December 21, 2014

Medina
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Tribe: Injured outfielder still helping team as pinch-runner

MINNEAPOLIS — Michael Bourn was not in the starting lineup Thursday for the second straight game while nursing an injured right wrist, but the Indians are optimistic they will get him back fulltime before the regular season is complete.

Bourn, who sustained the injury on a slide into second base Tuesday, was wearing a wrap on the wrist in the clubhouse prior to the series opener of a pivotal four-game set with Minnesota. Manager Terry Francona used the speedy Bourn as a pinch-runner Wednesday and said he was available in the same role Thursday night.

“Depending on how he shows up (today), we’ll see how aggressive we can get with him,” said Francona, who indicated Bourn might return to center field tonight. “I’ve always felt like whenever something happened, we’ve got (Ryan) Raburn, (Mike) Aviles, (Yan) Gomes — not that you ever want guys to get hurt — but those guys are always sitting there waiting to play and ready to play. We’re very fortunate.”

Drew Stubbs replaced Bourn in center Thursday, with Raburn starting in right field. Bourn, who is the American League’s hardest player to double up, isn’t concerned the injury will linger.

“It’s getting better,” said Bourn, who is batting .260 with six home runs, 23 stolen bases and 48 RBIs in 128 games. “We’ll take it day-to-day, but it’s nothing harmful.”

Pen power

Justin Masterson was not available to pitch Thursday, but is expected to appear again as a reliever tonight. The right-hander pitched a scoreless ninth inning Wednesday in his first appearance since sustaining a left oblique strain Sept. 2. He struck out two of the four batters he faced.

“Depending on how the game goes (tonight), we’d like to get him back in there and try to get him a couple more appearances so he can help us win,” Francona said.

Masterson (14-10, 3.50 ERA) likely won’t start again unless the Indians advance to the ALCS, but Francona said he has no designated relief role for the team’s ace.

“He’s a weapon. We can use him anywhere,” Francona said. “It’s kind of exciting.”

Yes and no

Francona likes the idea of an extra wild-card team, but he’s not in favor of the one-game playoff. This is the second season for the extra wild-card format.

“I think baseball wanted to try to get more teams involved longer and I think they definitely got that,” Francona said. “I wish there was a way for it to be two-out-of-three, but I understand, because our game is so much repetition and timing. The teams that have a good record almost get penalized. I guess our hope is that we get a chance to test it out.”

If the Indians are even with Tampa Bay or Texas for either wild-card spot, they own the tiebreaker edge for home-field advantage over the Rangers, but not the Rays. Cleveland went 5-1 against Texas this season, while the Rays took four of six games from the Indians.

Tribe tidbits

Michael Brantley entered Thursday on a nine-game hitting streak, batting .486 (17-for-35) with two homers, two doubles and eight RBIs over the span.

• Danny Salazar’s 11.25 strikeouts per nine innings is the highest mark in club history among pitchers with at least seven starts and 50 innings, besting Hall of Famer Bob Feller’s 11.03 in 1936.

Roundin’ third

The Indians finished the season with a 51-30 record at Progressive Field, which ranked third in the AL and sixth in the majors through Wednesday. It is Cleveland’s best home record since 2007.

• The Indians entered Thursday with a 52-18 record against teams under .500.

• As a member of the Twins, Cleveland bench player Jason Kubel hit the first homer at Target Field on the day it opened in 2010.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.