Following a Carlos Santana solo home run, the Cleveland Indians entered the bottom of the 10th inning of their Wednesday night matchup with the New York Mets clinging to a 3-2 lead.
It wouldn't last long.
After entering the game with a save on the line, Indians closer Brad Hand proceeded to surrender a leadoff double to Amed Rosario, who eventually scored on a fielder's choice. A J.D. Davis single to deep left would ultimately bring in Michael Conforto to hand Cleveland its second straight loss and Hand's third consecutive blown save and third in his last five chances.
Despite Hand's recent struggles, Indians manager Terry Francona insists he's sticking by his All-Star closer.
"To get where we want to go, we've got to get him hot," Francona told reporters after the game.
But with Cleveland currently 3.0 games back of the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central and just a half-game ahead of both the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays for the top A.L. Wild Card spot, Francona may soon have no choice but to reconsider his options.
With that in mind, here are three options to Hand the Indians could consider should Hand's struggles persist:
At this point, it's still too early to tell how much the Indians will be able to rely on Carlos Carrasco -- or whether he'll be returning this season at all. But it shouldn't be seen as anything less than an encouraging sign that he's scheduled to make his second rehab start with the Double-A Akron RubberDucks on Thursday as he continues to work his way back from leukemia, which he was diagnosed with in June.
Obviously, Carrasco's health comes first and foremost. But it's also worth noting that he's been working on a relief pitcher's throwing program.
Should the 32-year-old return to the big leagues this season, it will almost assuredly be as a member of Cleveland's bullpen.
While he may not have the prototypical velocity for a traditional closer, the right-hander's track record and experience could eventually make him an intriguing option at the end of games. Whether he's a closer or not, it's hard to envision a scenario where Carrasco's potential return wouldn't have a massive impact on an Indians bullpen that's already been one of the best in baseball this season.
Closer by committee
Speaking of the Indians' bullpen, which lays claim to an MLB-best 3.44 ERA this season, the unit's success could give Francona the confidence to rely on multiple alternatives to Hand depending on the situation of any given game.
Between Nick Wittgren, Tyler Clippard, Nick Goody and Oliver Perez, the Indians, at the very least, have four consistent -- and versatile -- relievers to rely on -- and that's before Carrasco's potential return.
Closing out a game, of course, is different from traditional relief work. But should Hand's post-All-Star break struggles continue, the correct solution for Francona may also be the most obvious one.
For as unlikely as it might be that Francona would be willing to move on from Hand, it's even less likely that he'd do so in order to turn Cleveland's closer role over to a rookie.
Nevertheless, right-hander James Karinchak remains an intriguing name, who also possesses the potential to be the Indians' closer of the future.
Selected out of Bryant College in the ninth round of the 2017 MLB Draft, Karinchak has enjoyed a rapid rise through the Indians' minor league system, largely working as a back of the bullpen pitcher. In 42 games last season between A-plus, Single-A and Double-A, he amassed a 4-2 record, 1.29 ERA, 14 saves and 81 strikeouts.
This season, the 23-year-old has split his time between the Arizona Rookie League, Double-A Akron and most recently, Triple-A Columbus. In 26 combined appearances, he's totaled a 3.12 ERA, 7 saves and 63 strikeouts -- although it's worth noting that after failing to allow a single run in Arizona or Akron, he's posted a 6.23 ERA in 13 appearances in Columbus.
All things considered, it would appear Karinchak may be ready to help the Indians bullpen -- just not as a closer.
At least not yet.