- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

CLEVELAND (AP) - Cleveland Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who has been on the disabled list since April 25 with a strained left hamstring, will start Thursday against the Kansas City Royals.

Carrasco’s return is expected to provide a boost to the Indians, who also have played most of the season without outfielder Michael Brantley as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery.

Despite having two key players go down with injuries, the Indians have remained near the top of the AL Central. Cleveland entered Tuesday 1½ games behind Kansas City in the division.

Carrasco was injured covering first base against the Detroit Tigers on April 24. The Indians announced at the time that he would miss four to six weeks. Carrasco has been throwing and participating in fielding drills.

“Everything feels good,” he said. “I just want to get back to help my team win some games.”

Manager Terry Francona feared the worst when Carrasco grabbed his left leg and went to the ground in pain. He couldn’t put any weight on his leg and needed help from the team’s trainers to reach the dugout.

“There was a chance when it happened that the trainers thought maybe it was a potential surgery,” Francona said. “To have him back, he’s worked his tail off. We’re very fortunate.”

Francona said Carrasco, who pitched four innings Saturday during a minor league rehab appearance, will throw approximately 80 pitches against Kansas City.

“I’ve been testing it a lot,” Carrasco said. “Running in the game. I was covering first for a double play. I had another one between me and the catcher, so I had to break a little bit faster, quick, to get the ball and throw. I did my gassers, too, but everything feels fine.”

Carrasco is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in four starts. He went 14-12 with a 3.63 ERA in 30 starts last season.

Carrasco will join Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer in the rotation. Rookie right-hander Mike Clevinger, who is 0-1 in three starts, could be optioned to Triple-A Columbus when Carrasco returns.

Brantley had surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder in November and began the season on the DL. He returned and played in 11 games but went on back on the DL on May 14. Brantley has begun hitting off a tee, but there’s no timetable for his return.

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