CLEVELAND -- When Justin Masterson was swiftly removed from his last start at the beginning of September because of what was later diagnosed as a strained left oblique, many believed his season was over. Now, just over three weeks later, the Indians are on the verge of using him once again.
Masterson impressed the organization during a simulated game on Sunday. On Tuesday, before the Indians opened a two-game home set against the White Sox, manager Terry Francona said Masterson would be available as a reliever as soon as Wednesday or Thursday.
"He did terrific," Francona said, referring to Masterson's effort in the simulated game. "I actually got to stand behind him, which you never get to do, and his stuff was really good. He makes the point, he wasn't down that long. And it shows. He's worked really hard."
In all likelihood, Masterson will not start any of the Indians' remaining regular-season games. He could return to the rotation at some point in the American League Division Series, if the Indians make it that far.
"We'd have to play for awhile, I would say," Francona said.
Masterson, a first-time All-Star this season, has a 14-10 record and 3.52 ERA in 29 starts. Over 189 1/3 innings, he has 188 strikeouts and 75 walks, with a .224 opponents' average and 1.21 WHIP.
Since joining the Indians in 2009, Masterson has primarily been a starter. But when he played for Francona's Red Sox in 2008-09, only 15 of his 67 regular-season appearances were starts. Masterson came out of the bullpen nine times during the '08 postseason and allowed just three runs (two earned) in 9 2/3 innings, with nine strikeouts and five walks.
"It's been quite some time, especially with any significance," Masterson said of relieving. "And we have like 100 guys down there, too. I might have to sit in the bathroom.
"I'm not above anything that would take place -- however we can help the team. We want to make sure that, although I feel good, will we still be great over three, four, five, seven, eight innings. That's ultimately how I like to do things, go as deep as I can. So we want to make sure we're in the right position for that, so we're not hurting our team when it comes time for something like that."
Whatever Masterson's role will be, the Indians are happy to be able to throw him back out on the mound. He has played a pivotal part in the success of a club that entered Tuesday in possession of the second AL Wild Card spot, and the club is hopeful he will continue to contribute.
"What ended up possibly being a big negative for us -- having Masty not around -- all of a sudden has a chance to be a big weapon for us moving forward," Francona said. "So that's kind of how we'll view it."
Bourn leaves game with mild wrist sprain
CLEVELAND -- When the ninth inning of Tuesday's game against the White Sox began, Michael Bourn was not occupying his usual spot in center field.
In the fifth inning, Bourn reached on a bunt single and made it to second on White Sox starter Hector Santiago's throwing error. As he slid into the bag, Bourn jammed his right wrist, which later stiffened up. He left the game because he didn't think he could hit or throw well enough to continue playing. He was diagnosed with a mild sprain.
"He got checked out and everything structurally is OK," Indians manager Terry Francona said afterward. "We'll check him in the morning to see how he's doing."
Bourn did not undergo X-rays or an MRI, which might not even be necessary. He did have ice on the wrist after being taken out.
"I should be OK," Bourn said. "If you see me come out, then you know [something is wrong]. I'm not going to come out for just anything. But I didn't want to cost the team, with a ball out there hit to me and I couldn't really throw like I wanted to. I should be fine. We'll see what happens tomorrow."
Francona going to well often with loaded 'pen
CLEVELAND -- This month, fans of opposing teams have been driven crazy by Indians manager Terry Francona's many pitching changes. September callups have resulted in a crowded bullpen, and while the use of so many relievers might seem unnecessary to outsiders, the manager has a method in his madness.
During last Sunday's rout of Houston, Francona used eight relief pitchers in a game for the fourth time this season. In addition to getting experience for his young pitchers, the manager has been able to ease the load of his more established regulars -- the pitchers who would come out of the bullpen most over the course of the postseason.
"There's been a couple games that have been spread out -- sometimes in the wrong direction -- but we haven't had to go to guys and we've kind of used it two-fold," Francona said. "We've gotten guys like Josh Tomlin a couple innings that were important for him. C.C. Lee has got some much-needed experience. Blake [Wood] got an inning or two coming back from his surgery that will get him going for next year.
"Obviously, you try to win every game, and when you can't win every game, you try to accomplish something that day, regardless of whether it's something maybe seemingly small like getting C.C. a couple hitters or something like that."
In 21 September games, the Tribe's callups have recorded a 4.79 ERA while pitching 20 2/3 innings in relief. The seven regulars, on the other hand, have assembled a 2.18 ERA over 53 2/3 innings. The main relievers are still bearing the brunt of the load, but it's not as heavy as it normally would be.
"That's the idea, so nobody's really on fumes," Francona said. "So if you do go to the bullpen in the fifth inning, you're not asking too much of somebody."
Francona keeps same approach in final days
CLEVELAND -- Few managers have as much big-game experience as Terry Francona.
During his eight seasons in Boston, Francona led the Red Sox to five postseason appearances and two World Series championships. With the Indians in playoff position during the final week of the regular season, Francona's club has all significant games remaining.
Not that the manager plans to handle them any differently than he has any of the previous 156 before Tuesday.
"I don't think you can push a button and change things," Francona said. "I think that's why, from the first day of camp, you try to have an atmosphere where guys want to do the right thing. Because regardless of the importance of the game, you can't just step up your game, especially in our game. We know the importance of these games. It's pretty obvious. But you can't really change a whole lot."
Including Tuesday's series opener with the White Sox, the Indians have six contests left in the regular season. There will be one more meeting with Chicago, followed by four road games in Minnesota.
Cleveland entered Tuesday with a one-game lead on Texas for the second American League Wild Card spot, with Kansas City, New York and Baltimore also still alive in the race. The Indians trailed Tampa Bay by a game for the top spot and the home-field advantage in the Wild Card game that goes with it.
"I mean, as a manager, you may go to the bullpen earlier, things like that," said Francona, whose Indians haven't made the playoffs since 2007. "But as far as playing, it's not like you can hit the ball 20 feet farther because of a big game. You know what I mean? That's why you try to treat every game as if it's the most important game of the year, so when you do get to games like this, nothing has to change."
Quote to note
"It's great, because we're winning ballgames. That's what makes it fun. The guys are going out there and they're fighting hard. Look at Ubaldo [Jimenez]. He's been tremendous for us. That's what you like to see. Everyone else is picking it up. They don't need me. I'm just here to encourage, smile and give them hugs. It seems like that's working right now." -- Masterson, on being confined to the dugout as his injury heals
• Bryan Shaw has pitched 72 innings this year, leading all Indians relievers. Those frames have been spread over 67 games, during which Shaw has compiled a 3.38 ERA while allowing 10 of his 38 inherited runners to score.
"He just has the ability to be able to pitch every day," Francona said. "I think when he has some rest he's a little bit better. But when he's got that velocity and that cutter action and he locates, be becomes really, really a good weapon."
• As a whole, the Tribe bullpen has a 1.35 ERA with 32 strikeouts against 12 walks over the last 11 games. In that span, Cleveland's relievers have thrown 33 1/3 innings, and the team is 9-2.
• Michael Brantley had a pair of RBI singles on Sunday. With runners in scoring position, Brantley is batting .360 (41-for-114), a mark that's good enough for third-best in the AL among hitters with at least 100 at-bats.
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.