CLE@CWS: Kipnis rips a run-scoring double to pad lead

CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis did not record a hit in Kansas City earlier this week. For the second baseman, it was a frustrating series that fit right into a frustrating second half, at least as far as personal numbers are concerned.

After July 21, when Kipnis went 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs, he had a .303 batting average and .913 OPS. In 52 games since then, Kipnis is hitting .231 with a .628 OPS.

The reason for Kipnis' struggles could simply be a matter of fatigue. After all, the first-time All-Star has played in all but 13 of Cleveland's games before Thursday.

"I think he might be a little bit tired," Tribe manager Terry Francona said Thursday. "He skipped BP yesterday with my blessing. He plays pretty hard, and he's pretty hard on himself. I think he just got a little worn out. He hit that ball to center field pretty good yesterday. He'll be fine."

In 139 games, Kipnis has a .276/.360/.448 slash line with 17 home runs, 78 RBIs and 28 stolen bases. Over 16 September games, he has a .218 average and .622 OPS, with just one homer and three RBIs.

On Thursday, the notion of Kipnis hitting a wall in the second half of last season was put to Francona.

The manager responded: "I think that wall's going to fall here pretty soon."

Tribe loosens leash on Salazar as season winds down

CLE@CWS: Salazar fans nine in 3 2/3 innings of work

CLEVELAND -- Danny Salazar said after his outing Wednesday that he had been told the pitch limits Cleveland put on him in the past would not be in place as he threw in Kansas City. On Thursday, Indians manager Terry Francona said that wasn't quite the case.

Salazar threw 89 pitches in his debut on July 11 and 103 pitches against Detroit in the next outing. Across the seven outings since then, the 23-year-old has been held to between 71 pitches and 82 pitches, with the latter total being achieved on Wednesday when he tossed six innings.

"We've gotten to a point in the year now where we're actually starting to stretch him back a little bit," Francona said, "and he looks strong. Now, we're not going to let him go out there and just flail away at 130 pitches.

"I think part of what was getting in the way is he kept looking up at the pitch count. He was not only trying to get outs, he was trying to get them quick."

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2010 and missing most of '11, Salazar began this year at Double-A Akron and moved to Triple-A Columbus before joining the Indians. In 21 Minor League appearances (20 starts), Salazar threw an average of about 70 pitches each time he took the hill.

In nine starts with the Tribe, Salazar is 1-3 with a 3.09 ERA. He has 57 strikeouts and 14 walks over 46 2/3 innings.

The Indians have kept a close eye on their young flamethrower, and while the restrictions of the past seem to be loosening, the organization will continue to make sure that his future is not jeopardized.

"We're never going to just have him untethered," said Francona, who doesn't want to overwork any of his pitchers, regardless of past injuries or operations. "Danny's in a good spot. And if he wasn't in a good spot, we wouldn't be pitching him."

Francona values Giambi's mentoring and motivation

NYM@CLE: Giambi collects his 2,000th career hit

CLEVELAND -- Countless times, Jason Giambi has drawn from his vast experience and gone out of his way to mentor and motivate his Indians teammates. He has called several team meetings, the last of which transpired before the club's recent road trip to Chicago and Kansas City.

"He has carte blanche. I'm serious," Indians manager Terry Francona said Thursday. "The more he talks, the better off we are, myself included."

That's been a familiar refrain for Francona, who, in describing the 42-year-old Giambi's value, never feels as if he's doling out enough credit. The skipper believes the veteran leadership provided by Giambi has been instrumental to the Indians' success this season. Cleveland entered Thursday just a half-game out of the second American League Wild Card spot, with 10 contests to play.

Francona knows that his managerial responsibilities include addressing the team and keeping its players focused and prepared. With that said, he appreciates a member of the team who is willing to do the same thing.

"When it comes from a manager too much, it can be considered panicking or nitpicking," Francona said. "When it's coming from a teammate, it's being a good teammate. I've always felt like when you have solid leaders in the clubhouse that care enough to police themselves, those are the teams that are good. It never fails. I can pick out all kinds of stuff, but when it comes from within, when they care about each other enough to say something strong to each other, that's when you've got a good thing going."

Quote to note

"I think we've been very good about staying in the moment and attacking the task at hand, which is tonight. If you start looking to next week or last week, you kind of miss what's right in front of you." -- Francona

Smoke signals

• Injured starter Justin Masterson, who hasn't pitched since Sept. 2 because of a strained left oblique, is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Friday.

"He feels good, so the plan is for him to throw a bullpen tomorrow, and then we'll kind of go from there," Francona said Thursday. "And the only reason we haven't said really more about it is because we're trying to be fair to Masty. He's done such a good job of getting to this point. I think it's been 16 days. That's absurdly quick."

• If the Indians end up snagging one of the two AL Wild Card spots, they'll have to decide which pitcher to start on Oct. 2 in the one-game showdown. Francona hasn't begun thinking about who that might be.

"No. I don't allow myself to ever do that," Francona said. "We need to get there."

Ubaldo Jimenez entered his Thursday start with a 9-6 record and a 2.52 ERA over his last 20 starts, dating back to May 27. In that span, Jimenez's ERA ranks second in the AL (behind only Bartolo Colon's 2.15 mark) and sixth in baseball.