The Indians did not appear to be a playoff-caliber team after their most recent homestand. But with the successful road trip that followed now in the books, Cleveland has showed it is still very much a part of the race for the postseason.
One win in seven tries was all the Tribe could manage during its last stay at Progressive Field. On Friday, the Indians will host the Twins for a three-game weekend series before again hitting the road, where they recently posted a 6-3 record during a voyage that stopped in Minnesota, Oakland and Los Angeles.
With that result in mind, Cleveland must have felt satisfied heading into Thursday's off-day. If anything, the Indians are happier than the Twins, who have dropped seven of their last 10 games, despite beating the Tigers on Thursday.
A pair of right-handers will start Friday's game at Progressive Field, with Samuel Deduno (7-7, 3.82 ERA) set to pitch for Minnesota against the Tribe's Ubaldo Jimenez (9-7, 4.00 ERA).
Jimenez has limited his opponent to two earned runs or fewer in each of his past five outings, during which he assembled a 2.12 ERA across 29 2/3 innings. Last Saturday, Jimenez held the A's to one hit and one run in 5 2/3 innings, notching eight strikeouts, five walks and one hit batter.
"However he gets there, he finds a way," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Jimenez, who allowed his first and only hit in the sixth. "When he gets to that sixth inning, that's the inning that's been tough for him to get through. Regardless of how many pitches he has or doesn't have, he seems to kind of run into a little bit of a wall there. But if it happens and he's given up one run, we'll take it."
Lately, Jimenez has fared better than Deduno, who has a 7.02 ERA in his last three starts.
Though he has been dealing with right biceps tendinitis, Deduno threw a pain-free bullpen session on Wednesday and will make his scheduled start against the Indians on Friday.
"I felt pretty normal," Deduno said. "I didn't feel anything. I just want to keep my mind strong."
The Twins will have long reliever Anthony Swarzak ready just in case Deduno gets injured or falters. The righty has a 2.87 ERA in 78 1/3 innings out of Minnesota's bullpen and last pitched on Monday, when he gave up one run over three innings against the Mets.
"We have extra pitchers, so if [Deduno] struggles or gets hurt or doesn't feel right, we're covered," Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said. "But it's a relief. Hopefully, he goes out there and pitches a good game."
Twins: Head injury calls Mauer's future into question
After placing catcher Joe Mauer on the seven-day disabled list Tuesday with concussion-like symptoms, the Twins were faced with the question of whether their best player should continue seeing time behind the dish, a position that doles out so much more punishment than others.
"I think it's concerning for the entire industry that it's increasingly a hazard at that position," Antony said. "Our best player is a catcher, and fortunately he hasn't had issues in the past. You hope this is an isolated thing and not a trend."
Eight catchers have spent time on the concussion list this year, including both Ryan Doumit and Mauer. In 113 games this season, Mauer is hitting .324/.404/.476 with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs. The six-time All-Star also has thrown out 43 percent of would-be base stealers this year.
Indians: Relief corps getting out of dangerous spots
A day after putting together 8 1/3 shutout innings on Tuesday, the Indians' bullpen threw 2 1/3 scoreless frames in Wednesday's sweep-clinching 3-1 win over the Angels. Lefty Rich Hill stranded a couple runners in scoring position during the seventh inning, and Cody Allen and Chris Perez finished off the eighth and ninth, respectively, with Perez notching his 20th save of the year.
During the road trip, Cleveland's relievers stranded 24 of 25 inherited runners. Hill alone has stranded 52 runners this year, which ranks first in the American League.
"That's always a huge number," Francona said. "That doesn't get publicized a lot, but it's big."
• The Indians are 7-5 against Minnesota this season. In the last five years, though, the Twins have the edge in the series, 46-38.
• Cleveland is 2 1/2 games out of an AL Wild Card spot.
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.