Bullpen scrambles, steps up for injured Civale

4:04 AM UTC

CLEVELAND — The Guardians knew that Shane Bieber’s complete game in the matinee of the doubleheader against the White Sox on Tuesday was crucial in saving their bullpen during this difficult stretch in their schedule. But little did they know how badly they’d need their relief corps on Wednesday.

After throwing just 20 pitches in the first inning of the Guardians’ 2-1 loss to Chicago at Progressive Field, Aaron Civale was removed from the game with right wrist soreness and was sent for an MRI after his departure. The team is still waiting for the results.

“I think he has felt it for a little bit,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said, when asked if this was the first time Civale felt pain in his wrist. “It’s a little murky still. And again, it was happening quick. We were trying to look at him and the inning went real fast with the double play. It was happening quick, so I just told [head athletic trainer] James [Quinlan] to take him and try to get a pitcher in the game.”

Civale showed no signs of pain on the rubber and his velocity was up on all of his pitches compared to his season average, but when he got into the dugout, the coaching and training staff was trying to determine the next best step.

Injuries have followed Civale over the last year, considering he missed significant time in 2021 due to a sprained right middle finger and already had a brief stint on the injured list in May with left glute soreness.

As Civale was being tended to, the Guardians’ bullpen was perplexed by an unusually early call. When the phone rang, the relief corps was anxiously waiting to hear the news. But because the bottom of the first inning went so quickly, there was no time to get any of the relievers warmed up. So, when Eli Morgan was told he was going in the game, he had to hustle to the rubber and get himself prepared to kick off an unexpected bullpen game.

“We’re just ready for that,” Morgan said. “We’ve got a really good bullpen down there, we’re all capable of throwing extra innings. I think we’re built for it.”

The bullpen may feel prepared to handle this type of scenario, and it proved on Wednesday it could, limiting the White Sox to just two runs while covering eight innings. But the problem is if the team can afford to have another bullpen game right out of the break if Civale is forced to go on the injured list.

Right now, Konnor Pilkington is the only legitimate option the team has on its 40-man roster to replace Civale in the rotation. The plan was to have Pilkington pitch one of the two games of the Guardians and White Sox doubleheader the Saturday after the All-Star break to help keep the rotation on schedule in a grueling stretch of 18 games in 17 days to start the second half of the season. But if Pilkington is needed to fill in for Civale instead, the team may not have any other option but to have a bullpen game in one of the two contests for the twin bill.

The bullpen was one of the unexpected strengths of this team to start the season, but as it’s been overused in a plethora of doubleheaders with few off-days, the numbers haven’t been as sharp. After the group finally would have a chance to catch its collective breath over the All-Star break, it’d be difficult to immediately be thrown back in the fire with a bullpen game in the second matchup of the second half of the season with no off-day in sight.

The Guardians could look to add another Minor League starter to the 40-man roster, but because the team has so many young players already on the roster, it may not want to sacrifice designating one of them for assignment to avoid having the bullpen game.

All of this will weigh on the Guardians’ minds over the break, assuming Civale needs a stint on the injured list. But for now, the team will cross its fingers, hoping that this bridge will not have to be crossed.

“We don’t have the results back yet,” Francona said. “We don’t know [anything] right now.”