KANSAS CITY -- Indians starter Justin Masterson is proceeding as planned.
On Wednesday, Masterson tested his injured left side with a long-toss throwing session up to a distance of 120 feet. The right-hander followed that with what he described as an "aggressive" flat-ground workout, which included throwing both fastballs and sliders.
Masterson's next step will be a bullpen session off a mound on Friday in Cleveland.
"That's really exciting," manager Terry Francona said. "Just the fact that he's feeling better so fast is good for everybody's peace of mind. And the fact that he might be able to come back and pitch, and help us win, is even better."
Due to the fact that Cleveland only has 11 games (including Wednesday's tilt against the Royals) left in the regular season, it is unclear whether Masterson would return as a starter or reliever, if he can indeed be ready prior to the postseason.
Entering Wednesday, the Indians sat a half-game back of both the Rays and Rangers for one of the American League's Wild Card spots.
In 29 starts this season, the 28-year-old Masterson is 14-10 with a 3.52 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 189 1/3 innings. The sinkerballer went 4-2 with a 2.87 ERA in the nine outings leading to his outing against Baltimore on Sept. 2, when he exited with the injury after facing only five batters.
Masterson, who was diagnosed with a strained left oblique after underoing an MRI, resumed a throwing program last Thursday in Chicago. The Tribe's ace has been extremely encouraged by how he has bounced back from the injury.
"Prayers have been answered," Masterson said with a smile.
Indians are taking Giambi's message to heart
KANSAS CITY -- Veteran Jason Giambi called a team meeting before the Indians headed on their road swing through Chicago and Kansas City. His message was simple: the time had come to set aside personal goals in favor of focusing on the bigger picture.
Right now, reaching the postseason is more important than any personal statistics.
"It's about the team right now," Giambi said on Wednesday. "In that message, I was saying, 'Listen, at the end of the year, if you get into the playoffs, nobody cares whether you hit. Nobody cares.' If a guy has won a World Series, I can't tell you what he hit that year. I can tell you he has a World Series ring."
Entering Wednesday's game against the Royals, the Indians sat just a half-game back of Texas and Tampa Bay for one of the American League's Wild Card spots. Cleveland has leaned heavily on its pitching staff, and has overcome some season-long slumps from an assortment of hitters.
Center fielder Michael Bourn, who is having a down year by his standards, took Giambi's message to heart. After Tuesday's 5-3 comeback win, in which Bourn contributed a run-scoring triple and a solo home run, the outfielder brought up Giambi's speech and stressed its importance.
"Individual stats, for the most part, they are what they are at this point of the year," Bourn said. "That doesn't really mean anything to anyone anymore - for real. We're just trying to play to get to the playoffs. ... We listen when he talks. He's been around for a long time -- 19 years. It's the truth. You're not playing for yourself now."
Giambi called Cleveland's roster the best team he has been a part of during his storied career, meaning success is based on the sum of all parts rather than one or two individuals.
"We don't have that Chris Davis. We don't have that Miguel Cabrera," Giambi said. "This is probably the ultimate team that I've ever played for, where there wasn't one guy more important than another."
Tribe prepping coaches for interview process
KANSAS CITY -- The Indians pride themselves on being forward thinkers behind the scenes. That is true as much for evaluating and developing players as it is for members of the organization's Minor League coaching staff.
"Our organization does a great job of developing coaches," pitching coach Mickey Callaway said.
Callaway and first-base coach Mike Sarbaugh -- former Minor League coaches for the franchise -- both credit a program implemented by Cleveland a couple year ago for preparing them for their respective interviews to join manager Terry Francona's staff this year. During a recent Spring Training, the Indians held mock interviews for many of their coaches so they would be primed for potential opportunities down the road.
Sarbaugh, who is in his first season with a big league staff, said it was a valuable concept.
"I thought it helped a lot," Sarbaugh said. "Before I got this job, I hadn't gone through an interview in about 15 years. You knew it was practice, so you didn't feel the pressure of, 'Did I really knock it dead?' When I went through it back then, I thought it helped when I interviewed with Terry. It helped you get your thoughts in order."
Indians director of baseball operations Derek Falvey, who is in Kansas City with the team, said the program was spearheaded by general manager Chris Antonetti, assistant general manager Mike Chernoff and vice president of player development Ross Atkins. Falvey and Carter Hawkins, the Tribe's assistant director of player development, also helped with the mock interviews.
The coaches were split into groups based on their roles within the farm system and they fielded questions specific to their area of expertise. The mock interviews were not held this past spring -- due to the bulk of the staff being the same from a year ago -- but the club will likely continue the program in the future.
"We tried to do it as a professional development opportunity for our Minor League coaches or coordinators," Antonetti said. "So, in the event they had the opportunity to interview for a Major League job, they weren't going through it for the first time."
Callaway, who jumped from being Cleveland's Minor League pitching coordinator in 2012 to Francona's pitching coach, felt he benefited from the program.
"That was a big tool in getting me prepared," Callaway said.
Quote to note
"We're excited. We're excited about every game. I don't think there's any reason to hide our excitement. We're in the thick of this thing and we're battling some good teams, and we're right in the middle of it. We should be excited."
--Indians manager Terry Francona, on being in the Wild Card race heading into the final homestand of the regular season
• The Indians' left-handed relief situation has improved since the club acquired lefty Marc Rzepczynski form the Cardinals prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Entering Wednesday, the relievers have posted a 3.27 ERA (33 innings) since Aug. 1, compared to a 6.47 ERA (65 1/3 innings) between April and July.
"He's been really good," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Rzepczynski. "Sometimes a change of scenery helps. Over there, he got caught behind some other people. Here, he's getting a chance to pitch regularly and he's kind of taken to it, and he's been really good for us."
• With less than a dozen games left on the regular-season schedule, Francona is paying close attention to nightly matchups when assembling his lineup. Against Royals lefty Bruce Chen on Wednesday, outfielder Drew Stubbs (.272 against lefties) was out of the lineup, but Ryan Raburn (team-high 32 plate appearances against Chen) and Michael Brantley (.529 average vs. Chen) got the nod.
"We've got a lot of lefties coming up over the next week," Francona said. "We'll mix and match. This isn't the time of year to have an ego. Fortunately, our guys don't. We'll use our entire bench, if we have to."
• Heading into Wednesday's start, rookie Danny Salazar was averaging 11.95 strikeouts per nine innings. Dating to 1916, that is the best single-season rate among Indians pitchers with at least eight starts. Bob Feller (11.03 in 1936) and Sam McDowell (10.71 in 1965) rank second and third, respectively, on that list.