the Division Series against the defending World Series champion Astros.
First pitch is scheduled for 2:05 p.m. at Minute Maid Park.
“I think we’re excited,” left-hander Andrew Miller said. “We know what we’re capable of and looking forward to kind of putting it all on the line and playing in the intensity of playoff games.
“We’ve got our hands full. Houston’s obviously the reigning champs, so we got to go down there and hopefully make a statement and come back here in good shape.”
The pitching matchups are mostly marquee, with Cleveland’s two-time Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber starting Game 1 against former Cy Young award winner and MVP Justin Verlander, followed by Carlos Carrasco vs. Gerrit Cole in Game 2 (4:37 p.m.).
Manager Terry Francona announced Tuesday that right-hander Mike Clevinger would make his first career postseason start Monday — against 2015 Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel — when the series shifts to Cleveland for Game 3.
Francona’s Game 4 starter Tuesday will be Trevor Bauer unless the right-hander is used out of the bullpen over the first three games to affect his availability, which is a distinct possibility.
Rookie Shane Bieber is set to take Bauer’s place, with Kluber able to start on regular rest in a potential Game 5 back in Houston.
“We’re trying to take our roster and expand it a little bit,” Francona said. “Depending on how Bauer and Bieber are used early, that could determine who starts Game 4. And on the flip side, the hope would be that Carrasco will be available at some point to maybe facilitate the bullpen at the back end of the series.
“(It’s) not my preference. It depends on the need. Trevor, having him as a starter can be really important. If we need him to help us win those other games, again, we wouldn’t use him without a leverage situation. But if we got some leverage, again, that’s where we’re going to try to figure it out. The other thing, too, is I don’t know if I’d want him to go that long without pitching, so an inning or two wouldn’t hurt him anyway.”
It looks as though all five pitchers will have their primary catcher behind the plate in 2018 all-star Yan Gomes, who sustained a hand injury in the regular season finale Sunday in Kansas City, but said he expects to start Game 1.
“Absolutely. Right now it just feels like a bad cut on my hand and it’s on the outside, so it’s fine, the ball’s not going to rub against it or anything,” he said. “It’s all just a matter of kind of taking care of the stitches right now.”
Though Francona likely won’t release his 25-man ALDS roster until Friday morning, Jason Kipnis will most definitely be on it after relocating to center field for the second straight postseason.
Kipnis held his own at the position at the end of the regular season and said he feels more comfortable in the high-profiled defensive spot as the playoffs approach.
“It was just easier this time, just because I had the last year to kind of build off of, a little bit healthier in my lower half with my legs and hamstrings and it’s just more experience for me,” said Kipnis, a two-time all-star at second base. “From last year and this year, the more balls I can get out there, the more confidence I’ll get and the more confidence guys will have in me.”
Kipnis also picked up the pace at the plate over the final month after struggling for the majority of the year.
“He’s got his RBIs (75), he’s got his home runs (18),” Francona said. “His batting average (.230) took a hit. The saving grace to that is he’s hit with runners in scoring position, which is the most important thing. And I think he’s done fine in center field.
“Come October, nobody’s going to care what your average was during the season, it’s what you do in October. Knowing Kip, when the lights shine the brightest, he wants to compete. I think he’s excited. I think he’s in a good place.”
The Indians coasted to the finish line after wrapping up their third straight division title midway through the final month. An AL-record 22-game winning streak, which they posted last year, wasn’t required.
“There’s pros and cons,” Kipnis said of clinching early. “The pros are that guys are healthy because they’ve been able to rest. We’ve been able to line up our (pitching) staff. We’ve been able to take care of all the little things and other teams might not have had that advantage.
“The disadvantage might be that some teams have been playing in games like this leading up to this, so as much as you think you can turn the switch on in these high-elevated games it’s not always that easy. But can it be done? Sure, it’s been done a bunch.”
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