Indians hope to keep rolling with hot bats, reshuffled bullpen
On the same day they demoted their closer, the Cleveland Indians showed it might not matter who's at the back of their bullpen if their offense continues to excel.
A ninth straight victory Saturday against the Minnesota Twins would allow them to clinch at least a tie for a wild-card spot.
The Indians (90-70) pounded out 17 hits - the eighth time during a 13-2 run they've tallied at least 10 - in a 12-6 win at Target Field on Friday, their eighth straight. They haven't won nine in a row since a 10-game streak from Aug. 17-27, 2008.
Cleveland tied Tampa Bay in the AL wild-card race after the Rays' 6-3 loss in Toronto, and maintained a one-game edge over Texas, which claimed a 5-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels. The Indians can guarantee themselves at least a wild-card tiebreaker game with a victory Saturday, while a win coupled with a Rangers loss would clinch a spot in the AL wild-card game outright.
"It's everything you hope for when you go to spring training," manager Terry Francona said. "You can't let yourself get ahead, but the fact that everybody's tired and we can't wait to get back here tomorrow, that's what we're here for."
Earlier in the day, Cleveland announced it was relieving Chris Perez of his duties as closer after he gave up four runs and four hits in Thursday's opener, nearly squandering an eventual 6-5 victory. Francona will instead use a committee approach with the likes of Justin Masterson, Joe Smith, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw all in the mix for opportunities. Masterson - who has missed most of the month due to a strained left oblique - threw a scoreless eighth Friday.
Jason Kipnis finished a homer shy of the cycle, improving to 33 for 81 (.407) in the last 20 matchups with Minnesota with 14 extra-base hits and 25 RBIs. Michael Brantley failed to register a three-hit contest for a fifth straight time but singled to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. He's batting .467 during his run.
The Indians are hitting .289 over their last 15 games - including .308 with runners in scoring position - while averaging 5.8 runs.
Scott Kazmir (9-9, 4.14 ERA) might not need much support if he replicates his last showing. He threw seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and a walk in a 4-1 victory over Houston on Saturday. The left-hander had been 1-5 with a 5.82 ERA over his previous seven outings.
He is 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA in four starts versus Minnesota this season after entering the year with a 4.26 ERA in six career matchups.
The Twins (66-94) will hope for a better outing from Cole De Vries (0-1, 11.70) after Pedro Hernandez yielded seven runs over just 1 2-3 innings Friday. But it's not promising after De Vries struggled in his lone start of the year, yielding six runs in two innings of an 11-7 loss at Oakland on Sunday. He had allowed seven runs in eight innings spanning two relief appearances.
However, one of his best starts came in a 3-0 win over Cleveland on Sept. 8, 2012, when he limited the Indians to three hits over six innings.
Minnesota catcher Josmil Pinto left Friday's game after a pitch struck his hand in the fourth. Pinto, 26 for 76 (.342) through his first 21 major league games, is considered day-to-day after X-rays came back negative.