CLEVELAND — While they wait for their current closer, the Indians brought up their likely next one.
James Karinchak was added to the roster on Friday as Cleveland opened a critical three-game series with the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins, who lead the Indians by 3½ games.
The 23-year-old Karinchak has zoomed through the club’s minor-league system, recently pitching in the postseason for Triple-A Columbus.
Indians manager Terry Francona said the decision to add Karinchak is not connected to All-Star closer Brad Hand being sidelined for at least the next few days with what the team has called a tired arm.
Hand will not pitch against the Twins, and the left-hander said he won’t throw again until Sunday at the earliest. He’s been struggling for more than a month, with four of his five blown saves coming since July 12 along with a 5.68 ERA in the second half.
The Indians sent him home from California on Thursday for an MRI that was clear.
Hand said he’s never dealt with anything similar during his career.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “It’s been kind of bugging me for a little bit and we tried to treat it a little bit and it just wasn’t bouncing back. It’s like those first two games in Minnesota playing catch I felt good and then pitching that game I felt all right and then the next day I just didn’t feel good that first day in L.A. We just figured we’d get it checked out, see what’s going on, and it was a relief to find out everything was OK.”
The Indians are eager to see how Karinchak performs at the big league level, and Francona is unlikely to use him in a high-leverage situation right away.
But the club needed another late-inning option with Hand sidelined, and Francona might see how the right-hander responds.
“At worst, what it does is, it gives us a read on where this kid is going into spring training,” Francona said. “It’s about impossible to evaluate somebody in spring training that you don’t know. Maybe this kid comes up and gets everybody out.”
Karinchak averaged a jaw-dropping 22 strikeouts per nine innings. He fanned 74 of the 125 batters he faced.
Along with a fastball and slider, he’s got plenty of confidence.
“I’m just trying to get outs and trying to execute pitches,” he said. “If I execute pitches they usually don’t hit them.”
Francona said the reports he’s received on the 2017 draft pick have been overly positive.
“There’s some things that we don’t know about him because they haven’t happened yet,” Francona said. “That’s not his fault. You talk about the running game, fielding his position. When guys don’t hit it, it’s hard to blame the kid. He’s striking everybody out. Is that gonna play, how’s it gonna play here? There’s one way to find out. But the experience, again, at worst will be really good for him.”
The Indians also recalled outfielder Bradley Zimmer, who has been rehabbing his surgically repaired right shoulder and other injuries.
Zimmer played in 34 games for the Indians last season before he was shut down. He had surgery in July and was close to being recovered when he strained his right oblique.
Francona said Zimmer, who had 18 steals for Cleveland in 2017, will initially be used in pinch-running situations.
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