MINNEAPOLIS: Justin Masterson was all smiles in the Indians locker room before Thursday’s game, happy to discuss his first relief appearance in more than two years.
Thanks to a five-run cushion against the visiting Chicago Cubs, Indians manager Terry Francona was able to get Masterson into the game in the ninth inning of Wednesday night’s 7-2 victory.
“We were fortunate we spread it out and could give him an inning with some padding,” Francona said. “It accomplished a few things at once: get a win and get him back acclimated so he can be a weapon for us. I thought he had life on his fastball and his slider was really good.”
More than a few staff aces across the majors might insist on sliding back in the starting rotation following an injury. But with the Tribe riding a six-game winning streak, the easygoing Masterson (oblique) doesn’t want to rock the boat.
“I’d say I could go right into it now,” Masterson said. “But just the fact that things are working and the guys are in a nice routine here at the end of [the regular season], I’m just happy to be out there helping out again. I just want to be a part of it. Whether it be an inning, two or three [innings] next time, I don’t know. It’s going to be whatever we need.”
Francona said Masterson would not be available out of the bullpen Thursday, but is available to go again tonight.
LIMITED, BUT AVAILABLE — Tribe center fielder Michael Bourn wasn’t in the lineup Thursday for the second consecutive game while nursing a right wrist injury, but once again will be available to pinch run if the need arises.
Bourn, who pinch ran for veteran slugger Jason Giambi in the sixth inning Wednesday, still hasn’t swung a bat or picked up a ball while considered day-to-day.
“I do feel it, but it is getting better each day,” said Bourn, sporting a light gauze wrap on the wrist he injured sliding into second base during Tuesday’s game against the White Sox.
BRANTLEY HOT — Indians designated hitter Carlos Santana can take a little credit for left fielder Michael Brantley’s recent hot streak. Brantley has been trying out one of Santana’s bats.
“He’s doing it, man, he’s doing it,” center fielder Bourn said of Brantley. “While he’s doing it, you all leave him alone. Let him play baseball.”
Although Brantley has been a consistent performer for the Tribe most of the season, his hot streak includes nine hits over his last three games, which is perfect timing with the team’s usual table setter — Bourn — out of the starting lineup for the second consecutive day.
“That’s how it’s been most of the year with guys [like Brantley] stepping up when we need it,” Francona said. “Then because we have other guys like [Ryan] Raburn, [Mike] Aviles and [Yan] Gomes, I’ve always felt that they are always sitting there waiting to play, ready to pick up the slack. Not that you want guys to get hurt, but if it happens, they’re ready to play — and we’re fortunate for that.”
— Stephanie Storm