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Indians place Mike Clevinger on injured list with upper back strain

In a brutal blow to an Indians club that doesn’t have much going for it besides its rotation, Clevinger is expected to miss at least two months.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians Photo by Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Indians starting pitcher Mike Clevinger is expected to miss extended time after being placed on the injured list with an upper back strain prior to Tuesday’s game:

Many experts and fans still consider the Indians the favorites this year in a watered-down AL Central, but Cleveland certainly didn’t give anyone much reason to have faith in that prediction with their offseason performance, subtracting Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion, Yan Gomes, Melky Cabrera, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen while essentially replacing them with the re-acquired Carlos Santana, minor trade acquisitions Kevin Plawecki, Jordan Luplow, and Max Moroff, and dumpster-dive signings Carlos Gonzalez (who is still getting up to speed in Triple-A) and Hanley Ramirez.

It was clear when Cleveland also lost middle infielders Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis to injuries this spring that they’d need their starting pitching to make up for their severe lack of offense or established bullpen depth. They had mostly done that thus far, with the staff picking up an offense that has gone a combined .182/.262/.273 over the season’s first nine games. The pitching staff has a collective 2.85 ERA that ranks fourth in the majors thus far, and sure enough, the team on a four-game winning streak and is treading water at 6-3.

That could all change, however, with the news of Clevinger’s injury. While Trevor Bauer was giving him a good run for his money, he had very arguably been the Indians’ best starter thus far, throwing 12 shutout innings over two starts while striking out 22 and giving up just two hits and four walks. His presence was crucial in a stacked rotation that also includes Bauer, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Shane Bieber, and it remains to be seen as to how Cleveland will replace him.

The Indians have several depth starters in Triple-A who are on the 40-man roster and have major-league experience — namely Cody Anderson and Jefry Rodriguez (Adam Plutko is also on the 40-man but is out with a forearm strain). While those guys may be able to get through five innings without self-destructing, they almost certainly won’t have the same ability as Clevinger to offset the lack of offense they’re getting from everyday starters such as Leonys Martin, Jake Bauers, and Roberto Perez, as well as temporary starters Eric Stamets and Brad Miller.