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Indians' Salazar rejoins rotation to face Angels

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Some might say the Cleveland Indians have little to play for the last couple of weeks of the regular season. Because they already clinched the American League Central crown, it would seem that playing for the best record in the majors would be their primary motivation.

But there are Cleveland players with plenty on the line, such as pitcher Danny Salazar.

Salazar will start for the Indians on Thursday against the Los Angeles Angels, and his performance could go a long way in determining where he fits into the Indians' postseason plans.

Salazar (5-6, 4.52 ERA) could find his way into the playoff rotation, likely to be four starters. He could also be picked to serve in the bullpen, or he might not even make the postseason roster at all.

"We're trying to get a gauge on where he is," Indians manager Terry Francona told MLB.com. "And I think by starting him, it probably gives him a little comfort there. I'm not sure how much we could really do that, but we'll see. We'll watch him pitch and, one, you see how far he gets stretched out. And, two, you see, 'OK, is it a bullpen option? Should we keep getting him stretched out?'

"We'll try to just, like we always do, put our heads together and come up with the best way to go about it."

Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer have locked up rotation spots, and Francona and his staff will consider Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger along with Salazar for the fourth and final spot.

"Right now, I'm going to do whatever they want," Salazar told MLB.com. "Whether I'm in the starting rotation or bullpen, I just want to play. I just want to be part of the team for the postseason."

Salazar is 1-1 with a 3.74 ERA in four career starts against the Angels, though he hasn't faced them this year.

The Angels have plenty to play for, with the second AL wild card within reach. They enter Thursday 1 1/2 games behind the Minnesota Twins.

Parker Bridwell, Los Angeles' biggest surprise this season, will start and try to match his effort the last time out. He shut out the Texas Rangers over six innings on Saturday, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out seven. However, Bridwell (8-2, 3.71 ERA) has a 4.80 ERA in three September starts. He has never faced the Indians.

The Angels also could benefit from the real Mike Trout showing up. Trout has struggled in September, hitting just .220 (13-for-59) with two homers and five RBI in 17 games this month.

Trout isn't the only Angel not hitting. Over the past 12 games, Los Angeles is averaging just 3.3 runs per game.

"We have a lot of confidence in what these guys can do offensively," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's not going to happen every night, but we're down to the last couple weeks, and obviously you want guys to relax a little bit, and if you get a pitch to hit, hit it hard, don't grip the bat too tight.

"I think our lineup is deep enough where the spotlight shouldn't be on one guy and what he has to do. If we can get some early runs and just relax and swing the bats, we're going to do a good job offensively these last couple weeks."

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