CLEVELAND — Indians manager Terry Francona is confident his team is entering a make-or-break stretch in the right frame of mind.
“We’ve done a good job of staying in the moment and not getting ahead of ourselves,” said Francona, whose club sat a half game out of the American League’s second wild-card spot through Wednesday, with 10 games left against teams with sub-.500 records — Houston, Chicago and Minnnesota. “If I have to go in there and give these guys a rah-rah speech, we’re probably not where I thought we were. Baseball’s not like a lot of other sports. You can’t push a button and hit better.
“We have to pay attention to detail. We’re tackling a tremendous challenge. Certainly, hustle and those things count for a ton. You’re going to win some close ones and you’re going to lose some close ones, but if (we) give (ourselves) a chance every night, we’ll be OK.”
If the Indians are fortunate enough to claim one of the wild-card berths and participate in the one-game playoff, Francona said he has yet to consider who would be his starting pitcher or whether he would juggle his rotation at all.
Ace Justin Masterson is recovering from a strained left oblique and his status is uncertain.
“There’s so much to determine,” Francona said. “We have to get there first.”
Whatever happens, Francona said he has thoroughly enjoyed his debut season as Cleveland manager.
“I love the journey,” he said. “There’s a lot of ups and downs and you don’t know how the end is going to be scripted.”
Masty on the mend
Masterson is scheduled to throw a bullpen session today at Progressive Field, but Francona would not predict whether the right-hander would pitch again this season.
“We’re trying to be fair to Masty,” Francona said. “He’s done such a good job of getting to this point. I think it’s been 16 days. That’s absurdly quick. We’re just trying not to make expectations unfair to him.
“We’re never going to do things that potentially could hurt somebody’s career.”
Masterson (14-10, 3.52 ERA in 29 starts) hasn’t pitched since sustaining the injury Sept. 2. Recovery time for an oblique injury is normally 4-6 weeks.
Running on empty?
Jason Kipnis entered Thursday in an 0-for-11 skid, with just four hits in his last 21 at-bats.
“I think he might be a little bit tired,” Francona said. “He skipped BP (Wednesday) with my blessing. He plays pretty hard and he’s pretty hard on himself. He just got a little worn out. He’ll be fine.”
Kipnis hit a wall in the second half last year and he’s following suit this season, batting just .231 over his last 53 games through Wednesday. Francona isn’t concerned by the slide that dropped Kipnis’ season average to .276 entering Thursday.
“I think that wall is going to fall here pretty soon,” he said.
When Giambi talks
Another players-only meeting called by veteran Jason Giambi paid off prior to the latest road trip, with the Indians winning five of seven games, including a four-game sweep of the White Sox to start the trek.
“He has carte blanche,” Francona said of the 42-year-old, 19-year veteran. “The more he talks, the better off we are. He gets it.”
Ubaldo Jimenez entered his outing Thursday with a 2.52 ERA over his last 20 starts since May 27, which ranked second in the American League and sixth in the majors over the span.
* Trevor Crowe, the Indians’ first-round draft pick (14th overall) in 2005, started in center field and batted third for Houston.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.