GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- If ever a group of pitchers deserved to spend the offseason in full-fledged pamper mode -- lolling on a white sand beach with coolers of frozen margaritas within easy reach -- it was the 2016 Cleveland Indians' staff.
When we last saw the Tribe, Corey Kluber was taking his workhorse reputation to another level, throwing 34⅓ postseason innings and making three starts on short rest before his needle hit empty in World Series Game 7. At the back end of the bullpen, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen were so dominant in high-leverage situations that they spurred talk of a relief usage "revolution.''
The trainers' room was also rife with intrigue. While Carlos Carrasco missed all of October with a fractured right pinkie finger, Danny Salazar was limited to a World Series bullpen cameo because of a forearm strain. And who can forget Trevor Bauer spewing blood on the Rogers Centre mound with a gashed right pinkie caused by a confrontation with a drone?
Three and a half months later, the Indians have reassembled in Arizona and pronounced themselves ready to go. The aches have dissipated, the fatigue has subsided and they're intent on doing everything in their power to avoid the dreaded "October hangover.''
"A lot of guys in here maybe had to think of how they were going to navigate it, because it was something we had never done,'' Allen said. "But as you get into it, you just listen to your body. For me personally, everything went well. I'm right on schedule, like any other year.''
After pushing themselves to the limit in the postseason, the Indians could be susceptible to the same workload-related impact that has hindered other playoff clubs in recent years. Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom suffered through injury-riddled seasons after pitching the New York Mets to the 2015 World Series, and Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito all endured significant ERA spikes following the San Francisco Giants' 2012 title run.
Chris Antonetti, Cleveland's president of baseball operations, isn't sure if the October hangover is as profound as some have suggested. But the Indians made sure to have pitching coach Mickey Calloway devise specialized workout and throwing plans for all their pitchers entering the offseason.
"If you think about it, you have a selection bias,'' Antonetti said. "You're looking at guys who were good enough to pitch on a team that was good enough to go that deep [into the postseason]. You're coming from a very high bar, so it's very likely they're going to regress to the mean.
"We've tried to look at it at an individual level. What does each guy need individually in terms of rest, recovery and preparation for the following season? We had individual plans for everyone in the winter, and we'll see which guys will have a bit of a different throwing program this spring.''
Miller stood out in the postseason because of his willingness to pitch anywhere from the fifth to the ninth inning, depending on what Cleveland manager Terry Francona needed on a given night. He logged 93⅓ regular season and postseason innings between the New York Yankees and the Indians -- compared to 62⅔ the previous season.
Miller was admittedly exhausted following his last World Series appearance. He spent a healthy chunk of the offseason working out with Carrasco in Tampa, Florida, and Salazar joined them for a couple of weeks.
"When I came out of Game 7, I was almost relieved,'' Miller said. "I thought, 'I'm done. I can't possibly pitch again this season.' But I felt like I recovered well. I was shocked, honestly, how well I felt.
"I've had seasons where we didn't make a playoff run and I threw far fewer innings, and I felt more lingering effects from throwing than I did last year. Hopefully, as I've gotten older, I've learned how to take care of myself. And they do an incredible job of taking care of us with this organization. Between the off days and the work we do with our training staff here, it paid off down the stretch.''
At 31, Miller feels spry enough this spring that he's going to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He wanted to represent his country, and he relished the thought of coming "full circle'' with Jim Leyland, who managed him in Detroit in 2006, when Miller broke into the majors as a 21-year-old rookie with the Tigers. He's also looking forward to jumping back into the fray after giving up a two-run homer to David Ross in World Series Game 7.
"I get to pitch in some big games right away and hopefully forget about the last game of last year sooner than later,'' Miller said, laughing.
Kluber, Cleveland's ace, has attained the requisite stature to ease into spring training and proceed at his own pace. He ranks third among MLB starters, behind David Price and Max Scherzer, with 672⅔ innings over the past three seasons, and he sets the tone for the rotation with his relentless work ethic.
The Indians could ultimately succeed or fail depending upon how Carrasco, Salazar, Bauer and Josh Tomlin fare behind Kluber in the rotation.
Salazar entered the offseason in a slightly better frame of mind after returning to pitch three scoreless relief innings in the World Series; he threw his first bullpen session right on schedule Wednesday in Goodyear.
Carrasco is showing no ill effects from the broken finger he suffered on an Ian Kinsler comebacker in mid-September. His biggest challenge over the winter was getting past the regret of being unable to contribute when the Indians needed him most.
"This part of the mind is hard to control, but I did it," said Carrasco, pointing an index finger at his head. "I just tried to forget everything that happened, and I told myself, 'This is the time to recover and get back to 100 percent.' I know these guys are going to need me.''
Bauer, Cleveland's resident deep thinker, adheres to his own program. On Wednesday, more than 30 Indians pitchers and catchers took part in a spirited endurance drill that consisted of sprinting back and forth between orange cones on a back field. Minor league pitcher Dylan Baker collapsed in exhaustion after winning the drill, and catchers Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez pushed themselves to the limit while finishing second and third. The event was strenuous enough that one pitcher vomited in the grass.
Bauer, meanwhile, was the first player to exit the race and spent the rest of the time taking it in as a spectator. It was the kind of strange interlude that spurs "Trevor being Trevor'' comments from his teammates and the occasional eye roll when his name comes up in conversation.
Bauer's self-inflicted drone wound in October was the consummate example of his approaching of baseball and life from an off-kilter vantage point. Cleveland management has no plans to curtail his fondness for high-tech flying gizmos.
"He wasn't doing anything he really shouldn't have been doing,'' Antonetti said. "It was just an accident. Different guys have different hobbies. A guy could have gotten a fishing hook caught in his finger. Guys hunt and fish and do all kinds of different things. Trevor happens to like drones. That's fine.''
After a winter spent gradually ramping up their activity, Bauer and the other Cleveland pitchers are back in camp and looking to build on their achievements from a special October. The Indians better be ready, because they won't have the luxury of flying beneath the radar in 2017.