CLEVELAND — Edwin Encarnacion took batting practice off left-hander Ryan Merritt and did some light running Tuesday during a workout at Progressive Field.
And though Indians manager Terry Francona would not officially say so, it sounds as if the team leader in home runs and RBIs will return to the lineup for a series-deciding Game 5 tonight.
“I think so,” Francona said. “We’re going to, obviously, go through the workout (Tuesday). He’s been hitting off the machine already, and we’re going to have him go out and run just to see where he is running-wise. He was never exactly our biggest base-stealing threat, but we want to use common sense.
“He’ll do some running and we’ll kind of gauge where he is. I think he’ll be OK. (Monday) night during the game he was moving and hitting around a little bit. I think he’ll be OK.”
The Indians were hopeful Encarnacion, who sustained an ankle injury Thursday in the opening inning of Game 2, could at least pinch hit, but he didn’t appear in either of Cleveland’s losses in New York.
Michael Brantley filled in for Encarnacion at DH in both games, but has gone just 1-for-11 with four strikeouts in the series as he attempts to find his rhythm after missing nearly two months at the end of the regular season with an ankle injury.
Brantley, who was expected to start in the outfield prior to the Encarnacion injury, will likely give way to Austin Jackson in left for Game 5.
“Sabathia’s been tough on him historically anyway,” Francona said of Brantley. “We may be better off having him on the bench. I haven’t quite worked through that yet. Obviously, a lot of that hinges on Edwin.”
Encarnacion’s addition would be a welcome sight for the Indians, who have struggled offensively in the series, batting .173 over four games and scoring three total runs over the past two.
No way, Jose
MVP candidate Jose Ramirez has been one of the biggest offensive disappointments, managing only two hits in 17 at-bats and striking out seven times in four games.
“Mechanically, he’s a little bit off,” Francona said. “I think we talked about this the other day. When you’re not exactly perfect mechanically and then you face a guy like (Masahiro) Tanaka (in Game 3 on Sunday), who’s got a ton of deception and movement, it exacerbates it. But he’s one of the best hitters in the game. We believe in those guys.
“For us to get where we’re going, those guys will help us get us there. It’s not always going to be 72 (degrees) and sunny. We realize that. You’ve got to fight through it together and that’s what we intend to do.”
Ramirez’s double-play partner, shortstop Francisco Lindor, has also scuffled. He hit a game-changing grand slam in a Game 2 win, but it’s his only hit of the series.
The Indians were one of the majors’ best fielding teams during the regular season — tops in the American League — but they were one of the worst Monday night in Game 4.
Cleveland committed four errors — two of them by third baseman Giovanny Urshela, who is on the roster because of his elite defense.
Francona said Urshela was sore from taking a Starlin Castro line drive off the leg in the second inning — an error that led to four unearned runs off Trevor Bauer in the second inning of a 7-3 loss.
If Urshela can’t go or Francona decides to make a change for Game 5, he could bring Jason Kipnis back to second base and move Ramirez over to third.
“I’ve got about four lineups down there just because there’s a lot of either/ors,” Francona said. “We’ll figure it out, though.”
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