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Indians likely to start Corey Kluber on Thursday

The centerpiece of the Indians starting rotating is nearing his first major league start in nearly a month after an encouraging rehab appearance on Friday.

CLEVELAND – The pieces are starting to fall back into place for an injury-plagued starting rotation.

Not only is Carlos Carrasco (left pectoral tightness) back at full strength, but Corey Kluber (lower back strain) seems to have cleared the last hurdle in his return from the 10-day disabled list.

Manager Terry Francona and staff will likely activate Kluber in time for a start against the Oakland Athletics on Thursday at 12:10 p.m. ET. The 2014 AL Cy Young winner last pitched on May 2, a day where his lingering lower back tightness worsened and forced him to exit after just 55 pitches.

“I saw it firsthand with him,” said Francona. “We knew his back was hurting from Arizona on, and who knows before that. That’s when we kind of started noticing. When he came off the field in Detroit, when Mickey made that trip to the mound, he came off and he said, ‘This isn’t good.’ So when he came off the field, I went down into the tunnel with him and I could tell. It had just gotten to the point that something needed to be done.”

Kluber was 3-2 with a 5.06 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and 17.9% home run to fly ball rate through six starts in 2017, all marks that exceed his totals from 2013-2016.

“He wasn’t himself and then you start to worry, it’s not just losing the game but he’s going to hurt himself,” Francona said. “It just gets to a point where it’s not fair. I think you guys would probably be surprised at the number of guys that every day they go out there and there’s something going on that if you didn’t play with every nick, nobody would ever play.”

The decision to keep Kluber sidelined since May 3 appears to be the right one given his rehab outing in Double-A Akron on Friday – 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R/ER, 0 BB, 1 K (47 pitches, 33 strikes, 70.2%, six groundouts, four flyouts).

“Almost too fine,” said Francona. “He only threw 47 pitches, so he went to the bullpen and threw another 15. Today he said normal soreness, which is good. And we talked for awhile. When we put it together I’ll certainly explain it and the why’s and all that. Still would like to get Mickey and the guys and kind of sit down and talk through the rest of it.”

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Tribe will align their rotation the same way, providing Mike Clevinger one more start before a potential assignment back at Triple-A Columbus.

“We’ve talked about a lot of things,” Francona said. “I think for right now, I’d like to talk to [Chris Antonetti], [Mike Chernoff] and those guys and Mickey (Callaway) a little bit more, but I think we have a pretty good plan in place for what to do.”

John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.

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