CLEVELAND -- Ruben Niebla has had his work cut out for him since taking over as the interim pitching coach three weeks ago. He inherited a staff riddled with problems and has been tackling those issues daily behind the scenes.
One ongoing project has been trying to solve Justin Masterson's consistency issues.
"We've talked about some checkpoints for him," Niebla said. "We're making sure he's keeping his hip behind his shoulder as he starts to the plate and keeping that lead arm strong. It's something that he needs to make sure he stays on top of."
Masterson has gone 10-12 with a 4.91 ERA across 28 starts, a disappointing ledger after the sinkerballer went 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA in a breakout showing a year ago. This season he has turned in 16 quality starts, but he has also had seven outings in which he allowed seven or more runs.
Those seven outings are the most in one season by an Indians pitcher since 1936, when Mel Harder also had seven. Masterson has also tied a club record (also established by Harder in '36) with five starts in which he has yielded at least eight runs.
"I'm as perplexed as anybody," Masterson said.
Niebla said that it all comes down to consistent mechanics.
"I think that Justin is aware of what's happening with his delivery," Niebla said. "It kind of breaks down a little bit. It's something that he works hard at, making sure he's balanced over the rubber and staying back.
"I think as the game kind of progressed [on Thursday, when he lost to Oakland], he started leaking in with his front side a little bit and started getting under some pitches."
Acta hopes shuffled lineup does the trick
CLEVELAND -- It's never too late to try to switch things up in an effort to spark the offense. And given the way the Indians have performed for the past month, that is the way manager Manny Acta is viewing the situation.
"You've got to die trying, man," Acta said.
For the opener of a three-game set with the Rangers on Friday, Acta returned to a lineup alignment that worked earlier this season. Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo was back in the leadoff spot, second baseman Jason Kipnis returned to the second slot and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera shifted back to third.
Choo has bounced mostly between the leadoff and third spots, whereas Kipnis has spent time in each of the first three positions. Cabrera has seen the bulk of his action in the second or third hole.
"It's been a struggle for a full month," Acta said, "so we'll change things up."
Entering Friday, Cleveland had used the Choo-Kipnis-Cabrera combination 16 times. The Indians posted a 9-7 record in those games, with 4.1 runs scored per game and a .256 team average. In all other games, the Tribe was 46-69 with 4.1 runs per game and a .248 average.
In 70 games as the No. 1 hitter earlier this season, Choo hit .310 with a .910 OPS. Kipnis hit .263 in 38 previous games as the No. 2 man, compared with a .202 mark in 22 games at the top of the order. Cabrera has hit .299 with an .847 OPS as the third hitter and .261/.729 OPS in the second spot.
Kipnis, who most recently served as the leadoff man, did not mind the switch.
"It doesn't really matter to me," Kipnis said. "I'm able to move a guy over, bunt or whatever it entails [in the second spot]. But there's no major preference for where I hit. I still approached my at-bats the same way in the leadoff spot."
Injured ankle to keep Hernandez from Saturday start
CLEVELAND -- The Indians had hoped that Roberto Hernandez would be able to start on Saturday, but his ailing right ankle has proved to be problematic.
During pitchers' fielding practice prior to Friday's 5-3 loss to the Rangers, Hernandez felt discomfort in the ankle and will need to skip a start. Cleveland announced following the game that right-hander Jeanmar Gomez would start on Saturday.
Manager Manny Acta was not available for comment.
Hernandez, who is 0-3 with a 7.53 ERA since rejoining the rotation, sprained his ankle in the third inning of Monday's 3-0 loss to the A's. The right-hander tested the injury during a mound session on Wednesday, and the club indicated that he would be able to pitch as planned against Texas.
That plan has now changed.
Gomez was called up from Triple-A Columbus on Wednesday and added to the bullpen. He began the season as the Indians' No. 4 starter, and went 4-7 with a 5.11 ERA in 15 games (13 starts) for the Tribe. He logged one shutout inning in Wednesday's 8-4 loss to the A's.
Indians ready for influx of fresh faces
CLEVELAND -- A handful of fresh faces will be joining the Indians on Saturday, when rosters expand to to 40 players. Manager Manny Acta revealed three of those callups following Friday's 5-3 loss to the Rangers.
Cleveland will be adding outfielder Russ Canzler and reliever Scott Barnes from Triple-A Columbus, and promoting outfielder Thomas Neal from Double-A Akron. Neal is not on the team's 40-man roster, so a subsequent move will be required to clear room.
"The rest will come after the season is over in Columbus," Acta said.
The Triple-A season officially ends for the Clippers on Monday.
Canzler -- acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay in January -- has hit .265 with 22 home runs and 79 RBIs in 130 games for Columbus. He spent three games with Tampa Bay in September 2011.
The left-handed Barnes, who posted an 8.10 ERA in seven games in two previous stints with the Tribe this season, has appeared in 31 games for Columbus. Over 52 Minor League innings, he posted a 3.98 ERA, with 67 strikeouts.
Neal -- making his big league debut -- hit .314 with 12 homers, 24 doubles and 51 RBIs in 117 games for Akron.
Acta said that Cleveland tries to balance "reward" callups with promotions that allow players to get a good look over the final month. Given the Indians' place in the standings, the club will likely add players who will be under review for the final four weeks of the season.
"It's a combination of it," Acta said, "but the guys that are coming up are going to be getting some at-bats, the majority of them are going to be getting some at-bats. So it's not so much rewarding, but also evaluation time for us."
Other options on the 40-man roster are starter David Huff; relievers Frank Herrmann and Scott Maine; infielders Lars Anderson, Cord Phelps and Juan Diaz; and catcher Luke Carlin. Some options not on the 40-man roster are infielder Jared Goedert, along with outfielders Tim Fedroff, Aaron Cunningham and Shelley Duncan.
"A lot of things go into it," Acta said. "Some guys can have a very good year, but if they're not on the roster, and you don't have a spot, you can't add them."
Quote to note
"For myself, yeah, it's been the toughest month that I've had in baseball. You can lose a lot in a month, but we lost a lot in just a couple of periods of time, big losing streaks that we didn't have throughout the first four months here." -- manager Manny Acta
Outfielder Shelley Duncan, who was designated for assignment on Wednesday, has cleared waivers. Cleveland has outrighted Duncan (.203 with 11 homers and 31 RBIs) to Triple-A Columbus.
Among Major League second basemen with a minimum of 100 games at the position, Jason Kipnis ranked second in steals (26), third in RBIs (65) and seventh in home runs (13) entering Friday's game.
Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo is one of five American League players with at least 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases this season. The others are Texas' Ian Kinsler, Chicago's Alex Rios, Los Angeles' Mike Trout and Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton.