CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Indians have been dealt a major blow at the worst time possible.
Their playoff chances have gone from hopeful to harmed.
Third baseman José Ramírez, whose hitting tear has aligned with Cleveland’s surge in the standings, will undergo surgery Monday on his broken right hand, a potentially devastating injury as the Indians try to catch Minnesota in the AL Central or capture a wild card.
Ramírez was placed on the injured list Sunday with a fractured hamate bone, an injury that typically takes more than a month to heal.
There is no clear timetable for his return, but it’s safe to assume Ramirez won’t be around down the stretch in September — or maybe in October, if the Indians make it that far.
Ramírez said “something cracked” in his hand when he swung in the first inning Saturday night and he knew immediately he was badly injured.
“I felt bad, especially in that situation, where the team is fighting,” he said Sunday through a translator when asked about his emotions. “Most importantly, we need all of us to contribute, so I felt really bad when that happened.”
In their first game without Ramírez, the Indians rallied for four runs in the ninth to tie Kansas City before losing 9-8 in 10 innings.
Cleveland, which has won the past three division titles, trails the Twins by 3½ games but still holds a wild-card spot in a tight race with Tampa Bay and Oakland for two AL berths.
Losing Ramirez for any length of time would be tough, but not having him during the season’s final month is especially challenging for the Indians, who have been dealing with injuries all season.
“There’s two ways to look at it: You can feel sorry for yourself, which probably doesn’t end well,” manager Terry Francona said. “Or you can choose to fight back and feel like this is our time to shine. And I would choose No. 2. I’m aware that it got more difficult. We lost a great player.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t win. Just makes it a little harder.”
Francona said the medical staff doesn’t believe Ramírez’s injury is connected to his previous soreness.
Ramírez started slowly this season — he was batting .201 on June 20 — but he had been playing like a two-time All-Star again and has been one of the Indians’ best hitters. Ramírez has always been an elite fielder, and the Indians’ defense could take a dip without him on the left side of the infield.
Ramírez is batting .254 with 33 doubles, 20 home runs and 75 RBIs in 126 games. He entered Sunday second in the majors in extra-base hits (32) and third in RBIs (40) in the second half.
Ramirez’s injury is the latest setback for the Indians, who have managed to stay in the playoff hunt despite being without two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber since May 1 with a broken arm and while starter Carlos Carrasco works his way back after being diagnosed with leukemia.
To take Ramírez’s roster spot, the Indians recalled infielder Yu Chang from Triple-A Columbus. He started Sunday and got his first two major league hits, a single and triple, and scored twice.
Francona was pleased with how quickly Chang contributed.
“That’s the message I tried to give him this morning, to be yourself,” Francona said. “And whatever that is. Sometimes guys come up and they try to be something they’re not, and then they’re not what they are.”
Francona will use Chang and utilityman Mike Freeman at third while Ramírez is out. Freeman replaced Ramírez in Saturday’s game and had two hits and drove in a run as the Indians beat the Royals 4-2.
Francona said the versatility of Freeman and Chang gives him options.
“It’s not going to be a straight platoon,” he said. “I don’t think that makes sense. Plus, we’ve moved Freeman around anyway. And Chang’s been moving around at Triple-A. He’s been playing three at short, three at third and three at second. So we have the ability to move guys around. We’ll let them know the night before and we’ll try to put two guys out there to try to take Josey’s place.
“Freeman’s done everything and more that we could have asked. So, I think we’ll be OK.”
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