CLEVELAND -- The Indians are planning to have right-hander Corey Kluber pitch on Friday against the Mets, nearly five weeks after his last outing.
Kluber -- who has been on the 15-day disabled list since Aug. 6 because of a right middle finger sprain -- participated in a simulated game at Progressive Field on Monday, using between 60 and 65 pitches and throwing four innings. If there are no further issues, Kluber will enter Friday's game after what will likely be a somewhat abbreviated start by Scott Kazmir and fall into the rotation behind the left-hander.
"He did real well," Tribe manager Terry Francona said, referring to Kluber's sim game. "I don't think he showed any effects. I thought the way he threw the ball today was [impressive]. It's afternoon, after coming back from a road trip. I thought he threw the ball great."
Kluber last appeared for Cleveland on Aug. 5, when he threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings against Detroit. In 21 games (19 starts), he is 7-5 with a 3.54 ERA. He did not enjoy being unable to contribute while on the bench, and will look forward to Friday.
"We want Corey to have as much of a start as possible, in terms of getting loose and everything," Francona said.
The manager also said it was too early to decide whether Kluber's return to the rotation will push another pitcher out of it. He did not rule out the idea of using a six-man starting staff, though such a measure would probably last for just a turn or two.
Right now, Francona is more concerned with Kluber's comeback.
"It feels like it's been a lot longer than it actually has," Kluber said. "It's not fun, just sitting around and watching. It'll be nice to get back out there."
Strained oblique has Masterson day to day
CLEVELAND -- Indians starter Justin Masterson underwent an MRI on Tuesday and was diagnosed with a strained oblique that will force him to miss at least one start. Cleveland is hoping the injury is not season-ending, though it certainly has the potential to be.
Masterson, the Indians' most durable and reliable starting pitcher, exited Monday's game after facing just five hitters because of what the team described as soreness on the left side of his ribcage.
An All-Star this season, Masterson said he felt fine in the bullpen before the game. He sensed a minor amount of pain during the first inning and applied some IcyHot before the second in the hope that the discomfort would go away. Instead, the issue only worsened in the new frame, leading to Masterson's departure during a Nick Markakis at-bat.
"When I went back out," Masterson said, "it must have tightened up on me, because when I went to try and throw, the balls were not coming out the way I would have liked them to. I couldn't really get through the pitch."
It's too early for the Indians to put an estimate on the amount of time Masterson will miss. He's supposed to undergo an MRI on Tuesday, at which time the club will have more information.
Indians manager Terry Francona made two trips to the mound during the second inning, once to check on Masterson and again to remove him. The skipper said the team was keeping a close eye on the sinkerballer after he mentioned feeling something wrong in the first inning.
"When I went out there the first time, he said he was OK," Francona said. "I wanted to give him a chance to pitch, but it wasn't coming out very well.
"You could tell he was protecting himself a little bit."
Francona called Masterson the team's best pitcher, and it would be difficult to argue. In 29 starts this season, the big righty is 14-10 with a 3.52 ERA. Throughout the season, Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber have missed time because of injury and Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir have been inconsistent, but Masterson has served as the rotation's rock.
"He's our ace, basically," said second baseman Jason Kipnis, the Tribe's other All-Star. "He's the guy we count on. He's the consistent starter that we can throw out there when we need someone to stop a losing streak, or when we need someone to go out and give a good start for us."
The Indians remained afloat while Kluber went on the disabled list in early August. His return is scheduled for Friday, and the hope for Cleveland is that he can help minimize the effect of Masterson's absence if Masterson is forced to miss a start or go on the disabled list.
"It's not the best-case scenario," Masterson said, "but what's great is we got Corey Kluber coming back for us pretty soon. So if it is any more serious than I think it is, we have some good guys in place that can do a lot of work. It's not going to be fun, if that is the case, but we're hoping that things will be all right."
Aviles hopes grand slam gives Tribe needed jolt
CLEVELAND -- Mike Aviles dug into the batter's box during the ninth inning of Sunday's game in Detroit with an opportunity to infuse the Indians with a positive jolt, something the club had been sorely lacking throughout its recent road trip.
Cleveland had lost each of its five previous games and failed to score in that afternoon's series finale at Comerica Park. With the bases loaded, Aviles put four runs on the board by knocking a grand slam off Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit, spurring the Tribe to a sweep-averting, 4-0 victory and providing a positive start to the season's final month.
The Indians entered Monday trailing Tampa Bay by 3 1/2 games for the American League's second Wild Card spot. Could Aviles' clutch homer catapult the Tribe to a sizzling finish and postseason berth?
"I'm hoping it does," Aviles said. "I'm pretty sure everybody else is hoping so too.
"In all honesty, I don't really care who does it nowadays. As long as we're winning, it doesn't really matter who the guy is that helped us win. The bottom line for us is trying to find ways to win, and that was just one of those things where we were able to come out with a victory late in a game. And hopefully we can take that momentum forward."
The Indians are trying to follow a mediocre August with an impressive September. They have 26 games remaining on the schedule, and only nine of them will come against teams that currently carry winning records. Cleveland will host Baltimore for three games this week and Kansas City for three games next week. In the week that follows, the Tribe will play three road games against the Royals before capping the regular season with 10 straight contests against sub-.500 teams.
The playoffs are still possible, and though reaching them won't be without its challenges, Cleveland's players are eager to make a run at October baseball.
"We've played ourselves positively and negatively into a position where every game means so much," Tribe manager Terry Francona said. "I can think of a lot worse scenarios. I can think of a few better, but I can think of a lot worse. The fact that it's September, and every time we go out there it's so meaningful, that's good."
Raburn hopes to return to Indians Tuesday
CLEVELAND -- Earlier this season, things were going so well for utility player Ryan Raburn that he said it felt like nothing could go wrong for him on the field.
That was before right calf discomfort and a left Achilles strain put Raburn on the 15-day disabled list, where he has stayed retroactively since Aug. 19. But Raburn hit during injured starter Corey Kluber's simulated game at Progressive Field on Monday and said he's hoping to return to Cleveland's active roster on Tuesday.
"I still felt a little sore," Raburn said. "But I didn't feel like it was hindering my swing any, so that's good."
Through 70 games this year, Raburn is batting .272/.366/.574 with 15 home runs and 41 RBIs. The club was so pleased with his output that it signed him to a two-year extension with a club option for 2016 that was announced a month ago.
Indians manager Terry Francona agreed with Raburn on the player's return, partly because September allows teams' active rosters to expand to 40 players.
"There's not really a reason not to bring him off the disabled list," Francona said. "Whether he gets in a game or not, we have extra bodies. If he can hit, we can pinch-run. I would anticipate that, yeah, [Tuesday would] probably be the case."
Quote to note
"Whoever said that hasn't played Major League Baseball, hasn't had to stand in the batter's box. So, that doesn't carry much weight with me." -- Francona, on whether the Indians' remaining games make for a "cupcake" schedule.
• After undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2012, right-hander Josh Tomlin was finally activated near the end of August and optioned by the Indians to Triple-A Columbus. Including his various rehab assignments, Tomlin is 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA across 10 Minor League appearances this year.
With Tomlin set to be added to the Indians' active roster on Tuesday, the club must figure out how he will be utilized down the stretch.
"That's something we'll have to work through," Francona said. "We've got him somewhat stretched out. We're going to have to work through that. Because the Minor League seasons are over, there's no more innings to pitch. So we'll definitely bring him here. How and when he pitches, we'll figure that out."
• When Aviles hit his eighth home run last Wednesday in Atlanta, the Indians became one of seven teams in Major League history to have 12 players with at least eight home runs. No club has ever had 13 players reach that mark.
"At the end of the day, we don't have a typical four-hole hitter that's going to hit 30 homers, drive in 100 runs," Aviles said. "We've got a lot of guys that aren't going to show up on anybody's radar, but collectively we do well together."
• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Aviles' homer on Sunday made him the fifth player in Major League history to hit a ninth-inning grand slam that resulted in a 4-0 win. Also, the win gave Cleveland its AL-leading 16th shutout of the season, a total that trails only the Dodgers' 19 across baseball.
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.