MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians believe that recently deposed closer Chris Perez is only a few mechanical adjustments from potentially regaining his All-Star form.
Perez has labored over the course of the past two months and was stripped of the closer duties after allowing six runs in his past two appearances, including a four-run meltdown in the ninth inning of Thursday's 6-5 win in Minnesota. Prior to Saturday's game with the Twins, Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said Perez's arm slot has drifted higher in recent outings.
"He's kind of up and showing the ball a little bit," Callaway said. "I think that's why they're tracking him a little bit better. His stuff is there. He just has to get back to staying a little more closed, hiding the ball and keeping the ball down. When his arm slot comes up a little bit, it's harder for him to keep the ball down."
Dating back to Aug. 1, Perez has posted a 7.52 ERA and a .345 opponents' batting average across 21 appearances, leading Cleveland to pull him out of the ninth-inning job on Friday. The Indians plan on utilizing a closer-by-committee, at least through the remainder of the regular season.
When Perez returned from the disabled list in late June, following a bout with a right shoulder injury, he rattled off nine saves in nine chances and fashioned a 0.53 ERA in his first 16 games back in the bullpen. That impressive stretch came to a halt when the calendar flipped to August.
"Now, more or less it's trying to find that mix of having the velocity and still getting the ball down in the zone," Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash said. "His slider has been, in my opinion, very good. He's thrown it a lot more, and that's probably because he just doesn't feel that he's able to be as direct with his fastball as he wants to be.
"Hopefully he'll get back in there and sort some things out."
Manager Terry Francona informed Perez that he was no longer the closer prior to Friday's game, and Francona said the reliever took the news in stride.
"He came in with a really good attitude," Francona said. "We don't take those decisions lightly, and I really respect the way he handled it. He said, 'Use me how you want.' He was really good. I don't want anybody to ever think he's backing off or anything like that, because that's not what it was."
Indians plan for potential tiebreaker game at home
MINNEAPOLIS -- If the Indians have it their way, a tiebreaker game will not be necessary in their quest to reach the American League Wild Card Game. Just in case, though, Cleveland is making plans for that scenario.
On Saturday, the Indians announced that tickets for a potential AL tiebreaker game on Monday at Progressive Field are now on sale at Indians.com/Tiebreaker The game would only be held if the Tribe finishes the 162-game schedule in a tie with Texas and Tampa Bay in the Wild Card race.
There is only one scenario that could lead to a tiebreaker game being held in Cleveland.
With a 5-1 win over the Twins on Saturday, the Indians now have a one-game lead over the Rangers and Rays for the top AL Wild Card spot. If Cleveland loses on Sunday, and both Tampa Bay and Texas win, there would be a three-way tie that would initiate a two-day playoff situation leading up to Wednesday's Wild Card game.
If that were the case, Cleveland would host Tampa Bay on Monday for the top Wild Card seed and the loser of that contest would head to Texas for a second play-in game. The winner of that tilt would then advance to the AL Wild Card game on Wednesday.
Indians' full season and partial season-ticket holders who already purchased postseason ticket strips can manage their tickets for the tiebreaker through Fan Pass. The tickets can then be printed or received digitally. The Indians also noted that season-ticket holders have printed books can use the tickets labeled "Tiebreaker 1."
Partial season-ticket holders who have not already purchased postseason trips must buy single-game tickets in order to attend a potential tiebreaker game.
Fans without season-tickets can buy tickets for the possible tiebreaker game at Indians.com. Beginning Monday morning, depending on availability, remaining tickets will be available in person at the Progressive Field box office and at all Indians Team Shops.
Francona, Indians have their eye on home field
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians have a chance over their final two games of the regular season to secure a spot in the American League Wild Card Game. Given the ups and downs of Cleveland's season, manager Terry Francona is hoping his team is able to give its fans at least one more game at home.
The Tribe would have that chance if it can finish in sole possession of the top AL Wild Card spot.
"To be honest with you," Francona said on Saturday, "for all we've been through, I'd love to play a game in Cleveland. I think that would be really rewarding for the fans. I think that'd be really cool."
That is one reason why -- regardless of the scenario -- the Indians will likely start Ubaldo Jimenez in Sunday's series finale with the Twins. Jimenez has been Cleveland's best pitcher in the second half, and the club might have home-field advantage for the Wild Card Game within reach.
Francona added that he has appreciated the growing support down the stretch from Cleveland's fans, some of whom he has had the chance to chat with while living downtown in his first season as the team's manager. When the Indians are at home, Francona can often be spotted zipping to and from Progressive Field on a scooter.
That has also led to some humorous situations.
"I've gotten to know every cop downtown. It's hilarious," Francona said. "One night, shoot, it was fireworks night, which is the worst night [to drive home]. I get out and I get to that crosswalk there on Prospect [Ave.], and they let the people pass, so I'm sitting there at the light.
"I've got my briefcase, I've got my dinner and I'm on my scooter. Here comes a cop walking over and he's like high-fiving me."
There have also been jabs tossed Francona's way after tough losses.
"I've heard a few smart [aleck] remarks. I don't blame them," Francona said with a smile. "I get to 4th St. and you're not supposed to drive a vehicle down there. So when I get to 4th St., I get off and push it just out of respect. Inevitably, you get the younger guys that are drinking that say something stupid.
"But I feel [dumb] when I'm pushing my scooter, so I just kind of take it."
Did Francona ever consider commuting on a scooter during his days in Boston?
"Are you kidding me? I barely even drove my car," Francona said, laughing. "Hate mail is way down this year. It's not gone, but it's way down."
Kipnis on a tear since breaking out of slump
MINNEAPOLIS -- Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has seemingly perfected the art of almost hitting for the cycle.
During Friday's 12-6 win over the Twins, Kipnis collected a single, double and triple to help Cleveland's 17-hit onslaught in the team's eighth straight win. For the second baseman, it marked the eighth time in his three big league seasons -- and fourth time this year -- that he has fallen the one required hit shy of a cycle.
"It's getting annoying," Kipnis quipped. "I'm not going to complain. As long as I keep doing that, it'll happen one of these days."
Right now, Kipnis simply feels fortunate to have found his swing again.
Entering Saturday, Kipnis had hit at a .450 (9-for-20) clip with four extra-base hits and three RBIs in his past five games for the Indians. In the previous 30 games, the All-Star second baseman had been mired in a .194 (21-for-108) slump at the plate.
On the season, Kipnis is hitting .281 with 17 homers, 36 doubles, four triples, 83 RBIs, 29 stolen bases, 75 walks and 84 runs in 147 games.
"Those first two at-bats were two of the best swings he's taken in a while," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Kipnis' 3-for-5 showing on Friday night. "He hit the triple and the line drive to right field. Those balls kind of clicked off his barrel. We've all seen when Kip gets hot, what he can do."
Yeah, Kipnis can almost hit for a cycle.
"One of these days," Kipnis said.
Quote to note
"It's been a fun ride right now. It's definitely a lot better counting down your magic number than counting down the days until the end of the season. Normally, the last couple years, right now you're just marking off the days until you get to go home. This is a lot better situation to be in."
• The Indians are only the 12th team in baseball history to have at least 10 players with 10 or more home runs in a season. The 2004 Tigers are the only Major League team to have 11 such players in a single season. Players with at least 10 homers for Cleveland this season include Nick Swisher (21), Carlos Santana (19), Kipnis (17), Ryan Raburn (16), Mark Reynolds (15), Asdrubal Cabrera (14), Yan Gomes (11), Lonnie Chisenhall (11), Michael Brantley (10) and Drew Stubbs (10). Jason Giambi and Mike Aviles entered Saturday with nine homers apiece.
• Entering Saturday, the Indians had turned in a 22-win improvement over their showing in 2012. Francona is one of only 10 Major League managers (since 1969) to guide a team to an upgrade of at least 22 victories in his first season at the helm. Detroit's Jim Leyland was the last to accomplish the feat with a 24-win improvement in his first year with the Tigers in '06.
• Indians center fielder Michael Bourn, who missed the past three games with a sprained right wrist, returned to the starting lineup for Saturday's game against the Twins. Bourn entered the afternoon batting .260 with six home runs, 21 doubles, five triples, 48 RBIs, 23 stolen bases and 73 runs through 128 games.
• Cleveland headed into Saturday's game in Minnesota with a 19-6 record in September. The Indians have only achieved 20 wins in September four times (1934, '37, '39 and '48) dating back to at least 1921. The Tribe's previous 20-win showing in any single month came in August of 1995 (21-9).
• Giambi went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and flyout in Saturday's game vs. the Twins before exiting due to a left forearm cramp. In the sixth inning, Chisenhall pinch-hit for Giambi, who is considered day to day with the injury.