Indians, Royals close critical set at Kauffman

It seems likely that there will come a time when Danny Salazar will be one of the leader's of the Cleveland Indians' rotation.

For now, the young righty will just try to do his part in the Tribe's push for a playoff spot, which continues on Wednesday night in the finale of a three- game series with the Kansas City Royals.

Salazar has continued to improve following 2010 Tommy John surgery. He pitched to a 2.36 earned run average in 22 Minor League starts last year and was 6-5 with a 2.71 ERA in 21 games (20 starts) at Double and Triple-A this season.

The 23-year-old won his Major League debut on July 11 before returning to Triple-A Columbus. He joined Cleveland again in August and has gone 0-2 in seven starts despite giving up more than three runs in just one of those games.

He was pulled after 78 pitches versus the Chicago White Sox on Friday but not before striking out nine over 3 2/3 innings of a no-decision. He gave up four hits and walked two in the scoreless outing, becoming the first Major League pitcher since at least 1916 to record nine strikeouts in less than four innings of work without allowing a run.

"For the most part, he had really good life on his fastball," said Indians manager Terry Francona. "There's a lot to like. There's going to be a time when he stays out there."

Salazar, who faces the Royals for the first time, has given up just four earned runs and fanned 32 over his last five starts, a span of 23 innings. He is 1-2 with a 2.66 ERA in eight starts with the Tribe.

Cleveland evened this series with Tuesday's 5-3 win, moving to within a half game of the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays for the two wild card spots. The Rays and Rangers are continuing a four-game series tonight, so the Indians can move into the second wild card spot with a victory tonight.

The Indians were held off the board for the first five innings of Tuesday's game by Royals hurler Yordano Ventura, who was making his Major League debut. They finally got to him for a run in the sixth inning and then continued to work against the Kansas City bullpen. Cleveland scored all five of its runs over the final four frames, erasing a 3-0 deficit for good on Asdrubal Cabrera's RBI double in the eighth.

"We just kept fighting and that's a good feeling to be apart of that and to watch those guys do that. That was one of the more gratifying games I've been apart of," said Francona.

Cleveland won for the fifth time in six games and improved to 82-69, securing its first winning season since 2007.

Eric Hosmer hit an RBI double in the first and scored on Mike Moustakas' third-inning double for the Royals, who had won 10 of 15 but fell 3 1/2 games out of a wild card spot.

"They stepped up, made some big swings over there. They're a good team. That's what good teams do," Hosmer said.

Bruce Chen gets the call for the Royals and is 7-3 with a 3.11 ERA in 31 games this season. That includes a 4-3 mark and 3.44 ERA in 12 games a starter, a role he moved into on July 12 versus Cleveland.

Chen hurled six scoreless innings on that day in a no-decision and is 6-3 with a 4.33 ERA lifetime versus the Indians.

The 36-year-old southpaw was denied a third straight winning decision on Friday with a loss to Detroit. Chen gave up six runs -- five earned -- on seven hits over 4 1/3 innings.

The Indians lead the season series 10-8, snapping a three-game slide to the Royals with Tuesday's win.