CLEVELAND — The Indians have been searching for a reliable reliever to lighten the load on Joe Borowski, Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez at the back end of the bullpen.
Is that guy Jensen Lewis?
Manager Eric Wedge has employed Lewis later in games recently, with the 23-year-old right-hander responding favorably. Since Aug. 9, Lewis’ last six appearances have come in the seventh inning or later, including a scoreless outing in the seventh inning of the Indians’ 4-3 sweep-clinching victory over Minnesota on Wednesday.
“(Wednesday) night was a big opportunity to step up and he did,” Wedge said. “That was his chance. It’s important for us as a ballclub for someone to step up and help us straighten things out (in the bullpen).
“He’s still a young player without a great deal of experience, but he goes out there with no fear.”
Lewis, who entered Thursday with an 0-1 record and 3.31 ERA in 16 games (161/3 innings) for Cleveland, retired the top three hitters in the Twins lineup in order to preserve a two-run lead. It was in stark contrast to the mop-up duties he performed upon being promoted from Triple-A Buffalo in mid-June.
“I’ve gone about it the same every time out,” said Lewis, a Vanderbilt product who was born in Medina. “But pitching with the lead in close games gives you confidence to throw strikes in those situations. This is probably the most comfortable I’ve felt the whole year.
“It’s a refreshing feeling to be out there with the game on the line. It’s a huge confidence booster.”
Wedge reaffirmed Thursday that the Indians would call up a handful of players on Sept. 1 (the first day big league rosters are eligible to expand to 40 players) before adding the rest once the organization’s minor league seasons are complete.
Wedge said all the promotions were likely to come from Buffalo, which is fighting for a playoff spot, with its regular season schedule to end on Sept. 3.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of what we are going to do,” Wedge said.
Travis Hafner is in the early stages of growing a beard, which gave Casey Blake an opportunity to chide one of his favorite targets in the clubhouse.
“He’s a Casey Blake wannabe,” said Blake, who has sported a full beard for much of the season, starting it in the midst of his 26-game hitting streak prior to the All-Star break. “You gotta be a man to grow a good beard. He wants to have a beard like mine. I want to have a swing like his.”
Mike Hargrove was in attendance Thursday, visiting with Seattle manager John McLaren in the visitors’ clubhouse prior to the game.
Hargrove, who managed the Indians to five division titles and two AL championships from 1991-99, stepped down as Mariners manager on July 2, in the midst of his third season in Seattle.
He still resides with his wife Sharon in Richfield.
The Indians begin a three-game series with the sagging Chicago White Sox tonight at 7:05.
Fausto Carmona (14-8, 3.16) opens the set, opposing left-hander Mark Buehrle (9-9, 3.50).
Paul Byrd (13-5, 4.43) and Jake Westbrook (5-7, 4.38) are the scheduled starters Saturday (7:05) and Sunday (1:05), while the Sox counter with right-handers Javier Vazquez (11-7, 3.89) and Jose Contreras (7-16, 6.13).
The Indians are 7-5 this year against the White Sox, who entered Thursday in last place in the Central Division, trailing the fourth-place Royals by three games and with seven losses in their last 10 games.
The Indians entered Thursday riding a seven-game errorless streak, having committed just one error in their last 11 games. Cleveland, which ranked second-to-last in the American League with a .981 fielding percentage last year, ranked sixth with a .985 percentage through Wednesday.
• Seattle starting pitcher Horacio Ramirez had appeared against 26 big league teams in four-plus seasons, but not the Indians until Thursday night.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.