CLEVELAND — Terry Francona and the Guardians have always said they’d do what was right by the player during an injury rehab situation. They won’t divert from that notion now.
But they are facing a tight bind when it comes to the possible returns of Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie. Time is certainly not on their side as two pitchers, with whom they must be careful, slowly work their way back to the mound.
Bieber has been on the injured list since July 15 with elbow inflammation. McKenzie was placed on the IL on June 17 with a UCL sprain in his pitching elbow.
It’s unclear what, if anything, either pitcher can offer the Guardians over the final month of the season, as they try to track down the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central. The three pitchers the team claimed off waivers might help, but the absences of Bieber and McKenzie certainly hurt.
Speaking before Monday’s game with Minnesota — which quickly went sideways as the Twins pounded Lucas Giolito in his Cleveland debut for a 20-6 win — Francona detailed that Bieber and McKenzie could face live hitters in Lake County on Thursday or Friday, respectively. It’s possible, if all goes well, that the next step after that could be a minor league rehab appearance.
But with Bieber and McKenzie, the Guardians will be dealing with two badly needed starters — and two pitchers with whom they must be cautious. Bieber missed a major portion of the 2021 season with a shoulder issue. And whether he’s pitching in Cleveland in 2024 or if he’s traded away before that, his return to health is essential.
For McKenzie, he and the team have opted to forego surgery, but any UCL injury comes with added risk that it could lead to Tommy John Surgery, and an 18-month rehab process.
“[We have] tried to always first do what’s right for the player,” Francona said. “I think we’ve always said that, whether it’s convenient for us or not, you got to do what’s right for the player. So on the schedule that we have, and this is all tentative because, shoot, one day you might have the sniffles — so, I mean, things change, but I think we were getting ’em out to about 80 pitches before they would pitch for us. And that’s probably sometime around the 20th, and we could get a few starts from them.”
The Guardians are in the middle of the crucial series with the Twins. They’ll end the season on Oct. 1 in Detroit. And despite a tough schedule in September, they’ll have plenty of ground to make up.
Bieber and McKenzie are racing time in a situation in which the Guardians can’t rush them. It’s a difficult balance.
“I mean, they’ve attacked what they’ve been asked to do, which is the way you want it, and the hope is that there aren’t any hiccups,” Francona said. “They get through this next [step] with facing hitters and then we would send them out to pitch in a minor league rehab game, that would be next. So hopefully they stay on course and get ’em back and see ’em pitch for us.”
Bieber has pitched only 117 innings this season (3.77 ERA), and McKenzie has thrown all of 10 innings.
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If the Guardians are to catch the Twins, they might need one or both near the end of the month to increase those totals. It’s also possible, though, that they could fall out of the race by the time the duo is ready to return.
Lucas Giolito rocked in Cleveland debut, and David Fry saves the bullpen
The Guardians claiming three pitchers off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels recently was their last grasp at contending for a playoff spot. In doing so, Cleveland added Giolito and two relievers, Reynaldo Lopez and Matt Moore. But perhaps just as importantly, the Guardians stopped the Twins from having any chance of claiming some much-needed bullpen help.
Giolito started arguably the biggest game to date, but it quickly went off the rails, as he was pounded for nine earned runs. When he was with the Angels, Giolito struggled with home runs and walks. Those issues didn’t remain on the West Coast.
It led to David Fry pitching four innings in an effort to save the bullpen for the remaining two games of the series. The term “must-win game” tends to be overused in sports but, with the Guardians six games behind the Twins after Monday’s loss, Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s games are close to it.
Of course, the Twins teed off on Fry, who was throwing 55-mph fastballs. Joey Gallo crushed a ball into the second deck in right field, and the Twins ended up scoring seven more runs.
At a certain point, it becomes as much about the Guardians making sure the bullpen is rested, but also that no position player hurts himself trying to finish the game.
“I trust him enough that he’s — it’s not easy,” Francona said of Fry. “I don’t care who you are, nobody wants to go out and just get their brains beat out. But he’s strong enough mentally to just not overdo it and he won’t hurt himself. And now hopefully we have a chance to win tomorrow. And if we do, he sucked up a bunch of innings for us.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Guardians at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/cleveland-guardians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Guardians’ Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie rehab progress