Notes: Tribe's 'pen looking for upgrade
Middle relief help could come via trade or farm system
CLEVELAND -- The bullpen hasn't been much of a concern for the Indians this year.
Closer Joe Borowski's 25 saves tie him for the American League lead. Setup man Rafael Betancourt's 1.11 ERA is third best among league relievers. And Rafael Perez has emerged as one of the league's hottest pitchers.
Yet, as the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline approaches, much uncertainty permeates a front-end relief cast that has led to the bullpen owning the league's fourth-worst ERA (4.73).
"We're looking for people to step up," Indians manager Eric Wedge said, "whether it's people here or it's in Triple-A. We'll see where we're at later this month."
Essentially, the next two weeks can be considered an audition for relievers like Tom Mastny, Fernando Cabrera and Jensen Lewis to stay with the big club.
"We've got options," Wedge said. "It's just a matter of whether we can count on them."
Of course, there are also options in other areas. The Tribe wouldn't be averse to adding another bullpen arm by way of a trade and there have been a few bright spots in the Minors.
One notable option is the injury-prone Matt Miller. The 35-year-old Miller, who missed the season's opening month with a strained right forearm and was recently sidelined by a similar injury, has tossed 4 2/3 scoreless innings at Triple-A Buffalo since his latest return from the disabled list. And overall in 20 games with the Bisons, Miller has a 2.41 ERA.
Like with everyone else, though, there must be some type of assurance that he can depended on.
"We want to make sure ... that if we do bring him up, we can count on him," Wedge said. "Is he still an option? Yeah, he's an option."
Painful pitch: When injured reliever Aaron Fultz returns from the disabled list, he will be pitching in pain.
The Indians must wait, however, for his strained rib muscle to heal to the point where it does not sidetrack Fultz and possibly alter his mechanics.
"He's going to feel it," head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff said. "We don't want him to feel it to the degree where he's focused on that more than pitching."
Fultz, still a couple of bullpen sessions and a rehab outing away from returning, needs another week before rejoining the Cleveland 'pen.
Here's the question: Kenny Lofton's 160 hits led the American League in a strike-shortened 1994 season. He is the last Indian to finish a season atop that category. Can you remember who the last Cleveland player before Lofton to lead the league in hits was?
Glove boy: Former Tribe bat boy Ramon Diaz had to be pleased with the effort of one of his trainee's, yielding perhaps Friday night's loudest in-game ovation.
In the third inning, after the webbing of catcher Victor Martinez's glove came undone, bat boy Richie Capelas sprinted full tilt to fetch Martinez's other glove from the center-field bullpen. The whole ordeal couldn't have taken more than 30 seconds and ended with a semi-standing ovation.
"I loved it," Capelas said. "What's there not to?"
This came after Diaz, who recently left for school at Columbia University, had gotten on the bat boys last month for being a tad too lackadaisical.
"Now that was definitely the effort Ramon was looking for," clubhouse manager Tony Amato said with a laugh. "He would have been proud."
More injury news: Cliff Politte's 2007 season is over.
The veteran reliever, pitching at Double-A Akron, recently suffered a setback in his recovery from shoulder surgery he underwent last year and will now be shut down for the next four to six weeks.
Soloff said the Tribe hopes to have Politte throwing again early in the offseason with the goal of a full recovery by Spring Training.
Also on the injury front, outfielder David Dellucci is "progressing beautifully," Soloff said, while top relief prospect Tony Sipp underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery on Tuesday.
Dellucci, two weeks removed from surgery to remove a torn tendon in his hamstring, is on pace to return in late August. Currently doing aquatic jogging exercises, he will begin a running program in a week.
The news is less encouraging for Sipp after he couldn't resume a "return to throw" program last week in Winter Haven, Fla. The 24-year-old left-hander, who seemed so close to the big leagues this offseason, was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament and will be out for the next year.
Tribe tidbits: Tribe players will be appearing at a pair of local autograph signings over the next two weeks. Josh Barfield will be at the Giant Eagle in Brunswick on July 24 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET and Jason Michaels will be at Strongsville's Giant Eagle on July 27 for the same time period. ... According to coolstandings.com, the Indians currently have a 64.2 percent chance of making the playoffs. ... Borowski's blown save on Friday was his first in precisely two months, the last coming May 13 at Oakland.
And the answer is: You have to go back 45 years to find the last Indians player before Lofton to lead the league in hits. Dale Mitchell's 203 knocks put him atop the Junior Circuit in 1949.
Down on the farm: Triple-A Buffalo's Aaron Laffey (11-4, 2.92 ERA) gave up three runs on eight hits over 6 1/3 innings in the Bisons' 5-4, 11-inning win at Durham on Friday night. ... Jake Dittler tossed eight innings of one-run ball and outfielder Ryan Goleski clouted his sixth homer as Double-A Akron edged Altoona, 2-1. ... Class A Kinston fell, 1-0, handing a hard-luck no-decision to starter Ryan Edell (9-3, 3.00 ERA). Edell struck out nine over six scoreless innings. ... The Tribe's first-round Draft pick, Beau Mills, went 1-for-6 at Class A Lake County, dropping his professional average to .222 in the Captains' 5-4 loss to Lakewood.
On deck: The Tribe wraps up its weekend set with the Royals on Sunday afternoon at Jacobs Field. Fausto Carmona (10-4, 3.85 ERA) will be opposed by Kansas City left-hander Jorge De La Rosa (7-8, 5.08).
David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.