Masterson may be candidate for closer's role
Indians right-hander likely to pitch only in relief situations during postseason
CLEVELAND -- The Indians enter Wednesday's American League Wild Card Game at Progressive Field without a defined closer. Staff leader Justin Masterson is considered to be capable of pitching only as a reliever at this time. As such, a decision to put Masterson in charge of the ninth inning seems like a logical move, though one Cleveland is not yet comfortable making.
On Monday, hours before the Rangers hosted the Rays for the right to face the Tribe, manager Terry Francona was asked how he will handle the unresolved closer situation.
"We're not there yet," said Francona, whose Indians will host the Wild Card Game on Wednesday at 8:07 ET on TBS. "We'll see how things go."
Francona's club went with a closer by committee after Thursday, when former closer Chris Perez gave up four ninth-inning runs in an eventual 6-5 win and was subsequently removed from his traditional role. Matt Albers pitched the ninth on Friday, Joe Smith followed suit on Saturday and Masterson threw the final frame of the regular season on Sunday. All those pitchers entered in non-save situations, including Perez, who compiled a 7.52 ERA while allowing opposing batters to hit .345 in his last 21 games, dating to Aug. 3.
Masterson, who sustained a left oblique strain on Sept. 2, made three relief appearances during the final week of the regular season. He surrendered just one hit across 3 2/3 scoreless innings, with seven strikeouts, one walk and one hit batter.
Because of his injury, Masterson is not stretched out enough to start. The team suspects he could return to the rotation during the latter stages of the American League Division Series, if the Indians win on Wednesday and move on to play Boston.
"We went from losing our best pitcher to probably being the only team left in baseball that could have a guy finish the game potentially throwing three innings," Francona said. "That's quite a weapon. We plan to use it. That's kind of the way we've played all year. Somebody picks somebody else up at a different time. We may not do it in a conventional style, but that doesn't mean we can't do it."
An All-Star this season, Masterson led the Indians with 195 strikeouts and 193 innings. He was also the only Tribe pitcher to record a shutout, of which he had three. The right-hander finished 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA.
If and when Masterson's stamina reaches prior levels during October, the Indians could decide to keep him in the bullpen. Right now, inserting him into the rotation is not even an option.
"Some of it probably depends on how stretched out he gets," Francona said. "He's a good pitcher, so I'm not as worried about what his role going forward is. I just like the idea that he's a really good pitcher and we plan to use him."
Tribe likely to use nine-man 'pen for WC tilt
CLEVELAND -- Indians fans have probably become accustomed to the expanded roster the club employed throughout September. When the Tribe takes the field on Wednesday for the American League Wild Card Game, the roster will resemble more closely its appearance across the regular season's first five months, though it won't be entirely the same.
Cleveland has begun the process of cutting its roster to 25. On Monday, manager Terry Francona, whose Indians will host the Wild Card Game on Wednesday at 8:07 ET on TBS, announced that outfielder Jason Kubel, along with relievers Blake Wood and Preston Guilmet would not be on it. Because his team does not need a full rotation for one game, Francona said the Indians would likely employ a nine-man bullpen.
"We're just trying to get a little bit organized as we try to move forward," Francona said, "just recognizing that, being realistic, we play a game Wednesday and if we lose, we go home. And if we win, we go to Boston. So, as much as we talk about not putting the cart ahead of the horse, you do have to be organized. So, we're starting to do that."
The roster for the Wild Card Game will be set by Wednesday morning. If the Indians win and advance to the AL Division series, they can reset it for Friday, when a possible best-of-five set against the Red Sox -- owners of the AL's best regular-season record -- would begin at Fenway Park.
In addition to figuring out which players won't make the Wednesday roster, the Indians are concerned with the health of those players who figure to be on it. Center fielder Michael Bourn (leg), starting pitcher Zach McAllister (side) and designated hitter Jason Giambi (forearm) are all nursing injuries.
Francona believes McAllister and Giambi are fine and sounded optimistic about Bourn, who on Sunday felt discomfort down on the back of his leg while trying to steal second base.
"He is feeling pretty good," Francona said of Bourn, who recently returned from a mild wrist sprain. "He felt something and he pulled up. Then, he felt pretty good, but my thinking was, OK, wait a minute. If you felt something, we've got Drew Stubbs sitting there. Put him in the game. And he showed up today and he doesn't actually feel too bad."
The Indians scheduled workouts at Progressive Field for the two days between Sunday's regular-season finale and Wednesday's Wild Card Game. The workout on Monday was optional.
"I think we're fortunate that we get to come here and work out today instead of playing," Francona said on Monday, before the Rays and Rangers met for the opportunity to come to Cleveland. "Because we played so well down the stretch, we get to do that. We very easily could've been playing today, and would've been happy to do it. This way, we get a chance to maybe heal up a little bit, give some guys in the bullpen some much needed rest and hopefully that helps us win a game on Wednesday."
Indians encourage fans to 'Rock Your Red'
CLEVELAND -- Progressive Field will be fit to burst on Wednesday night for the American League Wild Card Game at 8:07 ET on TBS. More than 42,000 fans are expected to pack the ballpark, and the Indians are hoping every last one of them comes to the game sporting red clothing.
Through a press release on Monday, the Indians encouraged game attendees to "Rock Your Red" on Wednesday as the Indians play their first postseason contest since 2007. White rally towels, sponsored by Progressive Insurance, will be given to every fan who comes out to watch the Tribe battle for a spot in the AL Division Series. The Indians' opponent will be determined by Monday's tiebreaker between the Rays and Rangers.
"Our players have said repeatedly that our fans' passion drives them on the field," club president Mark Shapiro said in the press release. "Let's 'Rock our Red' on Wednesday to push them to a Wild Card victory and show the nation that this is a Tribe Town!"
Progressive Field's gates will open at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Before fans are allowed to enter, however, a number of events will take place near the ballpark. SportsTime Ohio's "All Bets Are Off," the "Mike Trivisonno Show" and WMMS' "The Alan Cox Show" will all broadcast live between various times and at different locations. At Gateway Plaza, Budweiser will open its Build-A-Bar outfit at 4:30 p.m. and a U2 tribute band will perform at 5:30 p.m.
Local singer Dan Polk is set to sing the national anthem, while Indians Hall of Famer Andre Thornton will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
"I don't doubt that this place will be electric," manager Terry Francona said on Monday. "I think fans have been dying for that. I think it'll be fun. Fun means winning in front of your home fans. So hopefully that's what happens.
"We have some preparation to do to get there and we have two days to do it, but it's an exciting time."
Quote to note
"We stayed away from chicken and beer. That helped. I might as well get that out of the way." --
manager Terry Francona, when asked for the secret to the Indians' hot finish, which was much better for him than the late collapse of his 2011 Red Sox.
• The Indians find themselves in the favorable position of hosting the American League Wild Card Game after reeling off 21 wins in 27 September games and closing the regular season with a 10-game win streak. Seventeen games in the season's final month -- including each of the last 10 -- came against teams that finished with losing records, leading some to say that Cleveland unfairly benefited from a schedule that wasn't challenging enough.
"I couldn't care less," Francona said. "That's just like when I get asked about the last road trip, or the last 10 days, or the last month. What counts is your record. We played the same schedule as everybody else. And we went through a monster stretch earlier and I didn't hear anybody saying it then. And we survived. We didn't necessarily play anybody out, but we kept ourselves afloat. Everybody plays the same."
• There's no denying the added significance that accompanies postseason games. Francona believes maintaining consistency is key, so he will not put his oratory skills to use in a motivational effort before Wednesday's win-or-go-home game against Tampa Bay or Texas.
"I don't think we need to have a meeting. I think that sets off a red flag," Francona said. "They understand what's going on here. They just played 162 games and they've done a heck of a job. I think the best thing I can do is be consistent. If I do that, they're going to go play. I'll just sit right down where I sit at the end of the bench and pat them on the back, and tell them to keep going. They don't need a speech this time of year."
• Tribe starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who matched a career high with 13 strikeouts in Sunday's crucial win over Minnesota, was named the AL Pitcher of the Month for September. In six outings, Jimenez went 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA. Over 41 1/3 innings, he logged 51 strikeouts and issued just seven walks. This is the third time that Jimenez has won the monthly award. While with Colorado, he earned National League Pitcher of the Month honors in April and May 2010.
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.