Inbox: Cause for concern with Encarnacion?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers Tribe fans' questions

Inbox: Cause for concern with Encarnacion?

With a rainout in Detroit, here's a special inbox with answers to questions ranging from Edwin Encarnacion's slow start to Corey Kluber's possible fill-in.

Catch up on the latest before the Indians close out their three-city road trip in Kansas City, beginning at 8:15 p.m. ET on Friday.

That question is on the mind of a lot of Indians fans. If you examine Encarnacion's track record, you might find some comfort in the fact that his rough April was hardly the first slow start of his career. In fact, a gradual offensive build over the first three months has been the trend for the slugger.

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Over the course of Encarnacion's career, he has posted a 103 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) in April, followed by marks of 117 in May and 152 in June (his best month). Likewise, his career Weighted On-base Average (wOBA) goes up over the first three months: .330 (April), .351 (May), then .402 (June). The strikeout rate also falls: 19.6 (April), 16.4 (May) and 15.1 (June).

If Encarnacion is still mired in this current slump through June, then it will go against his career trend. That is when the issue would grow into more of a serious concern. His history of slow starts is one reason the Indians are hopeful that his rough April was not a sign of things to come the rest of the way. There are still five months for Encarnacion to reach his career levels.

In the sixth inning on Wednesday, Encarnacion crushed a pitch to center field at Comerica Park, where fly balls often go to die. His blast had a 106-mph exit velocity with a 28-degree launch angle. Per Statcast™, similar batted balls have resulted in a home run 89 percent of the time this year. In this instance, Encarnacion flew out, and he walked slowly back to the dugout in frustration.

"When you're having a tough time, that's how it can be," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He really hit that ball good. I'm telling you, he's going to be fine. I think we all wish it was yesterday or the day before. It wasn't. He'll be just fine. He's had a tough time."

With Kluber on the 10-day disabled list with a lower-back strain and possibly out for more than just one start, Triple-A righty Mike Clevinger would be the most likely arm to join Cleveland's rotation. He has a 1.50 ERA with Triple-A Columbus and spent time with the Indians last year. As for Trevor Bauer, he has no Minor League options. If his struggles persisted to the point where the Indians wanted to make a change, a move to the bullpen would be the likely step. I don't think the Indians are near reaching that point, though.

As of Wednesday, the Indians were fielding a nine-man bullpen, following the move to put Kluber on the DL and promoting righty Joseph Colon from Columbus. Francona made it clear that the team would not be going with that roster configuration for long. If the Indians want to fortify their bench, infielder Erik Gonzalez is a strong candidate. He can provide depth at second, shortstop and third base, as well as in the outfield. And, if Michael Brantley or Jason Kipnis were given days off, Gonzalez would provide better offensive upside as a fill-in starter than utility man Michael Martinez.

Not only are the Indians without Rajai Davis, but keep in mind that Kipnis missed most of April while on the DL, too. That said, you're right. The Indians' baserunning numbers have taken a hit early on this year. Stolen bases aside, Cleveland led the American League in 2016 with a 45-extra-bases-taken percentage. That rate has dipped to 29 percent (14th in the AL) so far. Last year, the Indians also led the AL with a 17.1 BsR (Fangraphs' all-encompassing baserunning metric). The Tribe ranks ninth in the AL with a minus-2.9 BsR. This will be something to monitor as the season progresses.

Yandy Diaz has been on an offensive tear with Columbus, posting a .400/.510/.575 slash line through 11 games (51 plate appearances). Given the current makeup of Cleveland's roster, though, there just isn't a spot for Diaz to garner everyday at-bats. At Columbus, Diaz can not only play every day but also get time at multiple spots. The Indians have been playing him at third base and in the corner outfield spots. Cleveland liked Diaz's work at third base, but his path back to the big leagues might be in the outfield for now. Jose Ramirez is at third and isn't going anywhere.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for 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.