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Indians will face rough road to the postseason without Salazar or Carrasco

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The Cleveland Indians may be one of the fortunate few whose place in the postseason is all but secured, but getting through the playoffs will be an entirely different story. On the heels of a season-ending forearm injury for right-hander Danny Salazar, the Indians lost their No. 2 starter when Ian Kinsler smacked a 101 m.p.h. line drive off of Carlos Carrasco’s hand in the first inning of Saturday’s game against the Tigers.

Carrasco exited the game after just two pitches and X-rays later revealed a fractured metacarpal bone in his throwing hand. According to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, the Indians don’t yet have an estimate for the right-hander’s return. If he follows the same timetable for recovery as the Tigers’ Nick Castellanos, who broke the same bone in his hand back in August, there’s little to no chance that he’ll return to Cleveland’s roster within the season, let alone as a playoff contributor.

Salazar, too, is expected to be out of service for the next 3-4 weeks while he recovers from forearm tightness in his throwing arm. Although manager Terry Francona didn’t rule out the possibility that Salazar could contribute in later rounds of the playoffs, the Indians will have to look elsewhere to cobble together enough quality starts to make it that far.

As the roster currently stands, Francona’s rotation includes four viable starters: Cy Young Award candidate Corey Kluber, right-handers Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, and rookie Mike Clevinger. Kluber has been solid in the second half, turning out the second-lowest ERA among American League starters, at 2.40, and racking up 1.5 fWAR in 82 ⅔ innings. Where Kluber improved his second half production, Bauer appears to have regressed, bringing his 3.30 ERA up to 5.17 since the All-Star break and maintaining a team-worst 3.75 BB/9 in 69 ⅔ innings. His second-half fWAR, at 0.7, ranks just above that of Josh Tomlin’s -0.1 mark.

Beyond Kluber and Bauer, the Indians’ pitching staff is on shaky ground. Tomlin entered the rotation following Salazar’s untimely exit and yielded five strong innings against the White Sox, giving up one run and striking out two batters in Cleveland’s 6-1 win. Outside of his spot start, he’s been a little unsteady, however, and his 7.22 ERA and 2.41 HR/9 in the second half are the highest marks in the Indians’ rotation.

Clevinger, on the other hand, has primarily pitched out of the bullpen this year, and hasn’t lasted longer than five innings in any start he’s made in 2016. It should come as some comfort to Francona that Clevinger hasn’t had a full-blown meltdown since a string of poor starts back in May, and has worked hard to bring his ERA down from 7.71 in the first half to a respectable 3.10 in the second.

Whether Clevinger will be able to last through five- and six-inning starts remains to be seen, however, and there’s still been no discussion about a potential fifth starter bolstering the rotation as the club approaches the end of the season. Without a serviceable rotation, the Indians will rely more heavily on a fourth-best offensive drive and eighth-best bullpen to carry them through these next two weeks. Barring further injuries, what happens beyond that is anyone’s guess.

Nationals GM Rizzo won’t reveal length of Martinez’s new contract

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WASHINGTON — Dave Martinez spoke Saturday about managing the Washington Nationals for “many, many years” and over the “long term” and “quite some time,” thanks to his contract extension.

Sharing a table to a socially distanced degree with his manager on a video conference call to announce the new deal – each member of the duo sporting a 2019 World Series ring on his right hand – Nationals GM Mike Rizzo referred to the agreement’s “multiyear” nature, but repeatedly refused to reveal anything more specific in response to reporters’ questions.

“We don’t talk about terms as far as years, length and salaries and that type of thing. We’re comfortable with what we have and the consistency that we’re going to have down the road,” said Rizzo, who recently agreed to a three-year extension of his own. “That’s all we want to say about terms, because it’s private information and we don’t want you guys to know about it.”

When Martinez initially was hired by Rizzo in October 2017 – his first managing job at any level – the Nationals’ news release at the time announced that he was given a three-year contract with an option for a fourth year.

That 2021 option had not yet been picked up.

“The partnership that Davey and I have together, our communication styles are very similar. Our aspirations are similar, and kind of our mindset of how to obtain the goals that we want to obtain are similar. I think it’s a good match,” Rizzo said. “We couldn’t have hit on a more positive and enthusiastic leader in the clubhouse. I think you see it shine through even in the most trying times.”

The Nationals entered Saturday – Martinez’s 56th birthday – with a 23-34 record and in last place in the NL East, which Rizzo called “a disappointing season.” The team’s title defense was slowed by injuries and inconsistency during a 60-game season delayed and shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.

World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg threw just five innings because of a nerve issue in his pitching hand and players such as Starlin Castro, Sean Doolittle, Tanner Rainey, Adam Eaton and Carter Kieboom finished the year on the IL.

“This year, for me, we didn’t get it done. We had a lot of bumps in the road this year. But I really, fully believe, we’ve got the core guys here that we need to win another championship,” Martinez said. “I know Mike, myself, we’re going to spend hours and hours and hours trying to fill the void with guys we think can potentially help us in the future. And we’ll be back on the podium. I’m really confident about that.”

Rizzo was asked Saturday why the team announces contract lengths for players, as is common practice around the major leagues, but wouldn’t do so in this instance for Martinez.

“The reason is we don’t want anybody to know. That’s the reason,” Rizzo said, before asking the reporter: “How much do you make? How many years do you have?”

Moments later, as the back-and-forth continued, Rizzo said: “It’s kind of an individual thing with certain people. I don’t want you to know what I make or how many years I have. Davey doesn’t want you to know. And I think that it’s only fair … when people don’t want certain information out there, that we don’t give it.”

There were some calling for Martinez to lose his job last season when Washington got off to a 19-31 start. But Rizzo stood by his manager, and the team eventually turned things around, going 74-38 the rest of the way to reach the playoffs as an NL wild-card team.

The Nationals then beat the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals to reach the World Series, where they beat the Houston Astros in Game 7.

Washington joined the 1914 Boston Braves as the only teams in major league history to win a World Series after being 12 games below .500 during a season.

“Everything from Day 1 to where he’s gotten to now, he’s grown so much. He’s really become one of my favorite managers of all,” three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer said after helping Washington win Saturday’s opener of a doubleheader against the New York Mets. “Davey really understands how to manage a clubhouse, manage a team. We saw it in the postseason. He knows how to push the right buttons when everything is on the line.”