Guardians' biggest task in April and May? Piecing together a banged-up starting rotation
CLEVELAND — The Guardians have a new item at the top of their to-do list.
Entering spring camp, the Guardians rotation was set in stone. Shane Bieber would pitch on Opening Day, and he'd be followed, in some order, by Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac. Done and done. Will those five make up the rotation past the trade deadline? That's unclear. But the immediate future, at least, was certain.
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That is no longer the case. A little more than a week into the regular season, the Guardians are already down two of those five and figuring out how they'll piece together the rotation for the next few weeks.
McKenzie went down just before Opening Day with a teres major muscle (shoulder) strain. He's now on the 60-day injured list and will be out until at least late May, which is in line with his original timetable. Aaron Civale was added to the 15-day injured list Monday with a left oblique strain, leaving only 60 percent of the original rotation remaining.
Civale's season was off to a strong start, with a 2.84 ERA and eight strikeouts in 12⅔ innings before being sidelined.
"We thought after the game it was a cramp. It gets cold, and I think we've all kind of felt … but we knew that we needed to keep an eye on him," Guardians manager Terry Francona said. "Saturday he was going out to play long toss and we really didn't get to that because he felt it. So we knew we needed to get him scanned."
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After McKenzie was sidelined, Hunter Gaddis was pushed into the starting rotation and Xzavion Curry opened the season in the bullpen. The plan for Civale's absence isn't quite as set.
Peyton Battenfield was called up before Monday's game against the New York Yankees and was immediately available in the bullpen to provide additional insurance after the Guardians played a string of extra-inning games. Curry, twice this season, has saved the Guardians bullpen from entering a dicey situation with usage.
Battenfield is available to start Wednesday's game largely due to Curry being able to finish Tuesday's 11-2 loss. The question is how the Guardians will handle that spot in the rotation moving forward, particularly with an off day on Thursday, allowing the bullpen and the rest of the starters to catch their collective breath.
The Guardians have a number of options in Triple-A in addition to Gaddis and Battenfield, including Konnor Pilkington, Tanner Bibee (one of the club's top prospects), Logan Allen (at some point), veteran Daniel Norris and others. The question is if Battenfield and Gaddis will hold onto those spots until both McKenzie and Civale can return (assuming Bieber, Quantrill and Plesac remain healthy in the meantime).
Gaddis took a step forward in his outing in Oakland, where he threw his breaking ball more to a positive effect. But Tuesday's outing was a step back, as the Yankees knocked him around for eight earned runs, raising his ERA to 8.53. Battenfield fill face that same test Wednesday afternoon.
And the Guardians' rotational depth will continue to be tested at least through the end of May.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about the Guardians at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/cleveland-guardians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.