Kluber on track to start Thursday vs. Royals

Kluber on track to start Thursday vs. Royals

CLEVELAND -- With the Indians doing all they can to climb back into the American League Wild Card picture, ace Corey Kluber is poised to return to the rotation.

On Monday, manager Terry Francona indicated that Kluber is tentatively scheduled to start against the Royals on Thursday, barring any setbacks with a strained right hamstring. The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner has not taken the mound since Aug. 29 due to the injury.

Kluber worked through a bullpen session on Monday with no issues.

"Tomorrow, he'll do some more fielding-specific stuff with the hopes that that leads to a Thursday start," Francona said prior to Monday's series opener. "And I think Kluber is very confident that that will happen. If it doesn't, then we'll back him up a little bit. I think from talking to [head athletic trainer James Quinlan] and the medical guys, and Kluber, I think Thursday's going to be good."

Due to rainouts on Friday and Saturday, and in light of Sunday's doubleheader with Detroit, the Indians need to name a starting pitcher for Thursday's game. Carlos Carrasco (Monday), Josh Tomlin (Tuesday) and Danny Salazar (Wednesday) are slated to work the first three games of the four-game set against Kansas City. Trevor Bauer and Cody Anderson, who started on Sunday, will be on normal rest on Friday.

Kluber's potential return, combined with a scheduled team off-day on Sept. 21, means the Indians will have some flexibility with their rotation after Thursday. Cleveland could skip a starter -- Bauer, for example, has a 7.30 ERA and an .864 opponents' OPS over his past eight outings -- or shift to a six-man rotation for the season's final three weeks.

Francona was not ready to speculate about what approach the club might take.

"What we'd like to do is let everybody pitch this week and kind of assess every day," Francona said. "I think what we want to do is put ourselves in the best position to win as many games as we can. I don't think anybody knows today what that will be a week from now or 10 days. That's kind of what we'll do.

"It could be a number of things. You could skip somebody. You could move somebody back a couple of days. You could slot somebody in. There's a lot of things we could do. Some of that will be determined by, again, needs, things like that."

For now, the Indians are happy to have Kluber (3.41 ERA and 219 strikeouts in 200 1/3 innings this season) on the cusp of returning to the rotation. That said, the right-hander will be monitored over the next few days before officially being named the starter for Thursday.

"I don't think we were ever going to ask someone to pitch before they're ready," Francona said. "When he pitches, he needs to be ready to pitch."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.