TORONTO — Though it comes under unfortunate circumstances, the Indians will get an early first look at right-handed phenom Trevor Bauer, who will replace an injured Scott Kazmir to start for Cleveland on Saturday at Tampa Bay.
Kazmir, who won the fifth spot with an impressive spring training, was placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday with a strained right rib cage that he sustained while playing catch Monday.
The left-hander is expected to miss 2-3 starts after an MRI performed Wednesday in Cleveland revealed the nature of the injury.
“We don’t think this is going to be that long,” manager Terry Francona said.
Bauer, 22, was in line to start the season opener for Triple-A Columbus on Thursday, but instead will make his Indians debut after being acquired in an offseason trade with Arizona.
It might be a one-start stop for the quirky Bauer, who is expected to be sent back down after the outing, with right-hander Carlos Carrasco replacing him in the rotation. Carrasco would likely have been the choice to start for Kazmir, but he is serving a six-game suspension.
Right-hander Chris Perez blew his first save of the season Wednesday, surrendering a game-tying home run to Jose Bautista in the ninth inning. Coming off another spring training injury (shoulder strain), there could be more rough waters ahead early on.
“I’m still not in an ideal situation, obviously, just like last year,” Perez said. “My velocity was down last year in April a little bit and it seemed to hit a spike in May, so hopefully, this year the more I get out there, the more arm strength I can build up. The location will get better, the off-speed pitches will get better. I’ve just got to battle right now.”
For the most part, Cleveland’s relief corps performed well over the first two games.
“We have a very good bullpen,” Francona said. “With our bullpen, we don’t have to run from anybody. That’s a nice feeling. That’s just stating the facts.”
It’s rare to see a team’s projected home run leader batting any lower than sixth in the order, but that’s where Wednesday’s hero Mark Reynolds is currently hitting for the Indians.
“I don’t care where I hit,” said Reynolds, who clouted a game-winning homer in the second game of the season-opening series. “I’m here to drive in some runs, and that’s what I’m going to try to do every night.
“I think I’ve had eight or nine at-bats and I think four or five have been with runners in scoring position. I’m in a good spot. (Fifth hitter Michael) Brantley’s hitting .900, (sixth hitter Carlos) Santana’s getting on base and Swish (at clean-up) ... I like where I’m hitting.”
A designated hitter for the first two games of the series, Reynolds made his first start at first base in the finale.
“I don’t want him to just be a DH,” Francona said. “One, I don’t think it’s fair to him, and two, I think he’s a pretty good first baseman, and I think it helps Swish.”
The Indians travel to Tampa Bay for a three-game series that begins tonight at 7:10 at Tropicana Field.
Zach McAllister (first start) opens the set for the Indians, opposing LHP Matt Moore (first start), while Bauer will face RHP Alex Cobb (first start) in Game 2.
It will be a matchup of aces in the series finale Sunday, with Justin Masterson (1-0, 1.17 ERA) starting against LHP David Price (0-0, 1.50), last year’s AL Cy Young award winner.
After their series with the Rays, the Indians return to Cleveland for the eagerly anticipated home opener Monday against the Yankees.
“Oh, man, that’s going to be the jam,” Nick Swisher said. “How much fun is that going to be? I mean, Opening Day sold out in six minutes? I think it’s great, man. This city is so excited for us this year. There’s a buzz in the 216, man, and we’re super excited to get back there.”
The first game at Progressive Field will feature a “traditions” theme, with fathers Steve Swisher (Nick), Mickey Brantley (Michael), Steve McAllister (Zach), Sandy Alomar (Sandy Jr.) and Tito Francona (Terry) tossing ceremonial first pitches to their sons.
- Francona said by the end of the Tampa Bay series every position player on the roster will have played. ... Second baseman Jason Kipnis was the only Indian starter without a hit through the first two games (0-for-9 with four strikeouts).
- ESPN2 has picked up the third game (Wednesday) of Cleveland’s four-game home-opening series with the Yankees.
- Tonight, 7:10, STO/WTAM 1100-AM.