CLEVELAND: It took more than half a season, but the Indians' bullpen finally is becoming an asset.
Manager Eric Wedge credits the relievers' recent success to the rotation, at least in part.
"We are in that position because of what the starting pitchers have done,'' he said Wednesday.
Because the starters have been staying in games for six or seven innings, a still-thin bullpen has not been stretched to the limits.
Kerry Wood remains underused as a closer because the Tribe continues to lag in save situations. Even in winning 13 of the past 19, going into Wednesday night's game against the Rangers, Wood has added only three saves to his total in four opportunities.
The bigger problem has been the setup role, but Tony Sipp, Chris Perez and Joe Smith -- dividing up chances in both the seventh and eighth innings -- are beginning to establish themselves.
For good reason, Wedge has been cautious in announcing that these three pitchers have absolutely taken control of the seventh and eighth innings, but he is appreciate of their workmanship so far.
Wedge knows there is still work to be done. At a minimum, a manager can get along with four reliable relievers, but that obviously isn't the ideal number.
"Jess Todd is a young pitcher who we're going to give opportunities to,'' the manager said. "And we still have to try and get Jensen Lewis and Rafael Perez going.'
Lewis and Perez initiated the decline of the bullpen when they botched the job of being co-setup men coming out of spring training. Both ended up in the minors to regain the form that had made them successful earlier.
The question is whether the good work they did over the past couple of years was ""real,'' as Wedge likes to say.
"Perez did it for two years, so that definitely was real,'' the manager said. ""With Jensen, he's done it is spurts. We're still trying to figure out what he needs to do.''
Lewis' problems have manifested themselves in giving up 10 home runs in 42 2/3 innings.
"That's being a little sloppy,'' Wedge said. ""Every pitch counts. You have to be all in with each pitch from the get-go.''
That said, Wedge thinks that Lewis is the type of pitcher who can show up in the middle of an inning with runners on base and put out the fire.
"When Jensen is going good, I feel good about bringing him into a situation in the middle of an inning,'' the manager said. ""He's got that kind of heartbeat.''
END OF THE LINE -- Removing Josh Barfield from the 40-man roster and outrighting him to Columbus is a sure indicator that he will be playing for another team next year.
Barfield's three-year misadventure in the Indians' organization seemed doomed almost from the start. He struggled in 2007, batting .243 with three homers and 50 RBI, but his downfall became certain when Asdrubal Cabrera was promoted from Triple-A and took away Barfield's second base job.
"It just seemed like Josh was never able to get untracked,'' Wedge said. ""He struggled to get it all together. There is a period of time a team has with a player, after that, you have to move forward.''
MORE ACCOLADES -- Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and to a lesser extent second baseman Luis Valbuena made dazzling plays in the field and important contributions at the plate. But that's not all.
"Both of them are vocal guys,'' Wedge said. "They're leadership kinds of guys, not afraid to speak up. And the more they're out there together, the better they get.''
WAIVER CLAIMER -- The Tribe claimed left-hander R.J. Swindle, 26, on outright waivers from Tampa Bay and optioned him to Columbus.
Swindle pitched for Nashville (the Brewers' Triple-A affiliate), compiling a 3-1 record with wtwo saves and a 1.03 ERA in 31 relief outings. He also made six appearances for Milwaukee, posting a 16.20 ERA in 6 2/3 innings.
The Brewers designated him for assignment, and he was claimed on waivers Aug. 7 by the Rays, who let him go the next day.
Swindle was born in Vancouver, B.C. and was taken in the 14rth round of the 2004 draft by the Red Sox.
FARM FACTS -- Lou Marson had three hits and Wes Hodges doubled and singled in Columbus' 4-2 win over Indianapolis. Carlos Carrasco made his first start for the Clippers and gave up one run and four hits in eight innings. Carrasco was part of the deal that sent Cliff Lee to Philadelphia... Paolo Espino (4-6, 2.88 ERA) worked six scoreless innings, giving up six hits in Kinston's 5-2 win over Lynchburg... Karexon Sanchez had two hits and two RBI in Lake County's 8-4 loss to Augusta... Vidal Nuno yielded one run and four hits in six innings, but Mahoning Valley lost 4-2 to Brooklyn.