8/23/2013 6:38 P.M. ET
Second Wild Card opens up Tribe's playoff chances
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- A smirk began to creep across Indians manager Terry Francona's face as a reporter started asking about the second Wild Card spot on Friday afternoon. Francona was ready with a one-liner for his audience.
"I wish they would've added it a couple years ago," Francona said to a chorus of laughter.
Francona was, of course, referencing his 2011 Red Sox squad that spiraled out of control and out of the postseason picture that September, following which the manager lost his job. Flash forward to his current tenure with the Tribe, and his club sits within 2 1/2 games of the second Wild Card slot, which was added for the first time in 2012.
The Rays entered Friday holding the top Wild Card spot -- added to the postseason mix in 1994 when Major League Baseball shifted to its three-division alignment -- and the A's led the pack for the second Wild Card. Cleveland was next in the standings, followed by the Orioles (three games behind), Yankees (3 1/2) and Royals (seven).
Indians first baseman Nick Swisher said the team is still focusing on the American League Central, which the Tigers led by five games over the Tribe entering Friday.
"It's so new, man. I don't even pay attention to it," Swisher said of the Wild Card. "I think you have to think division. That's what I do and I think that's how everybody in here thinks. If you kind of end up on that doorstep of the division, you're right there for the Wild Card. For us, though, we want that division."
Francona added that the additional Wild Card is definitely better for baseball fans.
"I think it's good," Francona said. "I don't know if there's anything that's ever going to be perfect, but I like the idea that more teams stay in it longer. It gets fans something to hang on to, even if a one-game playoff would be half-exciting, half-dreadful, because you play all year and then all of a sudden it's one game. But it's serving its purpose."
Swisher's hot hitting comes up clutch for Tribe
CLEVELAND -- Nick Swisher is not quite sure how to explain his recent improvement in power production. Maybe the Indians first baseman's bothersome shoulder is doing a little better, or perhaps this is simply a hot stretch coming at the right time.
Either way, Swisher and the Indians will take it.
"It's just kind of how baseball is, I guess," Swisher said with a shrug. "You run into those rough patches and then you hit those hot spells. Somebody told me once a long time ago that we ride our hot streaks. That's pretty much how you get your numbers, because this game, guys are so good nowadays."
Heading into Friday's game with Minnesota, Swisher had launched four home runs in 45 at-bats across his past 10 games, during which he posted a .511 slugging percentage. The switch-hitting first baseman's previous four home runs came within a period of 58 games, in which he had an uncharacteristically low .312 slugging percentage in 218 at-bats.
On the year, Swisher is hitting .243 with 15 homers, 20 doubles and 43 RBIs in 111 games.
Throughout this season, Swisher has dealt with a right shoulder issue that has come and gone. He has been forced to do constant maintenance and rehab with the injury, which will likely persist to some extent until season's end. The shoulder has been doing better lately -- to the point where manager Terry Francona has used him as a part-time right fielder again.
"He's been pretty diligent about doing his shoulder program and everything," Francona said. "I think the fact that he can go to the outfield proves that. He's been taking pretty big swings. I jut think that when he forces pitchers to be in the zone, he's going to do some damage."
Swisher said that he is happiest that the home runs have been important to the team.
His two-run shot on Wednesday helped the Indians claim a 3-1 win over the Angels and his ninth-inning solo shot on Monday provided insurance for a 5-2 victory at Los Angeles. On Saturday, Swisher belted a solo homer to set the tone for a 7-1 win in Oakland and his two-run blast on Aug. 11 helped Cleveland ignite a six-run push en route to a 6-5 comeback win over the Halos.
"The timing of it, with us winning, they're helping us win games," Swisher said. "They're not useless home runs in the ninth inning when we're down five or up five. It seems like they mean something. For me, that means a lot. I want to come here and I want to produce some, and I want this organization to do well."
Kazmir, McAllister switch rotation spots
CLEVELAND -- When they can, the Indians will almost always give left-hander Scott Kazmir an extra day of rest. Cleveland is trying to balance both its competitive position and the pitcher's incredible comeback back into the game.
"I think he feels like he's been pitching for two straight years," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "He's a little tired, so we want to just give him an extra day when we can."
On Friday, the Indians announced that Kazmir and right-hander Zach McAllister are switching spots in the rotation. McAllister will start against the Twins on Saturday and Kazmir will take the mound on Sunday, as opposed to the other way around.
That will give Kazmir six days of rest between starts. McAllister, who is 6-7 with a 3.59 ERA in 17 starts this season, will be pitching on regular rest.
"With Kaz," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "we're trying to space it out where we keep Kaz all year pitching at a level where we can win. So any time we can buy him a day or two, we're trying to do that. It just makes sense."
Kazmir -- signed to a Minor League contract over the offseason -- has gone 7-6 with a 4.39 ERA through 22 starts this season, piling up 107 strikeouts in 119 innings. He has gone 1-2 with a 6.63 ERA over his past four starts, which include 10 runs allowed in his past eight innings.
Over the past two years, Kazmir has logged just 103 2/3 innings combined between the Majors, Minors, Independent League and winter ball.
"He's done a good job with it," said Francona, referring to Kazmir's comeback. "His arm is fine. I think his body feels a little beat up, so buying an extra day or two I think can help a bunch. He's done a terrific job. It's pretty remarkable, considering where he was to what he's doing."
• Indians utility man Ryan Raburn, who has been in the starting lineup in just three of the team's past 15 games, was scheduled to have his ailing right calf re-evaluated by a team doctor prior to Friday's game, according to Francona. Cleveland wants Raburn to be cleared before being thrown back into game action.
"We'll get him looked at one more time before we put him in a game," Francona said. "It's just to make sure. I don't want to sit him for five or six days, put him in for a pinch-hit and then set him back a week. So we'll get him evaluated one more time by a doctor today and then we'll see how it goes."
• When Francona was piecing together his coaching staff for this season, the manager had his good friend Brad Mills in mind for third base. Mills had worked as big league manager and bench coach in recent years, so Francona gave him time to think over the offer. Mills accepted the job and has helped Cleveland's solid baserunning (first in the league in going first-to-third) this season.
"To get him on this staff, that's where we had a fit," Francona said. "He said he would, and I think after he thought about it for a couple days, I think he actually got excited about it. Once Millsy gets excited, he's all in. This is probably the first time somebody's brought his name up all year. That tells you what kind of third-base coach he's been."
• Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin (right elbow) allowed three runs on seven hits in five innings in a Minor League rehab start for Triple-A Columbus on Thursday. Francona called the outing "encouraging" and noted that Tomlin will likely make two more rehab starts before the Minor League season ends. In eight rehab games, the righty has a 2.08 ERA with 12 strikeouts and no walks in 17 1/3 innings.
• With 69 wins, the Indians have already surpassed last season's win total. It should come as no surprise than that the Tribe is also showing improvement in TV and radio ratings. SportsTime Ohio is up nearly 30 percent from last year at this point and WTAM 1100-AM and WMMS 100.7-FM are up a combined 40 percent over this time last season.
Quote to note
"He's a great baseball person and he's having a great year as a third-base coach. He's been tremendous."
--Francona, on Mills