CLEVELAND -- If the Indians' pursuit of a postseason spot comes down to the final day or two of the season, they might have a valuable weapon available to them once again.
Indians rotation leader Justin Masterson threw a 33-pitch bullpen session Friday with no lingering effects from his strained left oblique, which he injured on Sept. 2 during a start against the Orioles. Masterson will rest on Saturday, and Cleveland's decision-makers will sit down with the pitcher to go over potential scenarios for his return.
"We're trying to figure out the best way to go about things," Masterson said. "We need to be smart about coming back and being ready in case we make the playoffs."
Barring any setbacks, Cleveland could bring Masterson back before the end of the regular season, but pitching coach Mickey Callaway said the right-hander might only be able to throw up to four innings. The Indians could also try to give Masterson a shorter appearance -- possibly in relief -- to get him game action against hitters in preparation for a possible playoff start.
"But we're not guaranteed the postseason," said Masterson, who is 14-10 with a 3.52 ERA in 189 1/3 innings. "So I definitely want to help in any way I can. I don't want to start and go three innings. That's not going to help the team out, if that's the case. Those are kind of the options I'm sure we'll be searching through to see what is best."
Indians manager Terry Francona noted he plans on meeting with general manager Chris Antonetti, Callaway, the team's medical staff and Masterson to discuss the next step. Masterson will likely throw a simulated game Monday or Tuesday regardless of when they plan to bring him back, according to Callaway.
"He got after it, which was really exciting," Francona said of Masterson's mound session. "I think common sense says let him come back [Saturday] and see how he feels, get re-evaluated just to make sure there's nothing lingering, and then we'll sit down and talk through it."
For now, Masterson and the Indians are extemely encouraged by his swift improvement.
"My hopes and prayers were that it would be quicker," Masterson said. "It wasn't the four days it took Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead, but two and a half weeks for him to touch Justin's side. It's definitely been a speedy process. Everyone's been working hard."
Carson calls walk-off 'pinnacle' of 12-year pro career
CLEVELAND -- Matt Carson will never forget the walk-off hit he provided for the Indians on Thursday. The long-time Minor Leaguer will probably also remember the long night that followed thanks to the flood of phone calls and text messages he received.
"I didn't get a whole lot of sleep," Carson said Friday. "I was returning so many and was just trying to wind down from everything."
Carson then smiled.
"It's been great," he added.
Carson's game-winning single in the 11th inning Thursday pushed the Indians to a 2-1 victory against the Astros that ended with a mob swarming and jumping around the outfielder. The 32-year-old Carson was brought to Spring Training on a Minor League contract and spent most of the year at Triple-A Columbus before being called up to Cleveland on Aug. 28.
A dozen years in the Minors and four brief stints in the Majors led to Thursday's single for Carson, who enters Friday 7-for-9 with the Indians.
Indians manager Terry Francona was thrilled to see Carson come up big.
"Since he's been here, he's really provided a lot," Francona said. "He's gone in for defense. He's pinch-run. He's pinch-hit. He's been a part of what we're doing, and I think he's having the time of his life. And then, when he got the hit last night, it was like a little bit of justice, because he's played so long and has been such a good teammate and good person.
"To see him get mobbed by his teammates was pretty exciting."
After so many highs and lows over the years, Carson called Thursday's walk-off the "pinnacle" of his career.
"As long as I'm still playing the game, it can't be that low," said Carson, asked if he ever considered calling it quits. "We just had our third child, a little girl, in June. It's getting to that point. I'm 32 years old and I have three kids now. The thoughts do creep in, but as long as I can contribute and I feel like my body is able to play, I'm going to play as long as I can."
Francona trusts Perez in dicey late-game situations
CLEVELAND -- Indians closer Chris Perez is no stranger to drama. In his four-year run as Cleveland's closer, there have been plenty of baserunners mixed in with the saves.
This season, Indians manager Terry Francona has gotten his first look at Perez's high-wire act.
It happened again against Houston during Thursday's 2-1 win, when Perez loaded the bases with one out in the ninth inning and the game tied. After a mound visit by pitching coach Mickey Callaway, Perez settled down, and struck out Brett Wallace and L.J. Hoes to escaped unscathed.
"Once he wavered, he reeled it in and made some really good pitches," Francona said. "He has a way of doing that. Everybody might be nervous, except for him. Because when he gets in that position, it seems like he makes his best pitches."
The numbers back up Francona's assumption, too.
Entering Friday, opposing batters had a .809 OPS against Perez with no runners on base compared to a .695 OPS with runners on. In situations with a runner on only first or second base, batters had gone a combined 12-for-35 (.343) against Perez. In all scenarios that included a runner on third base, however, hitters were a combined 1-for-19 (.053) versus the closer.
On the season, Perez has a 3.42 ERA with 25 saves in 29 opportunities.
Does Francona get nervous when Perez puts runners on base in critical situations?
"You know what? You're nervous because of the situation," the manager admitted. "But I mean, I felt like he was going to figure out a way to get out of it [on Thursday]."
• Cleveland had 10 walk-off wins entering Friday, with nine different players delivering the game's decisive blow. That list includes Jason Kipnis (May 17 and June 14), Nick Swisher (April 12), Drew Stubbs (May 3), Mark Reynolds (May 18), Yan Gomes (May 20), Ryan Raburn (July 26), Jason Giambi (July 29), Carlos Santana (July 31) and Matt Carson (Thursday).
• Swisher entered Friday riding a nine-game hitting streak, during which he hit .400. Over his last 13 games, Swisher was batting .380 (19-for-50) with five home runs, seven extra-base hits, eight walks, 11 runs scored and 12 RBIs.
• Cleveland's win against the Astros on Thursday gave the Tribe a 47-18 (.723) record against teams that currently have a record below .500. That marked the best record versus sub-.500 teams in the Majors. The Indians have a 36-52 (.409) ledger against clubs with a winning record.
Quote to note
"Every time they do something, they're gaining experience, and they're gaining it right in the middle and thick of what we're doing. I think it's helpful, and we try not to lose sight of that. So every opportunity we have, we try to incorporate these guys in it, because I think it's going to help them down the road."
-- Francona, on using September callups during a Wild Card chase