CLEVELAND — The more Franklin Gutierrez plays, the better he looks, which is why Indians manager Eric Wedge is finding it difficult to keep the young outfielder out of the lineup.
Gutierrez, who didn’t figure to factor much in Cleveland’s plans this season, is well on his way to supplanting struggling veteran Trot Nixon in right field, with a red-hot bat and smooth defense — two things the Indians haven’t gotten from Nixon for much of the season.
“That’s why he’s in there, because of what we’re seeing on the field and the impact he’s made to this ballclub,” Wedge said of Gutierrez, who is hitting .329 with five home runs and 14 RBIs in two stints with the Indians (39 games) after a 2-for-4 performance Wednesday. “Obviously he’s had more of an opportunity this year than he ever has and he’s taken advantage of it.”
The increased opportunities have come in Gutierrez’s second tour of duty, which began May 31. He’s responded by hitting .417 (24-for-58) with three homers and 11 RBIs over his last 17 games, and has been rewarded by starting four of the Indians’ last six games — 20 on the year.
“They’re giving me more time to play,” Gutierrez said. “It’s good for me. I’m more comfortable. You can make adjustments when you play every day.”
Gutierrez, 24, has been a high-level prospect since being acquired in the Milton Bradley trade with Los Angeles in 2004. But until now, he either hasn’t gotten the opportunity in the majors or hasn’t impressed enough to warrant one.
“I don’t think it’s fair to expect what he’s doing,” Wedge said. “He’s been consistent (offensively and defensively). He’s really worked. He’s come a long way.”
There was nowhere to go but up this season for Gutierrez, who hit .341 with four homers and 16 RBIs in 30 games for Triple-A Buffalo, before seizing his opportunity with the Indians.
“I think I did a great job at Triple-A,” he said. “I was waiting for my time.”
Jon Garland, Chicago’s starting pitcher in the Indians’ major league-leading 28th comeback victory on Tuesday night, thinks Cleveland has something in common with the Sox’s 2005 world championship team.
“These guys have that fight in them like we did in ’05,” Garland said. “They want to win every game, and it shows.”
The Indians make their final road trip of the month, beginning a four-game series in Texas tonight at 8:35.
C.C. Sabathia (12-4, 3.78) opens the set, opposing right-hander Kameron Loe (5-7, 5.49).
Fausto Carmona (11-4, 3.77) and Cliff Lee (5-6, 5.67) are the scheduled starters Friday (8:35) and Saturday (8:35), while the Rangers counter with righties Brandon McCarthy (4-6, 5.59) and Jamey Wright (3-2, 4.31).
Paul Byrd (7-4, 4.50) will start the series finale Sunday (8:35), opposing Robinson Tejeda (5-8, 6.68).
Double-A Akron’s Chuck Lofgren, one of two Cleveland representatives in the recent Futures Game, allowed four runs — two earned — on six hits through six innings of an 8-5, 12-inning loss to Harrisburg on Tuesday. Lofgren, a fourth-round pick in 2004, is 9-5 with a 4.13 ERA in 18 starts for the Aeros.
l The Indians’ top pick (13th overall) in this year’s draft, Beau Mills, had a big game for Single-A Lake County in a 5-2 victory over Greensboro on Wednesday. Mills went 2-for-4 with a double to raise his average to .256 (two homers and 15 RBIs) in 19 games for the Captains.
Victor Martinez is on pace to produce 112 RBIs as Cleveland’s catcher, which would shatter a club record he already owns, set in 2004, when he drove in 101 as the catcher. Martinez entered Wednesday leading all major league catchers in batting average (.337), homers (15), RBIs (64) and slugging percentage (.555).
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or email@example.com