CLEVELAND -- He might not be an imposing physical specimen with bulging biceps and supreme athletic ability, but his 31 homers before the All-Star break speak for themselves.
Toronto's Jose Bautista has evolved into baseball's most dangerous power hitter. He might not get the proper recognition, as he plays his home games in another country and suits up for the fourth-place team in the American League East. Nonetheless, Indians manager Manny Acta has taken notice of just how locked in Bautista is at the plate.
"He doesn't miss these pitches. He's not fouling them off," Acta said. "Right now, he's reminding me of the way Barry Bonds was when he was in his prime. You make a mistake, and he won't foul them off. He just hits it out. He won't even hit it off the wall or anything like that. It's pretty impressive."
Indians closer Chris Perez got a first-hand taste of the surge Bautista is riding, serving up the game-winning homer to the Blue Jays slugger in the 10th inning on Saturday.
"He's not hitting 1.000, so obviously he has weaknesses," Perez said. "He just doesn't miss his pitches. You have to stay away from him. He hits everything inside right now, and if you leave anything over the plate, he's not fouling it back. He puts a good swing on it and hits it into the stands or makes a loud out."
Entering the 2010 campaign, Bautista's career high for homers in a season was 16, with the Pirates in 2006. Then he belted 54 last year to lead the Major Leagues.
His 31 are the most before the All-Star break in franchise history.
"You're trying to make pitches, and as soon as you miss, he hits it over the wall," Acta said. "He doesn't get cheated. You don't catch him checking swings or anything like that. It's remarkable what he's doing.
"The way he's going right now, he doesn't even foul off pitches. He just squares up and hits them out."
Masterson in relief role with break looming
CLEVELAND -- On Saturday, Indians manager Manny Acta named Justin Masterson his No. 1 starter for the second half of the season. Yet there was Masterson in the ninth inning of Saturday's contest, pitching out of the bullpen.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander started Wednesday's win against the Yankees and won't start again until Thursday at Baltimore. So, Acta wanted to get him some work in the interim. He said Masterson would be an option out of the bullpen on Sunday as well.
"He's going to be in the 'pen because he's not pitching for a while," Acta said.
Masterson reverted back and forth between starting and relieving coming up through the Red Sox organization. When he was traded to the Indians in 2009, he worked out of the bullpen before becoming a full-time starter last season. Masterson said he likes both roles, but prefers to start.
"I like relieving, but starting is fun," said Masterson, 7-6 with a 2.64 ERA. "You can be that workhorse and set the tone for the team."
Masterson said he carries a similar mindset into whatever role he takes on.
"My mentality is closing out every inning," he said. "It's almost that bullpen mentality of each inning you're coming in in the beginning, you finish that inning, and then you worry about the next one."
Tribe eyeing first place at break
CLEVELAND -- It's been 12 years since the Indians entered the All-Star break atop the American League Central Division standings. A win or a Detroit loss on Sunday would have the Indians partying like it's 1999.
That year, the Tribe, at 56-31, cruised into the break with a 13-game lead over the White Sox. The standings are a bit more congested this season.
Despite records below .500, Chicago and Minnesota entered play on Sunday just 4 1/2 and seven games, respectively, behind Cleveland.
Cleveland hasn't exactly followed the path many expected in 2011. Last season, the Indians were 34-54 through 88 games, 13 games worse than their record this season and 15 1/2 games out of first place in the division.
"We had expectations at the beginning of the season that we expected to compete," Indians GM Chris Antonetti said. "There was a collective belief inside the clubhouse and within the players and within the coaching staff that it was a talented roster that had the capability to compete, if they played well."
Perhaps the most important factor for the Indians was the team's quick start in April. The Indians went 18-8 in the season's opening month.
"We got off to a very good start, which demonstrated not only the talent of the roster, but the cohesiveness of the group to go out and win games," Antonetti said. "I think that's carried forward, and it's continued into July."
Reliever Joe Smith extended to 24 his streak of appearances without allowing an earned run in Saturday's contest. He last surrendered an earned run on May 12, and leads the American League with a 0.88 ERA.
Outfielder Travis Buck is hitting .391 (9-for-23) in his past seven games, with seven RBIs over that stretch.
The Indians entered the final day before the All-Star break with a 6-7 record on Sundays, one of two days in which they have a losing record (they are 4-5 on Thursdays). The Indians play their best baseball on Mondays, when they're 7-3.
Zack Meisel is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.