10/1/2013 10:13 P.M. ET
Rays have earned Indians' respect
By Jordan Bastian and Mark Emery / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- The Indians won only two of their six meetings with the Rays during the season. They went up against Alex Cobb one time, all the way back in the fifth game of the year, when the right-hander surrendered just four hits and no runs to the Tribe while pitching into the eighth inning.
Needless to say, the Indians have nothing but respect for the Rays, who earned a spot in Wednesday's American League Wild Card Game at Progressive Field, airing at 8 p.m. ET on TBS, by beating the Rangers on the road in Monday's tiebreaker. On Tuesday, Cleveland manager Terry Francona talked about what makes Tampa Bay such a tough team and why Cobb will be so challenging to face.
"They always pitch, they run the bases extremely well, they have some very dangerous hitters and they probably match up better than most teams in the league, if not every team in the league," Francona said. "And by that I mean, even hitters or pitchers, they have guys with splits, and [Rays manager] Joe [Maddon] does it really well. He'll match up. He's not afraid to. They use that to their advantage a lot.
"You've got to be prepared for the unexpected, because he's not afraid to do anything at any time."
After Monday's 5-2 win in Texas, the Rays ended the season with a 92-71 record, good enough for second in the AL East. Tampa Bay has finished with at least 90 wins four years in a row and in five of the past six. The Rays closed the season by winning nine of their final 11 games.
"We respect how they go about the game," Francona said. "You know when you play them, the ball needs to end up where it's supposed to or they can run you into a bigger inning -- and they're good at that. When they get a one- or two-run lead, they get very aggressive and they want you to make mistakes. So you've got to stay one pitch ahead of them, because they're good at that. They go first to third. They score from second. They've always been good at that."
In 22 outings this season, Cobb went 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA. Over 143 1/3 innings, he had 134 strikeouts and 45 walks, with a .228 opponents' average and 1.15 WHIP.
On June 15, Cobb was hit in the head by a line drive and was unable to pitch for two months. In the nine starts since his return, he was 5-1 with a 2.41 ERA.
"We faced him April 6 and he just kind of carved us up. He's good," Francona said of Cobb, who had six strikeouts and three walks across 7 1/3 scoreless innings in that outing. "He's got three pitches that he can throw at any time in the count. ... He's arguably been their best pitcher the last couple months, so we know we have our hands full."
Masterson gives Tribe a 'secret weapon'
CLEVELAND -- Going through a season without a defined closer is asking for trouble. Using that approach for a one-game playoff like the Wild Card Game, when all hands are on deck and the loser goes home for the winter, is a much different situation.
The Indians actually believe it could be to their benefit.
"In the short term, no, it's not a big deal," Indians pitcher Justin Masterson said. "Over a long season, absolutely, you need to have somebody who's going to do that thing. But where we're at, I think we're perfect."
Indians manager Terry Francona agrees, and that is largely due to the fact that Masterson is now in the bullpen for the Tribe. The big sinkerballer suffered a left oblique strain on Sept. 2, but returned to the mound before the end of the season. Masterson came back as a reliever, because the injury requires that he gradually build up his pitch count.
In a perfect world, starter Danny Salazar would log six innings against the Rays in Wednesday's Wild Card Game in Cleveland, 8 p.m. ET on TBS, and Masterson would follow with three frames to close things out. Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said Masterson currently has the clearance to go four innings or up to around 65 pitches.
"When Masty got hurt, we lost our ace," Francona said. "Then, when Masty got healthy, we acquired a guy that can pitch out of the bullpen multiple innings. So we went from really feeling like we'd lost one of our key guys to gaining a huge weapon. And that's the way we kind of plan on using him."
Former closer Chris Perez was stripped of his ninth-inning duties during the last series of the season, leaving relievers such as Joe Smith, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Matt Albers and Marc Rzepczynski, among others, to pick up the slack. Now, that group has Masterson as well, and the Wild Card roster might include another starter such as Corey Kluber as even more relief insurance.
This is one situation where the players seem fine with not having a true closer.
"Masty is kind of the secret weapon down there now," Allen said. "You can bring him in if you need a punchout. You can bring him in if you need a double play. ... There's different ways to do [the ninth]. I think the way [Francona] has set up our bullpen throughout the year, we've all pitched in different innings and we've all had success in different innings. I actually think it sets it up where it helps us out."
Hobbled Bourn appears set for Wild Card Game
CLEVELAND -- Michael Bourn finished running the bases during the Indians' workout at Progressive Field on Tuesday and jogged toward the batting cage on the infield. The center fielder flashed a smile, extended his arm and gave a fist bump to general manager Chris Antonetti.
Bourn, who left Sunday's game in Minnesota with soreness behind his left knee, appears to be on target to play in Wednesday's American League Wild Card Game against the Rays, airing at 8 p.m. ET on TBS.
"It was encouraging," Antonetti said of Bourn's workout. "He looked good. I could've had a running head start and wouldn't have run nearly as well as he ran."
In the ninth inning of Sunday's Wild Card-clinching victory over the Twins, Bourn was thrown out at second on a stolen-base attempt. He limped off the field and was promptly replaced in center by Drew Stubbs in the home half of the inning.
Indians manager Terry Francona said pulling Bourn -- signed to a four-year, $48 million contract over the winter -- was simply a precautionary move. Bourn went through agility drills in left field, ran the bases, and took part in batting practice and fielding drills during Tuesday's off-day workout. He is tentatively set to start in center and lead off for Wednesday's win-or-go-home playoff game against Tampa Bay.
"He's feeling good," Francona said. "Hopefully that leads him into leading off [Wednesday]. If something changes, we would make an adjustment."
In 130 games for the Indians this season, Bourn hit .263 with six home runs, 21 doubles, six triples, 50 RBIs, 23 stolen bases and 75 runs.
Quote to note
"All he wants is a nine-man bullpen? I had to talk him down from a 24-man bullpen. He'd have relievers in the outfield."
-- Indians general manager Chris Antonetti, joking about manager Terry Francona
• The Indians will announce their 25-man roster for the AL Wild Card Game on Wednesday morning, and would then be allowed to alter it in the event that the team advances to the AL Division Series. Cleveland general manager Chris Antonetti did not tip his hand on the roster's makeup.
"There actually are a number of tough decisions," Antonetti said. "There are a lot of guys deserving of being on the roster [Wednesday]. Obviously, the Wild Card one-game format is different than the traditional longer postseason series. So there are different ways you can configure it."
• If he had his way, Antonetti said the Wild Card round would not be a one-game playoff. The general manager said he would prefer it to be a best-of-three series, and mentioned one scenario that would include a doubleheader at one site and a third game, if necessary, the following day.
"It's exciting for the fans," Antonetti said of the current one-game format. "If I had my preference, it would probably be a little bit of a different structure, and there are some creative ideas that have been discussed. But, it is what it is, so we're excited to be playing tomorrow."
• Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis ended the season with 30 stolen bases, marking the second straight year he has swiped at least 30 for the Tribe. Kipnis is the first Indians player to have back-to-back 30-steal seasons since Grady Sizemore did so in 2007-08. The previous infielder to accomplish that feat was Roberto Alomar in three straight seasons from 1999-2001.
• Cleveland catcher Yan Gomes, who assumed the bulk of the playing time behind the plate in the second half, ended the season ranked second among big league catchers (minimum 275 plate appearances) in slugging percentage (.491), and third in average (.298) and OPS (.837). The Indians posted a 49-30 in games Gomes started at catcher.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.