Francona tabs Bauer for Game 1 of ALDS

Francona tabs Bauer for Game 1 of ALDS

KANSAS CITY -- Trevor Bauer was not happy. The Indians right-hander had just surrendered a pair of runs to the Royals in the sixth inning on Saturday night, and he took out his frustrations in the visitors' dugout at Kauffman Stadium. An ice bucket bore the brunt of his dissatisfaction.

That's when manager Terry Francona informed him that he'd be starting against the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Thursday.

"So much for that feel-good moment," Francona said with a laugh after the Indians' 6-3 victory over Kansas City. "I think he relishes what's ahead of him. He's going to go up against a good lineup, but I think he'll be OK."

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Francona's timing for delivering the news may not have been perfect, but he believes the rotation alignment is right. With ace Corey Kluber still working his way back from a mild quadriceps strain, Francona did not want to take any unnecessary risks at the outset of what Cleveland hopes is a deep run through October.

Kluber will follow Bauer as the planned starter against Boston for Game 2 on Friday, and right-hander Josh Tomlin will start Game 3.

The decision to go with Bauer in the first game means that, if the ALDS were to extend to a Game 4, he would come back on three days' rest. Kluber would be the Game 5 starter, if the series reached that win-or-go-home scenario, on regular rest.

The only aspect that remains unsettled is which team will open at home. With their win on Saturday, and Boston's loss to Toronto, the Indians (93-67) pulled ahead a half-game. The Red Sox boast the tiebreaker with the Tribe, so Cleveland would need to end at least one game ahead of Boston to have the ALDS begin at Progressive Field.

At the moment, considering Kluber's situation, the Indians feel that Bauer is better equipped to handle pitching on short rest, if needed.

"Klubes really wanted to pitch Thursday," Francona said. "We've been talking about it for three or four days. I just kind of overruled him. I think, in fact, I know it's the right thing for everybody. I didn't think it was fair to Kluber to have him sit for 10 days and then pitch two games in four days. He certainly wanted to. And it's not just me. Kind of [after] talking to everybody, I kind of took it out of his hands.

"So now he can prepare for Game 2, and he doesn't have the anxiety of worrying about rushing."

Kluber, who is 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA and 227 strikeouts in 215 innings, declined comment, leaving Kauffman Stadium after Saturday's game.

Bauer has had a unique season.

When the Indians unveiled their Opening Day roster, Bauer found himself in the bullpen. Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Cody Anderson and Tomlin were the Tribe's choices for the starting staff. But as the season wore on, Bauer kept climbing the ranks. Anderson lost his grip on a starting role, went back to the Minors and is now in Cleveland's bullpen. Carrasco and Salazar are both out with injuries. Tomlin's August woes momentarily cost him a spot. Kluber left his outing on Monday with the quadriceps issue.

Through it all, Bauer remained durable and kept logging innings.

During his six-inning performance against Kansas City, Bauer allowed three runs on six hits and ended with nine strikeouts against two walks. He threw 96 pitches but could have kept going. In 35 appearances, including 28 starts this year, he has gone 12-8 with a 4.26 ERA, 168 strikeouts and 70 walks in a career-high 190 innings for Cleveland.

Now he will start the Indians' first playoff game since 2013.

"We've got to get it as a team," Bauer said. "That's the ultimate goal, to go out there and win. That's what I'll go out there and do my best to do. I have a lot of confidence in my teammates. Hopefully, they have confidence in me. It should be fun.

"When they tell me when to pitch, I go out there and I pitch. So Game 1 or Game 2 or Game 3, whatever. They're all important now."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. 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.