Defense has been key in Indians' late run

Defense has been key in Indians' late run

CLEVELAND -- Poor defense played a large role in keeping the Indians out of the postseason picture last season. Upgrades around the diamond over the past three-plus months have helped Cleveland move out of the American League cellar and back into the Wild Card discussion this year.

Since June, when the Indians promoted the slick-fielding duo of shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman Giovanny Urshela, the Tribe's defensive performance has steadily trended upward. Other alterations since a handful of July and August trades have contributed to Cleveland's improvement.

"I haven't even looked at the numbers," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "because that's a hard one sometimes to judge. But, I think you can tell by the way we're playing games that it's helping us either stay in games or win games."

Heading into Friday's action, the Indians ranked seventh overall in the Majors with 17 Defensive Runs Saved and 13th with a 6.3 overall defensive rating, according to Fangraphs.com. Last season, Cleveland ended the season ranked last baseball in DRS (minus 75) and 29th in overall defense (minus 64.8).

Other changes in the second half have included moving former third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall to right field, where he has an AL-leading 11 Defensive Runs Saved. In center field, Abraham Almonte (20.7 UZR/150 in 254 1/3 innings) has been an upgrade over Michael Bourn (minus 10.2), who was traded to the Braves on Aug. 7. Lindor and Urshela have shored up the left side of the infield, too.

"Lonnie in right field has been really good," Francona said. "Abe has been absolutely rock solid, as far as being fundamentally sound in center. ... Gio's played third probably Gold Glove caliber. He just hasn't been out there enough. Lindor's been really good. He made a couple errors early I think out of probably youthfulness, but he's made a lot of plays for us.

Francona also noted the contributions of left fielder Michael Brantley, second baseman Jason Kipnis and catcher Yan Gomes.

"Right now, we have a pretty good defensive team," Francona said.

Smoke signals

• Indians ace Corey Kluber (strained right hamstring) threw off the mound in a bullpen session on Friday and felt fine, according to Francona. The manager said he will meet with Kluber, pitching coach Mickey Callaway and the team's medical staff on Saturday to discuss the next step for the pitcher. It is possible that Kluber will return to the rotation within the next week.

"Klubes will be a big part of that conversation, and then we'll go from there," Francona said. "I think he feels it, not so much when he's pitching, but when he's moving around a little bit. And by feeling it, that's just kind of what it is, feeling it. It doesn't really hurt a lot. That's why we need to sit down and walk through it with him."

• Urshela was out of the starting lineup on Friday, before the game was called due to rain, for the second time in the past three games. Francona noted that the third baseman has still been dealing with some right shoulder soreness, dating back to the team's trip to Milwaukee in July.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.