CLEVELAND -- The Indians will open the playoffs with their ace on hold.
Instead of starting Cy Young favorite Corey Kluber in Game 1 of the AL Division series, the defending league champions will pitch Trevor Bauer in Game 1 on Thursday against either Minnesota or New York.
Kluber will start Game 2. Manager Terry Francona said part of his decision to go with Bauer in the opener is so he can use his best pitcher in a Game 5.
"I think on a number of reasons it makes good sense," Francona said Tuesday as the Indians awaited the winner of the Twins-Yankees wild-card game. "Not that you go into a game thinking you're going to lose, but if you do, you have your ace coming back. The biggest thing was keeping him on his 5-day (schedule). That was really important to Kluber. That was really the only way we could do it.
"Again, you don't want to put the cart ahead of the horse, but if you're fortunate enough to win in four, you have your ace ready for the next series."
Kluber went 18-4 this season and will likely win his second Cy Young. He went 5-0 with a 0.84 ERA in six September starts.
Bauer, who nearly cost the Indians a shot at the World Series last year when he cut his finger while repairing a drone, shook off a slow start and went 17-9 with a 4.19 ERA in 31 starts.
Bauer's ability to recover more quickly was another factor for Francona, who will start 18-game winner Carlos Carrasco in Game 3.
"He's been one of the better pitchers in the league," Francona said. "He's durable. He bounces back really well. That's another thing. We can use him, whether it's a second start, or in the bullpen, probably easier than anybody on our roster. That's another factor. The chances of anybody besides Kluber going real deep probably aren't real good."
Josh Tomlin is penciled in for Game 4, but he will be available in the first three games.
Also, All-Star left fielder Michael Brantley will be on the ALDS 25-man roster as a pinch hitter. He was sidelined for 50 games with an injured ankle ligament before returning last week and getting a single in his first at-bats since Aug. 8.
Francona said the hope is for Brantley's role to expand if the Indians advance. The 30-year-old was sidelined during Cleveland's run to the World Series last year following shoulder surgeries.
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