The Cleveland Indians' Justin Masterson was enjoying a career year before getting hurt earlier this month.
While he won't be returning to the rotation, the All-Star is hoping to provide some relief help during these crucial last few games.
Masterson could be back as soon as Wednesday night for Cleveland, which tries to inch closer to a playoff berth with a 14th consecutive win over the visiting Chicago White Sox.
Leading the team with a career-high 14 wins, 188 strikeouts and 189 1-3 innings, Masterson has been sidelined since suffering a strained oblique muscle Sept. 2. The right-hander, though, has been cleared and is looking to help the Indians (87-70) continue their postseason push.
"What ended up possibly being a big negative for us, having Masty not around, all of a sudden has a chance to be a big weapon for us moving forward," manager Terry Francona said.
While most teams may have fallen off the pace after losing their ace, Cleveland has gone 15-5 to climb into the AL's second wild-card spot. The Indians are one game behind Tampa Bay and one ahead of Texas.
"It's great because we're winning ballgames. That's been fun. The guys are going out there and playing hard," Masterson said. "They don't need me. I'm just here to encourage and smile and give them hugs. It seems like that's working right now."
Cleveland nearly let one slip away Tuesday after Chris Perez blew the save in the opener of this two-game set, but Jason Giambi's pinch-hit two-run walkoff homer gave the Indians a 5-4 victory.
"It doesn't get any better than that. I'm speechless," said the 42-year-old Giambi, who became the 13th player since 1950 with at least 10 walkoff homers. "I've said this before, but this is the ultimate team I've ever played on. It's unbelievable how many people have helped us win games this season."
Cleveland, which has outscored the White Sox 95-43 during its 13-game winning streak, has also taken five straight overall.
The Indians haven't lost since Danny Salazar (1-3, 3.09 ERA) surrendered four runs in six innings last Wednesday in a 7-2 defeat at Kansas City. The 23-year-old rookie gave up three runs in the first before settling down.
"I think I tried to do a little bit too much," said Salazar, who has struck out 57 over nine starts spanning 46 2-3 innings. "I know I'm here to do the very best I can to get to the playoffs and the wild card."
The right-hander struck out nine over 3 2-3 scoreless innings but was removed after throwing 78 pitches in a 3-1 win at Chicago (62-95) on Sept. 13.
The White Sox counter with Dylan Axelrod (4-10, 5.72), who was tagged for a career worst-tying seven earned runs and 10 hits over 2 2-3 innings Friday in a 12-5 loss at Detroit. The right-hander's previous start came all the way back on July 10.
"I was prepared," said Axelrod, who started in place of the injured Andre Rienzo. "I'm not going to use that as an excuse. I didn't feel really out of sorts, I went about my regular routine. I'm used to starting so it wasn't that big of a deal, it just didn't work out."
Axelrod is 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA in five games - two starts - against the Indians this year. Nick Swisher is 0 for 11 in their matchups, and Mike Aviles and Asdrubal Cabrera are a combined 2 for 17.
He won't have to face Indians center fielder Michael Bourn, who is not in the lineup because of a sprained right wrist.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved