Sketching Out Indians Pitching Plans for Game 4

Masahiro Tanaka split through the Indians lineup on Sunday night, ultimately forcing a Game 4 in Yankees Stadium. The Indians have a 2-1 series lead approaching Monday night’s, which is *scheduled* for 7:08 p.m. Eastern Time. That schedule is tentative, however, because New York is expecting a slew of rain throughout the evening.

Immediately following the 1-0 loss in Game 3, the Indians nixed plans to start Josh Tomlin and dubbed Game 1 winning pitcher Trevor Bauer the starter for Game 4. Should the game proceed as scheduled, this creates an interesting dynamic in the teams’ pitching plans. With ace Corey Kluber slated for Game 5 (if necessary), and a potential day off before then, Francona does not have to worry about wasting bullets on Monday night.

The decision to throw Bauer on short rest is no substantial surprise. After all, it was Bauer who put his cleats back on to pitch in the marathon Game 2 if needed, only one day after throwing 98 pitches in a 4-0 win. Pitchers, though, have not fared well in this scenario in the past. At the beginning of last year’s playoff action, the Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg wrote an interesting piece about starters pitching on three days rest in the postseason. In it, Neil noted that the previous 121 starts made by pitchers on three days or less rest had not gone exceptionally well, especially considering that teams are far more likely to use their highest caliber of pitching in such scenarios. Ranging from 1995 to 2015, these 121 outings featured an earned run average of 4.35 and were essentially a toss-up on wins and losses.

If anyone is capable of diminishing the three days or less disadvantage, though, it’s Trevor Bauer, who is predictably confident about his abilities to recoup quickly.

The kid is definitely a competitor. But given his 6 2/3 innings on Friday night, how will Terry Francona look to deploy his arms in a potential series-ending game?

Trevor Bauer (2-5 innings)

The Game 1 star will kick things off, but the leash will be short. His 2017 time through the order splits are a bit noisy, but there are two noticeable trends: walk rate and home run rate. In his first time through the order, he gives up fewer home runs and issues more walks. Throughout his career, he has yielded 4.37 walks per nine innings the first time through and has gotten progressively better as the lineup turns over. The opposite is true regarding home runs, in which he allows 0.91 per nine against a lineup the first time, only to lend way to more as the lineup flips.

Courtesy of Fangraphs

A takeaway from these numbers is that, for Bauer, command can be an early obstacle. This is a quickly identifiable trait, which can be leveraged as needed. If Francona and Callaway notice that Bauer’s command is not pinpoint, they can quickly abort and launch a full-blown bullpen game. Thanks to Carrasco’s longevity in Sunday night’s loss, the bullpen arms are mostly well-rested.

The propensity to allowing more home runs as the lineup turns is a far more concerning aspect of Bauer’s short rest bid, considering the game’s venue. Yankee Stadium’s dimensions are outlandishly tiny, increasing the importance of limiting long fly balls. There have been more home runs hit in the Bronx than any other ballpark in baseball over the past two seasons. A two-to-four-inning outing is not beyond the realm of possibility, and Bauer’s second trip through the order should be managed tentatively, ready to pull the plug if the situation dictates.

Clevinger/Salazar (2 innings)

Both Mike Clevinger and Danny Salazar should be fresh, paving the way for a potential ‘piggyback’ scenario. If Bauer’s outing becomes tumultuous in the early innings, one of these two will receive the call to get loose. Clevinger, though shaky in Friday night’s thrilling comeback victory, has only faced five hitters in the playoffs and Salazar has yet to make an appearance. Each carries the same burden of command uncertainties but could provide an effective bridge to the rest of the bullpen.

Andrew Miller (2 innings)

Save the concerns. Yes, Greg Bird ran into and demolished a timid offering from Miller, but it is premature to slam the panic button. A mislocated pitch resulted in a poor outcome, but nothing that has happened in the early games of the playoffs is enough of a deterrent to alter usage. Francona indicated that he is well aware that Miller only threw twelve pitches on Sunday night, and intends to use him appropriately.

Cody Allen (2 innings)

No need to withhold any trump cards. The reliever who stumbled down the final stretch of the regular season played a crucial role in the first two wins. He has continued to prohibit runs in the postseason at an immaculate rate. The swing-and-miss curveball will be heavily relied upon in the late innings of a potential closeout victory. Allen’s ability to go multiple innings — 1 1/3 with three Ks Thursday; 2 innings of shutout ball on Friday — is invaluable here.

Pen Insurance

Bryan Shaw is fresh, and, knowing Francona, will appear in some capacity. Shaw was downright dominant in the Game 2 win, overshadowed by Tomlin and Yan Gomes heroics. He retired eight Yankees, while only allowing a bloop single that is more often an out than hit.

Tyler Olson and Joe Smith each threw only twelve pitches in the Game 3 loss and will be leaned upon for stretches of one to three hitters. The lefty and righty offer a versatility boon to Francona, with each being far more effective against hitters of the same hand orientation.

Josh Tomlin is likely the emergency option in the bullpen, should the game venture into deep extra innings or an early blowout deficit.

As painful as Sunday night’s 1-0 loss for Indians fans, with it came a blessing in disguise. Carrasco limited bullpen exposure in a manner that left about as fresh of a bullpen as possible. The rested bullpen allows Francona to be overly careful with his short rest starter.

In the end, it appears Terry Francona will be able to use a 17-game winner in Game 4, followed by a handful of dependable — if not outright dominant — bullpen arms. If Mother Nature has her say, everyone will get an additional day of rest beforehand.