5/8/2014 1:20 P.M. ET
Aviles makes smooth transition into starting role
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- Moving out of his bench job and into a starting role has looked relatively easy so far for Indians utility man Mike Aviles. Then again, Cleveland acquired Aviles two offseasons ago with situations like the current one in mind.
When the Indians lost All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis to a right oblique injury last week, Aviles was asked to step into everyday duties. Aviles provides Cleveland with a player capable of handling a starting role at a variety of positions.
"He's very important to what we do," Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Heading into Thursday's action, Aviles had hit at a .500 (9-for-18) clip in six games since Kipnis exited with the side injury on April 29 in Anaheim. The utility man has hit .302 with one home run, four stolen bases, six RBIs and 10 runs scored through 22 games for the Tribe.
On Wednesday, Aviles went 3-for-4 and delivered a walk-off single in the ninth inning to propel Cleveland to a 4-3 win over Minnesota.
"That's my job -- be ready when you're called on," Aviles said. "It's unfortunate we lose a guy like Kipnis, but I feel like our depth is going to get tested. I'm fortunate to get an opportunity, and I'm pretty much going to go out there and try to do whatever I can to help the team win."
Indians first baseman Nick Swisher said that does not seem to be an issue for Aviles.
"He's ready to go, man," Swisher said. "He gets right out of bed and wakes up raking."
Santana shows huge improvement at third base
CLEVELAND -- Within the confines of one game, Carlos Santana provided a perfect look into the progress he has made at third base this season for the Indians.
During Wednesday's 4-3 walk-off victory over the Twins, Santana made a handful of stellar plays that played a key role in helping Cleveland to the win column. Santana made a barehanded grab, dove for a ball and made a tough catch in foul ground while avoiding a fan reaching over the wall down the third-base line.
"He made some unbelievable plays," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He left his feet. He came in on the slow roller. The best play he made all night was right after he made an out to end the inning. He wasn't hanging his head. He went out and made a play, so that's good."
Francona was referring to Santana's strikeout that ended the third inning. In the top of the fourth, Minnesota's Chris Colabello sent a sharply hit ball to the third baseman's left. Santana -- a converted catcher -- dove, snared the baseball and then recovered quickly to fire a bullet to first baseman Nick Swisher for the out.
Swisher has been impressed with Santana's progress since Spring Training.
"It's not a surprise to me to see that," Swisher said. "The amazing thing is, now that I've been at first base a lot, being able to read throws and things like that, it's crazy. When he goes down for a ball, you're like, 'All right, you've got to get up, man.' But when he gets up and lets that thing loose, it's like a rocket coming out of there."
In the first inning, Santana charged in when -- on the first pitch of the game from Cleveland's Danny Salazar -- Brian Dozier bunted the ball down the line. The third baseman grabbed the ball with his bare hand and got the out at first. In the top of the ninth, with the game locked in a 3-3 tie, Santana made an impressive catch at the wall in foul territory.
"I'm working hard," said Santana, who doubles as the Tribe's backup catcher. "I worked hard in Spring Training with [third-base coach and infield instructor Mike Sarbaugh] and during the season. I think I'm playing well. I feel so comfortable. When we play a game, I try to be perfect to help the team."
Sarbaugh has enjoyed watching Santana continue to look at home at the hot corner.
"He has a lot of athleticism," Sarbaugh said. "It doesn't surprise me that he was able to make those plays. But a lot of that too is all the pre-pitch he worked on in the spring, the reaction off the bat, all that time he put into it. You can see that it's paid off for him, especially [Wednesday] night."
'T. Plush' appears on Morgan's outstanding catch
CLEVELAND -- Nyjer Morgan went up for the ball and Tony Plush came down with it on Wednesday night. One day later, the Indians center fielder's teammates were still raving about the leaping catch he made in the third inning against the Twins.
"I don't know him as Nyjer," Indians first baseman Nick Swisher said with a laugh. "I know him as T. Plush."
Early in Cleveland's 4-3 victory, Minnesota's Josmil Pinto laced a pitch from Danny Salazar to deep left-center field, where Morgan sprinted to track down the ball. The center fielder left his feet and made a fully-extended, one-handed catch while crashing into the wall. When Morgan landed on his feet, he held his glove high.
Then came the strut, some flexing and a point to Salazar. Plush was making a cameo.
"I kind of blacked out there," Morgan said. "I was thinking about acting up and throwing on a performance, but I was like, 'No, let me stay humble here.' The guy was about to come back out there."
For the fourth game in a row, Morgan was filling in for center fielder and leadoff man Michael Bourn, who was temporarily sidelined with tightness in his left hamstring. Bourn returned to the lineup for Cleveland on Thursday, pushing Morgan back into a bench role. When Bourn was on the disabled list with a hamstring injury to start the season, Morgan also held the fort down.
Through 13 games with Cleveland, Morgan has hit .297 with one double, three stolen bases, four RBIs, five runs and a .400 on-base percentage this season.
"From the minute we met him in [Spring Training], he's been the same guy," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Enthusiastic, wanting to play. He's done a really good job for us. He's been on base 40 percent of the time. He's been good."
Swisher said Morgan's catch on Wednesday night was more than just good.
"Honest truth, when [Pinto] made contact, I thought that ball was 10 rows up," Swisher said. "I just kind of turned my head. I don't like watching other teams' homers. Next thing you know, the crowd is going crazy. I turn around and he's standing up on the wall like Spider-Man. He's got the ball in his hands. It's been great, man.
"What he's done to be able to come over here and provide a spark, especially when Bourny's been down, he's filled in tremendously. He's letting everybody know he can play this game. Not only that, but the positive attitude he has."
Quote to note
"That's going to bring a little bit more harmony to the team. We've been playing very good these last couple games, so I know we're going to just keep doing that."
--Salazar, on Wednesday's walk-off win
• It was not a save situation, but Indians closer John Axford was happy to return to the mound in the ninth inning of Cleveland's win on Wednesday. Axford allowed a two-out hit and a walk, but the righty escaped unscathed. He had given up four runs with three walks in 1 1/3 innings in his previous two outings (one blown save and two losses).
"I felt good," Axford said. "Physically, I feel great. My arm has been feeling really good, even after the three [games in a row] and four of five. I'm just working on a small little thing that [pitching coach Mickey Callaway] and I noticed and it's been feeling better the last couple times out, for sure."
Callaway and Axord noticed a flaw in the pitcher's posture (affecting his breaking ball), and they have also been working on tweaking his arm slot (to reduce the run on his fastball). The closer felt improvement in both areas on Wednesday.
• Indians catcher Yan Gomes made a throwing error on Wednesday, giving Cleveland a Major League-high 34 errors in 34 games this season, entering Thursday. In the game against the Twins, though, there was a handful of highlight-reel defensive plays that directly contributed to Cleveland pulling off a win.
"That's been a big stress for us," Swisher said. "We want to make sure that we do play clean games. Our pitchers have done such a tremendous job for us the past couple weeks and we really haven't given them much. So we're taking a little more pride in that. We're getting back to where we feel comfortable on the diamond. I think it's all paying off."
• Aviles has provided two walk-off victories in his Major League career. He had the game-winning hit in Wednesday's 4-3 victory over the Twins and, coincidentally, his previous walk-off (a sacrifice fly) came with the Royals in a 4-3 win over the A's on May 7, 2011. Aviles plans on keeping May 7 open for another walk-off win in a future season.
"I've got to pencil this into my calendar," Aviles joked.
• Entering Thursday's game with the Twins, Cleveland's pitching staff had allowed only 23 home runs this season. That ranked second in the American League, trailing only Detroit (20), which was the third-best total in the Majors. Sixteen of the 23 homers have been solo shots.