MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians feel fortunate to have sinkerballer Justin Masterson providing an extra arm in the bullpen right now. Their ninth-inning situation is murky, and Masterson provides another option when it comes to piecing together the final frames.
The question is whether he will return to the rotation if the Indians punch their ticket to the postseason.
"That's still the plan, in my mind," Masterson said prior to Friday's game against the Twins.
That bridge might be crossed at a later date. To even get to the point of mulling that decision, Cleveland first needs to hold its ground as one of the American League's two Wild Card teams. With what is at stake, and the fact that Masterson only recently returned after recovering from an injured left oblique, the Indians will continue to use him out of the bullpen.
Asked if Masterson would serve as a starter in a playoff setting, manager Terry Francona would not budge.
"The plan is for him to be a weapon," Francona said. "We'll see where that takes us. I think he'll enjoy every bit of that."
Francona announced on Friday that Chris Perez has been pulled from the closer role, naming Joe Smith, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Masterson as possibilities for the ninth. Masterson, who can handle more than one inning, discussed the situation with Francona on Friday.
"I will be in the sixth inning," Masterson said. "I will set up the setup to the setup to the closer."
Francona noted that he would not use Masterson in consecutive games without the blessing of the medical staff.
Masterson, who entered Friday with a 14-10 record and 3.50 ERA in 30 appearances, sustained his injury against the Orioles on Sept. 2. He returned to game action on Wednesday, spinning one shutout inning in a 7-2 win over the White Sox.
"The layoff was not too long," Masterson said. "It's almost like we've had a really nice rest, and we can do what we need to do. ... It's been a solid break for the shoulder and arm. They feel like they're a young pup."
Francona opts to go with closer-by-committee
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians are moving ahead without a defined closer. Chris Perez has been removed from that role for the time being, and Cleveland will go with a closer-by-committee while trying to secure an American League Wild Card spot this weekend.
Setup man Joe Smith does not have any issues with the club having no true closer.
"It doesn't matter," Smith said. "All that matters now is getting outs and getting to the playoffs."
Manager Terry Francona announced his decision to pull Perez from the job on Friday, one day after the hurler nearly cost Cleveland a win in Minnesota by surrendering four runs on four hits before being lifted in an eventual 6-5 victory.
Francona indicated that -- at least for the remainder of the regular season -- a variety of relievers could be used in the ninth, depending on how the game develops. He named Smith, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Justin Masterson as possibilities.
Prior to Friday's game, Francona spoke with each pitcher involved.
"I don't want that phone to ring and have somebody be surprised down there," Francona said. "You certainly could [see Smith in the ninth], but you could also see him before. The one thing I told Smitty is that I don't want to potentially lose a game waiting to get to him when he's our best option earlier.
"The one nice thing, this time of year, there are no egos. You just put your seatbelt on and go find a way to win."
Dating back to Aug. 1, Perez has a 7.52 ERA, .345 opponents' batting average and 1.87 WHIP over 20 1/3 innings, a span in which he has surrendered 30 hits, including seven homers. That is in stark contrast to the first four months of the season, when he had a 2.41 ERA to go with a .206 opponents' average across 33 appearances.
Perez, who has 25 saves, missed roughly a month between May and June due to an injured right shoulder.
"Whether he'll say it or not, he probably hasn't been healthy this entire year," Masterson said. "It's unfortunate. He's pushing through whatever he's got going. It's admirable. But he wouldn't tell us anything. He's that type of guy. He's going to do his thing and get after it, and if he doesn't do it, he accepts how it comes."
Perez has not conducted interviews with local reporters for several months but was approached on Friday to see if he would consider ending his media silence.
"Nope," replied Perez, who has 124 saves in his career with Cleveland.
It is not clear when Perez might be given a chance to save another game for the Tribe.
"How we use him, we're not sure," Francona said. "We want to get him back to helping, because he's got a bunch of saves. You don't just give up on that."
Salazar flashing the tools needed for success
MINNEAPOLIS -- Rookie Danny Salazar has shown the ability to light up the radar gun with his overpowering fastball, but it could be his offspeed offerings that lead to his longevity.
During Wednesday's 7-2 victory over the White Sox, Salazar displayed improved command and effectiveness with both his slider and split-changeup, making his fastball an even more dangerous pitch.
Pitching coach Mickey Callaway is extremely pleased with the right-hander's progress.
"He's going to have to learn how to mix his pitches," Callaway said. "It seems like he's kind of on a quick course to doing that. He's always been a guy that's made adjustments pretty good. I'm sure it will come along pretty quick for him."
Over 5 1/3 innings against Chicago, Salazar piled up eight strikeouts against one walk. He logged 48 fastballs, compared with 41 offspeed pitches. The 23 changeups were his most since he fired 26 in his big league debut, against Toronto on July 11. He also threw the most sliders (18) in any of his 10 starts.
Salazar threw 91 percent of his changeups for strikes and followed suit on 72 percent of his sliders.
"I've been working on my offspeed pitches," said Salazar, who has a 3.12 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 52 innings. "Finally, now, they're working better. I can use it more, my changeup and slider."
"It's been better," he said. "Probably up to [Wednesday's start], he had been around 80 percent with his fastball. In that start he was around 55 percent. He mixed in all his pitches really well. If he can mix up his pitches like that, as good as those two pitches are, along with his dominant fastball, he's going to have pretty good success."
Quote to note
"I think with three games to go, we can make that happen. I think in the overall sense, you like having [a defined closer]. Chris has been our guy and, in my mind, he still is. He's had some struggles, but he's still my guy, and I think we still have confidence in him."
-- Masterson, on Cleveland going with a closer-by-committee in light of Perez's struggles
• Center fielder Michael Bourn was out of the lineup on Friday for the third consecutive game with a sprained right wrist. Francona indicated that Bourn might be cleared to return as early as Saturday if he has no issues following Friday's pregame workout.
"We want to see how he does," Francona said. "He came in feeling good. We'll see how his activity is, how he swings a bat. He could possibly play [on Saturday]."
• Zach McAllister turned in 4 1/3 shutout innings in Thursday's 6-5 win over the Twins but was lifted after just 68 pitches after experiencing stiffness in his left side. Francona said that the injury is not considered serious, noting that he was simply taking a cautious approach.
"He was having trouble finishing his pitches," Francona said. "He was battling and battling, and he was stiff. You love it in a guy, that he wants to pitch so much, but you don't want him to lose a game because he's not able to get that extension. So I finally kind of pulled the plug."
• Outfielder Jason Kubel, who has hit just .167 in eight games since coming over in a trade with Arizona, entered Friday having not appeared in a game for Cleveland since Sept. 12. Though Kubel is not injured, Francona has kept him on the bench during the playoff chase.
"It's sort of a shame," Francona said. "You almost have to pick a guy or two at this time of year, because you can't spread the at-bats to everybody. You knew it was going to have to happen with the pitchers, too, but we didn't want to be short. That's just the way it goes."
• With 1 2/3 shutout innings in Thursday's 6-5 win over the Twins, Shaw improved to 5-0 with 15 1/3 shutout innings in September. He is only the second pitcher in team history to have five wins with no starts in a calendar month. Frank Funk also accomplished the feat in May 1961.
• After Thursday's win, left-hander Scott Kazmir spent an hour and a half trapped in an elevator at the team's hotel until a crew from the elevator company and the Minneapolis fire department were able to pry open the doors.
"I was trying not to panic," Kazmir said with a smirk. "I just sat down -- in the fetal position."