James Karinchak, Emmanuel Clase in battle to be Indians’ closer

Replacing four-time All-Star Francisco Lindor might be the biggest challenge for Indians manager Terry Francona, but it is far from the only one.

Francona also has to settle the back end of his bullpen before the regular season begins April 1 in Detroit. That means finding a replacement for closer Brad Hand, who was a perfect 16 for 16 in saves last year and led the Major Leagues in that department.

Money was the deciding factor in parting with Lindor and Hand. The Indians traded Lindor to the Mets because he will be a free agent in November without a new contract and the Indians can’t afford a new one for him. They declined a $10 million option on Hand, who signed a one-year deal with the Nationals for $10.5 million.

Whomever replaces Hand figures to be young and relatively inexperienced — at least in the pressure cooker of being a closer.

James Karinchak, 25, made his debut with the Tribe on Sept. 14, 2019. He pitched 5 1/3 innings that year, but he showed some moxie while finishing four games, walking one and striking out eight while allowing one earned run.

Karinchak pitched 27 innings in 27 games last season, often setting the stage for Hand. He relied on his knee-buckling curveball and struck out 53 batters — nearly two an inning — while allowing only one home run. He walked 16, however, and was not happy about that.

“I just want…

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