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Masterson cleared to return as reliever

CLEVELAND -- When Justin Masterson was swiftly removed from his last start at the beginning of September because of what was later diagnosed as a strained left oblique, many believed his season was over. Now, just over three weeks later, the Indians are on the verge of using him once again.

Masterson impressed the organization during a simulated game on Sunday. On Tuesday, before the Indians opened a two-game home set against the White Sox, manager Terry Francona said Masterson would be available as a reliever as soon as Wednesday or Thursday.

"He did terrific," Francona said, referring to Masterson's effort in the simulated game. "I actually got to stand behind him, which you never get to do, and his stuff was really good. He makes the point, he wasn't down that long. And it shows. He's worked really hard."

In all likelihood, Masterson will not start any of the Indians' remaining regular-season games. He could return to the rotation at some point in the American League Division Series, if the Indians make it that far.

"We'd have to play for awhile, I would say," Francona said.

Masterson, a first-time All-Star this season, has a 14-10 record and 3.52 ERA in 29 starts. Over 189 1/3 innings, he has 188 strikeouts and 75 walks, with a .224 opponents' average and 1.21 WHIP.

Since joining the Indians in 2009, Masterson has primarily been a starter. But when he played for Francona's Red Sox in 2008-09, only 15 of his 67 regular-season appearances were starts. Masterson came out of the bullpen nine times during the '08 postseason and allowed just three runs (two earned) in 9 2/3 innings, with nine strikeouts and five walks.

"It's been quite some time, especially with any significance," Masterson said of relieving. "And we have like 100 guys down there, too. I might have to sit in the bathroom.

"I'm not above anything that would take place -- however we can help the team. We want to make sure that, although I feel good, will we still be great over three, four, five, seven, eight innings. That's ultimately how I like to do things, go as deep as I can. So we want to make sure we're in the right position for that, so we're not hurting our team when it comes time for something like that."

Whatever Masterson's role will be, the Indians are happy to be able to throw him back out on the mound. He has played a pivotal part in the success of a club that entered Tuesday in possession of the second AL Wild Card spot, and the club is hopeful he will continue to contribute.

"What ended up possibly being a big negative for us -- having Masty not around -- all of a sudden has a chance to be a big weapon for us moving forward," Francona said. "So that's kind of how we'll view it."

Mark Emery is an associate reporter for
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