KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After Monday, the Indians will have only 12 games left on the schedule.
Justin Masterson says he hopes to start two of them.
That's probably overoptimistic, but the fact is that the Indians are becoming more confident that their ace will be able to return in some role as they push for a wild-card spot. And while the Indians have won nine of 12 since Masterson was lost with an oblique strain, his return could be a big boost.
Masterson played catch at 110 feet Monday, and Indians manager Terry Francona said the best-case scenario is that he throws off a bullpen mound on Friday. Francona also said it's possible Masterson could return as a reliever, if the Indians don't think he's ready for the workload of a starter.
Francona, of course, has seen Masterson pitch effectively out of the bullpen before, in 2008 and 2009 with the Red Sox.
For now, Masterson believes he'll be able to return as a starter, saying that even if he can't come back in time to start twice, he thinks he should be ready to start at least once before the end of the season.
"We're on the accelerated program," he said. "The body is responding to treatment. We're trying to be smart, but also aggressive."