CLEVELAND -- Chasing down Minnesota in the Central Division was quite an accomplishment for the Indians, who through Sunday had posted the best record in the majors (42-17) since June 4.
There’s still plenty of work to be done for Cleveland, which entered Monday’s series opener with Boston tied with the Twins atop the division after taking three of four in Minnesota (Thursday through Sunday).
Manager Terry Francona doesn’t plan on emphasizing as much to his players.
“If I thought we needed to, I would but I think our guys do a good job of staying in the moment,” he said. “We talk about it so much that I think it’s kind of engrained. I think if anything, when you play relatively well, you kind of earn the right to have the games that are coming up mean more -- not less. And I think that’s kind of how we view it.
“We’ve played ourselves into position where you show up every day and you’re a little bit nervous, got a little bit of anxiety, which is a good thing. There’s nothing worse in my opinion then this time of year when you’re too far out and it doesn’t matter. That’s awful.”
Erasing an 11 1/2-game deficit to the Twins has been surprising enough, but the Indians accomplished as much with a depleted rotation that has gotten top-shelf efforts from replacements such as Zach Plesac (6-3, 3.31 ERA) and Aaron Civale (1-1, 1.00) -- two pitchers who weren’t expected to play a role this season.
“Some of the time we weren’t sure who our pitchers were going to be so I think that’s a little unexpected,” Francona said. “To expect there won’t be a hiccup isn’t fair but their composure has been tremendous, because they don’t have that much experience and they’ve kind of gotten thrown into it. And that’s why I’ve mentioned it a lot of times, the player development staff deserves a ton of credit because these kids, and they are kids, are learning on the fly.
“We’ve run into things, but it’s been a total team effort, and by total I mean even part of our Triple-A (Columbus team). Whoever comes has kind of jumped in and helped and I think that makes for really good chemistry. When everybody is involved and everybody is part of it and everyone is trying to pull in one direction, I think that really does help.”
Right fielder Yasiel Puig dropped his appeal and will serve a three-game suspension during the series with Boston. He was disciplined for his part in a brawl with the Pirates while playing for the Reds on July 30.
The initial plan is not to replace Puig on the roster while he serves the suspension.
“We have a two-man bench and obviously we can move (utility infielder Mike) Freeman (to the outfield) so that helps,” Francona said. “And if something happened, we would do something, but we’re hoping for the best.”
On the mend
Right-hander Corey Kluber is scheduled to make his second rehab start Tuesday, this time for Double-A Akron. He allowed two solo home runs and struck out two over three innings of his rehab debut for Columbus on Saturday.
-- Outfielder Bradley Zimmer served as the designated hitter Sunday in a Rookie League game in Goodyear, Ariz.
“Didn’t get any hits, but came through it OK,” Francona said of Zimmer, who hasn’t appeared in a game for Cleveland since June 3 of last year. “Towards the end of the week, he’ll move into the outfield and then after a little bit of that, he’ll move up into more advanced minor leagues where he’s not playing out there in Arizona.”
Right-hander Nick Goody entered Monday with 36 strikeouts in 24 appearances (28 2/3 innings) since he was promoted from Columbus on June 5.
“That’s exactly why he’s pitched as much as he has,” Francona said of Goody, who had posted a 1.26 ERA through Sunday. “You get into the summer and when it’s warm, you need to find some swing-and-miss. Around April and May if you throw strikes and keep the ball down, generally you’re going to be OK. When the ball starts carrying like it does, you’ve got to find some swing-and-miss. Since Goody’s been here, he’s probably been our best swing-and-miss guy.”
MLB released the 2020 schedule, with the Indians opening the season at home against Central Division rival Detroit on March 26 -- the same day the Cavs host LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Cleveland plays its first six games at Progressive Field followed by two straight series on the road at cold-weather cities Detroit (April 2-5) and Minnesota (April 6-8).
Second baseman Jason Kipnis entered Monday batting .314 with 10 doubles, nine homers and 40 RBIs over his last 46 games since June 16. His RBI count over the span led the majors at his position, while he ranked fourth in homers and slugging percentage (.541) and fifth with a .918 OPS. ... Francona entered Monday a win away from tying Tris Speaker for the third-most in Cleveland managerial history (617) behind Lou Boudreau (728) and Mike Hargrove (721). His winning percentage (.566) ranked second only to Al Lopez (.617) among managers with at least four years of tenure. ... Carlos Santana’s 199 homers through Sunday was one shy of tying Travis Hafner for eighth place on the Indians’ all-time list. ... Tuesday, 7:10, STO; WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM. Clevinger (7-2, 3.02) vs. Sale (6-11, 4.41).
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.