CLEVELAND -- The wound was clean, but the threat still existed. Even as the cameras zoomed in and focused on the stitched-up pinkie on Trevor Bauer's right hand, it was fair to wonder if the ugly cut might again break open and drip blood on baseball's biggest stage.
Though the finger did not pose any problems on Wednesday night, the vulnerability of the Indians' rotation was on full display in a 5-1 loss to the Cubs in Game 2 of the World Series at Progressive Field. Cleveland has been using a patched-up staff to overcome a series of setbacks, but the threat of things falling apart has never been more prominent than now.
With an 8-2 record this October and an American League pennant in its possession, Cleveland has every right to remain confident, even with the Fall Classic knotted, 1-1, as the series shifts to Wrigley Field. Finding ways to win in the face of adversity has been the signature attribute of this club. It is why -- without Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar occupying rotation slots -- the Tribe has made it this far.
The Cubs, however, have a clear advantage when it comes to their deep rotation, and it is why Chicago seemed to shrug off the Game 1 defeat at the hands of Kluber on Tuesday night.
After Bauer's Game 2 outing, which consisted of 3 2/3 slow and draining innings, the idea of getting much farther looked even more daunting for Cleveland. Consider that Kluber has logged 24 1/3 innings with a 0.74 ERA in his four postseason starts, but the rest of the rotation has combined for 24 innings over six games. That is why Kluber is the projected starter for not only Game 4, but also Game 7 should the Series go the distance.
"You want everybody being healthy, but we believe in all the guys in here," catcher Roberto Perez said. "We have a really good team. Guys are stepping up in a big way. We've just got to come back in Game 3 and play baseball like we've been doing."
Game 3 on Friday will be started by right-handerJosh Tomlin, who is 2-0 with a 2.53 ERA this postseason. The precision-based strike artist also has a 1.93 ERA dating back to the start of September, so his recent run began before he stepped onto the October stage. That said, he allowed 36 home runs in 30 games this season, and it remains to be seen if the stiff Lake Michigan wind will be blowing out at Wrigley.
As for Bauer, he had only logged 21 pitches in the 19 days leading up to his Game 2 start against the Cubs. Those tosses came in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, which he was forced to exit four batters into his start after his lacerated pinkie opened and bled on his uniform and spikes, and on the mound.
How was the finger on Wednesday night?
"Totally fine," Bauer said.
Bauer was curt during his postgame media session, offering succinct replies to each question sent his way. He may have had more pitches thrown (87) than words spoken, as he labored with his command in his third October outing. He allowed two runs on six hits, ending with two strikeouts and a pair of walks. In the cold conditions -- game-time temperature was 43 degrees -- he struggled to get a feel for his curveball.
"That's an uncontrollable variable," Bauer said. "You have to work through it."
Whether it was because of the elements, the injury or the lack of work, Bauer simply did not look like himself.
"It wasn't his best night," Perez said. "Those things are going to happen."
But the Indians just can't afford to have it happen much more.
After Tomlin starts on Friday, Cleveland plans on sticking with its three-man rotation on three days' rest the rest of the way. That puts Kluber on deck for Game 4, followed by Bauer and Tomlin again in Games 6 and 7. The Indians really do not have much of a choice, either.
A fractured right hand has Carrasco unavailable. Salazar returned from a right forearm injury on Wednesday and turned in a scoreless sixth inning, but manager Terry Francona said he is not an option to start. Rookie lefty Ryan Merritt is being kept in the bullpen as insurance for an outing gone awry.
Cleveland's resolve has been tested plenty, but this is the final exam.
"We knew playing the Cubs we were going to get challenged," Francona said. "The things that have happened -- physical things -- you just do the best you can and you try to win the game. That's kind of what we always do. They beat us tonight. It wasn't because somebody had a bad finger. They just played better than us."
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.