CLEVELAND — Justin Masterson is optimistic that he will pitch again before the season is complete. So is manager Terry Francona.
“I need to be a little careful saying that because I don’t want to push somebody to do something they’re not supposed to,” said Francona of Masterson, who sustained a strained left oblique in his last outing, Sept. 2 against Baltimore. “It wouldn’t shock me. I don’t want to create unrealistic expectations for him and put him through that, but if it’s at all possible, he’ll do it.”
The normal recovery time for a strained oblique is 4-6 weeks, which would certainly put Masterson’s season in jeopardy, thought the right-hander considers himself a quick healer.
Francona said Masterson will accompany the team on its upcoming road trip to Chicago and Kansas City, which is when he will pick up a baseball for the first time since the injury.
Masterson, an All-Star for the first time this season, is officially scheduled to miss one start, but is likely to be sidelined longer. He is 14-10 with a 3.52 ERA in 29 starts (189 1/3 innings).
Michael Brantley was back in the lineup after a three-game absence for the birth of his daughter Mariah. Brantley’s wife Melissa gave birth Saturday night.
The left fielder returns in a slump, entering Monday batting just .218 (12-for-55) with one RBI over his last 15 games.
With his 2,000th career hit Sunday, veteran Jason Giambi placed himself in some elite company.
Giambi, a 19-year veteran, is one of just 14 players since 1916 to have reached these lofty plateaus — 400 home runs, 1,300 walks, 1,400 RBIs, 2,000 hits and a .400 on-base percentage.
He joins, among others, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Jim Thome and Barry Bonds to have accomplished as much.
Shortstop prospect Jose Ramirez, 21, made his first big league start in the series opener against KC. Ramirez, an undrafted free agent signing in 2009, was promoted Sept. 1 from Double-A Akron, where he hit .272 with three homers, 38 RBIs and 38 stolen bases in 113 games for the Aeros.
“I’ve been wanting to play this kid,” Francona said of Ramirez, who started at third base and batted eighth, collecting his first major league hit with a single in his first at-bat in the third inning. “Just watching the way he carries himself and how he’s been when he’s in the game. I think he’ll find a way to help us win the game.
“This isn’t going to define his career. It will be fun to watch.”
Cleveland plays division and wild-card rival Kansas City five times over the next nine days, traveling to Kauffman Stadium for a three-game series Monday through Wednesday.
After a slow start to the season, the Royals have pulled into playoff contention, entering Monday 3 1/2 games off the second wild-card spot.
“They’re better now,” Francona said. “Early on, their offense wasn’t clicking. They’re very athletic. They’ve got a lot of base stealers. That’s part of their game. They hit the ball out of the ballpark.”
Francona lauded KC for trading one of its top prospects to acquire proven veteran starter James Shields from the Rays this offseason.
“It take a lot of guts to do that, but he’s about as close to a guaranteed 200-inning guy as there is in the league. He does it every year.”
Shields, who is 10-8 with a 3.43 ERA in 30 starts, goes for Kansas City in the series finale Wednesday (12:05 p.m) against Scott Kazmir.
The Indians entered Monday ranked ninth in the majors with 639 runs — an average of 4.5 per game. … On Sunday, Danny Salazar became just the third Indians pitcher dating back to 1916 to record at least eight strikeouts in an outing of four innings or fewer. He joined Luis Tiant (1967) and Jeremy Sowers (2008) in accomplishing the feat. … Tonight, 7:05, STO/WTAM 1100-AM/WMMS 100.7-FM. McAllister (7-8, 3.97) vs. Guthrie (13-10, 4.19).
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or email@example.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.