CLEVELAND -- The tailspin that the Indians experienced in June and July is beginning to feel like a distant memory. Cleveland is certainly hoping that is precisely what those two months become when it is all said and done.
The calendar has flipped to August and the Tribe finds itself in the middle of a fight to the finish with the Tigers and White Sox for the American League Central crown. Of late, the Indians have shown signs of life, giving the club plenty of hope for their chances in the stretch run to October.
"There's a lot of signs of how we played in April," Indians closer Chris Perez said.
Perez, of course, was referring to the strong start to the season that helped put Cleveland in its current position: three games behind Detroit for first place, entering Sunday. The Indians stormed to a 30-15 record through May 23 behind strong pitching and an offense that did just enough and showed resilience.
Over the past nine games, the Indians have gone 6-3 as a team with a 2.80 staff ERA and 5.1 runs per game from the offense. It is a small sample size, but it is a sound improvement over June and July, when Cleveland compiled a 21-32 record in its fall from first place.
"In June and July, we were just in a slump," Perez said. "Our schedule wasn't easy, we were in a slump and it seemed like our pitcher would go out there and give up two runs and we'd score one. Or our offense would get five runs and we'd give up six."
The Indians have also seen a handful of its hitters begin to turn things around. Carlos Santana, who has had an inconsistent campaign, has hit .333 with three homers and 12 RBIs over his last nine games. Rookie second baseman Jason Kipnis -- after a slow start in his first taste of the bigs -- has hit .333 with six homers over his last 12 games.
Cleveland also brought in reinforcements before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Outfielder Kosuke Fukudome -- acquired from the Cubs -- has hit .333 over his past nine games. Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez -- landed in a blockbuster deal with the Rockies -- has given the Tribe another strong rotation arm.
The Indians also received star right fielder Shin-Soo Choo back from the 15-day disabled list earlier this week.
"I think that everybody's been waiting to get back on that little roll," Perez said, "and start playing that good baseball and get some breaks. Now, it's like we can kind of see that light at the end of the tunnel. September is right around the corner."
Kipnis fighting soreness in his right side
CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis was at his locker inside the Indians' clubhouse on Sunday morning, shrugging off the fact that his name was omitted from the starting lineup for a second day in a row.
"It's nothing serious," Kipnis said prior to Sunday's game against the Twins. "I'll be back on there soon."
Kipnis indicated that he is currently fighting soreness in his right side -- the result of a couple of diving plays in Tuesday's 14-inning marathon against the Tigers. One day later, the 24-year-old rookie went 5-for-5 with a home run, three RBIs and four runs scored.
Asked if maybe he'd benefit from not playing so hard, Kipnis laughed.
"That's not an option," he replied.
Kipnis also sat out Saturday's game against Minnesota due to what is currently considered a minor ailment. The consecutive days off -- combined with Monday's scheduled off-day for the Indians -- will give him three days to rest before the Tribe opens a six-game road trip through Chicago and Detroit.
Losing Kipnis, even for a short period of time, is a blow to Cleveland's offense. Over his past 12 games, Kipnis has hit .333 (17-for-51) with three doubles, six home runs, 10 RBIs and 14 runs scored for the Indians, who have used him mainly out of the second spot in the batting order.
Overall, Kipnis has hit .279 with six homers and 11 RBIs through 18 games this year.
"I'm just a little banged up," Kipnis said. "We're working through it and getting through it right now."
Perez getting sharper with more work
CLEVELAND -- Indians closer Chris Perez has taken some criticism this season for his drama-filled appearances. In collecting his last two saves, Perez has answered any naysayers by being downright boring.
Perez retired the side in order to notch saves against the Twins on Friday and Saturday. The six-up, six-down showing was a strong showing that followed a rough month for the Indians' stopper.
The Indians were never concerned about Perez.
"This guy's been money since last year," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He went through a rough spot, but that's part of the game. Nobody's perfect. Even Mariano Rivera has his bad days."
In 10 appearances between July 9 and Tuesday, Perez went 0-2 with two saves, two blown saves and an uncharacteristically high 7.71 ERA. During that turbulent stretch, the right-hander allowed nine runs (eight earned) on 12 hits with six strikeouts and five walks over 9 1/3 innings.
Perez, who has saved 25 of his 28 opportunities this season, believes that more regular work of late might be one reason for his improved performance.
"Getting work, it just helps you with your location," he said. "Your slider is tighter, your fastball, your put-away pitches, what you need to do when guys are on base, they're there when you pitch two or three times in a row, or three or four times a week.
"That's the hardest part about not throwing in games -- staying sharp -- especially in my role."
The Indians optioned outfielder Shelley Duncan to Triple-A Columbus prior to Sunday's game against the Twins, clearing room on the roster for the promotion of left-hander David Huff. Cleveland had been carrying 14 position players and 11 pitchers, but needed to add Huff for Sunday's start. Duncan has hit .246 with four homers and 23 RBIs in 43 games for the Tribe this season.
As expected, outfielder Michael Brantley (sore right wrist) remained out of the Indians' starting lineup for Sunday's game against the Twins. Brantley has been sidelined for seven of Cleveland's last 11 games. The Indians are hopeful that Brantley can rejoin the lineup on Tuesday in Chicago. If he is still ailing, the outfielder would likely be placed on the 15-day disabled list.
Twins slugger Jim Thome entered Sunday's game against the Indians two home runs shy of becoming the eighth player in baseball history to have 600 for his career. Thome launched 334 of his 598 home runs in a Cleveland uniform from 1991-2002. He is the Tribe's all-time home run leader.