Masterson to be used as reliever temporarily
Indians hope righty can build up strained left oblique enough to start in playoffs
CLEVELAND -- Justin Masterson is inching closer to a comeback for the Indians, but in a different role than fans might expect. Cleveland's current plan is for its rotation leader to return temporarily as a reliever until he is deemed capable of handling a full workload.
If everything falls in place, and the Indians maintain their hold on one of the two American League Wild Card spots, Masterson could be built up enough to start again in the playoffs. The sinkerballer has been sidelined with a strained left oblique for nearly three weeks.
"He's excited about however I get to come back," said Masterson, referring to Indians manager Terry Francona. "I think it's nice that we're close to being able to say we have some extra firepower in this push and, Lord willing, we'll make the playoffs."
Francona indicated that Masterson is scheduled to test his side during a simulated game either following Sunday's game against the Astros or during Monday's off-day. Right now, Cleveland is leaning toward having the right-hander do the simulated game on the Progressive Field mound, helping the pitcher better simulate a game setting.
Following that mound workout, which would include at least two simulated innings, Masterson would likely work into a handful of games before the conclusion of the regular season.
"We'll see where that leads," Francona said. "I just think it's a little unrealistic to expect him to get deep into a game. ... We're recognizing who we're dealing with here. He's been our best pitcher all year. But he has thrown out of the bullpen, and he can impact us positively while he's also, hopefully, getting somewhat stretched out."
Masterson -- an All-Star for the first time this season -- is 14-10 with a 3.52 ERA in 189 1/3 innings (29 starts) this year. In an outing against the Orioles on Sept. 2, the right-hander exited after facing five batters due to pain in his left side. Masterson resumed throwing on Sept. 12 and has not experienced any setbacks since increasing the intensity of his workouts.
Francona, Masterson and pitching coach Mickey Callaway met on Saturday to discuss the pitcher's options.
"We're just trying to figure out the best way to help the team," Masterson said. "Tito kind of feels that's maybe in relief, and also the fact of -- since it's still early in the process -- keeping the workload in a sense down in some way, shape or form. That's still a tentative plan. It's a nice tentative plan, but it still leaves [things] open."
Shaw providing Indians with top-notch relief
CLEVELAND -- Relievers are often superstitious by nature. That is especially the case when the pitcher is currently enjoying a hot streak.
It made sense then that Indians reliever Bryan Shaw tried to dodge the reporters who were looking for him in Cleveland's clubhouse on Saturday afternoon. And it also explained, after stopping for an interview, Shaw's response to the first question he fielded.
"No comment," Shaw said with a smirk.
For the better part of the past three months, Shaw has been one of the Tribe's unsung heroes out of the bullpen. Indians manager Terry Francona has leaned heavily on the right-hander, and Shaw has responded with a statistical showing that puts him among the American League's top relievers since early July.
"He came out of Spring Training as probably one of our best strike-throwers," Francona said. "And he has that cutter. Then he went through a little bit of a lull, where he started to fall behind. I think some of it was as he faced more left-handers. ... To his credit, man, he reeled it back in and he's been a weapon. And he will continue to be."
Entering Saturday, Shaw has gone 5-3 with a 3.42 ERA in a career-high 71 innings for the Indians, who acquired him from the D-backs in an offseason trade. Dating back to July 6, Shaw has posted a .178 opponents' batting average and a 1.95 ERA, which rank fifth and ninth, respectively, in the AL among the 44 relievers who have logged at least 25 innings in that time period.
Shaw has a 1.33 ERA across 20 1/3 innings since Aug. 12 and he has spun 11 1/3 shutout innings (to go along with nine strikeouts and no walks) in September.
"Earlier in the year, things were going well, but then you're going to struggle a little bit," Shaw said. "I think it was just mechanical and trying to get ahead of guys and trying to attack guys, and not trying to be too fine with pitches or nibbling here or there. I'm throwing how I want to throw it, getting after it and trying to attack guys."
During Friday's 2-1 win over the Astros, Shaw logged the last 1 1/3 innings and earned a save when the game was called due to rain before the bottom of the seventh.
"I didn't even realize it until we came in here," Shaw said of picking up his first save for Cleveland. "One of the guys mentioned it to me when we came in after the game. They said, 'Hey, if we call it, you get the save.' I was like, 'Yeah, I do get it.' That's kind of cool."
Francona congratulates Sox's Farrell on playoff berth
CLEVELAND -- With their win over Toronto on Friday, the Red Sox clinched the American League East title for the first time since 2007.
Back then, current Indians manager Terry Francona was still at the helm in Boston. Francona, who led the Red Sox to a pair of World Series titles, reached out to first-year Boston manager John Farrell to congratulate him on the postseason berth. The Tribe skipper is "very happy" for Farrell, who was on the same Indians team as Francona in 1988 and served as Francona's pitching coach in Boston from 2007-10.
"And there's some guys there, too." Francona said. "[Dustin] Pedroia, and that group of guys, [David] Ortiz, [Jacoby] Ellsbury. There's a group of guys there that I'm pretty fond of, and John's one of my closest friends, not just in baseball, but in life."
Indians infielder Mike Aviles, a member of Red Sox Nation from 2011-12, hasn't yet spoken with his former teammates, but he's going to.
"I plan on reaching out to guys like [Will] Middlebrooks, Pedroia and Papi, just because I talk to them quite a bit," Aviles said. "They're good friends. I didn't get a chance to talk to them, but I'm happy they made it in, because I know what everybody went through last year. It's always good when you can go from last to first."
Farrell's Red Sox entered Saturday at 94-61, good enough for the Majors' best record. He is the seventh manager in Boston history to steer the club into the playoffs during his first year in charge.
Given his respect for Farrell, Francona -- who won a championship in his initial season in Boston -- wasn't very surprised by that accomplishment. Francona expected Farrell to succeed, despite Boston's last-place finish a year ago.
"I always felt that way," Francona said. "I just thought there was an immediate buy-in from the best players on that team, the guys that were already there that knew him. And guys I've mentioned -- [Jon] Lester, [Clay] Buchholz, Pedroia -- I guarantee you they were excited when he was hired. That immediately got them back to where they were going to be, not only relevant, but really good."
Quote to note
"I can't figure out the way where they can both lose. When you start doing math, when we win, we're fine. When you lose, you hope. It's not do or die. It's do or it hurts."
-- Francona, on watching games involving other Wild Card contenders
• Heading into Saturday's game, Indians reliever Matt Albers had a 3.32 ERA in 52 games out of the bullpen. Dating back to Aug. 6, the right-hander has posted a 2.33 ERA to go along with a .224 opponents' batting average across 18 games (19 1/3 innings).
"Matty goes way under the radar," Francona said. "He's pitched some huge innings for us and he does it quietly. It doesn't go unnoticed by us."
• A Major League Baseball production crew has been following the Indians throughout their current series against the Astros, gathering behind-the-scenes footage and having a couple of players wear microphones for in-game audio. Cleveland will be featured in an episode of "Mission October," airing at 7:30 p.m. ET on Monday on FOX Sports 1.
• Entering Saturday, the Indians' pitching staff had fashioned a 3.20 ERA (189 earned runs in 531 2/3 innings since the All-Star break, marking the second-best ERA in the AL in that span. Only Kansas City (2.96) had a better team ERA in the AL in the second half.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.