Indians promote strikeout expert James Karinchak ahead of pivotal series with Twins and amid closer Brad Hand's absence

If Cleveland is to win the American League Central -- as most non-Minnesota residents predicted in the springtime -- then this is the weekend for them to make their move. Beginning on Friday, Cleveland will play three games against the Minnesota Twins. A sweep could reduce the gap between the pair to just a half game, provided the Twins lose on Thursday in their series finale against the Washington Nationals.

Though the two sides just met last weekend, with Cleveland taking two of the three games, Terry Francona's bullpen will have a different look this go around. Closer Brad Hand, who has seen his ERA increase by nearly a full run since the start of August, is likely unavailable due to arm fatigue (though a recent MRI came back clean):

In response, Cleveland will promote relief prospect James Karinchak:

Karinchak, for the unaware, is a soon-to-turn 24-year-old who has dominated minor-league hitters. In 30 innings across three levels this season, he has accumulated 74 strikeouts and a 2.67 ERA. His strikeout-per-nine innings rate is 22 -- that isn't a typo, he's really, truly averaging 22 strikeouts per nine innings.

Karinchak pairs a big-time fastball with a power curve and delivers the ball from a high release point. His mechanics are high-effort and do inspire a fair amount of volatility -- hence him issuing a walk more than every other inning. Still, Karinchak's stuff can miss bats and suppress contact, and that's a formula that has proven to work in baseball's current landscape. As such, he could find himself pitching in a high-leverage spot sooner than later.

It's unclear if Francona would be so bold as to deploy Karinchak in the ninth inning this weekend, regardless of whether Hand is present or not. Adam Cimber and Nick Wittgren have each recorded saves recently.

CBS Sports Staff

R.J. Anderson joined CBS Sports in 2016. He previously wrote for Baseball Prospectus, where he contributed to five of the New York Times bestselling annuals. His work has also appeared in Newsweek and... Full Bio

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