CLEVELAND -- The back end of Cleveland's bullpen has been the source of many headaches over the course of this season. Very few of them can be attributed to Joe Smith.
Smith, a sidearming righty whose performance should garner attention if his name does not, has pitched to the tune of a 2.52 ERA throughout 59 appearances. Tribe manager Terry Francona uses him often and appreciates his consistency.
"Because of his arm angle, I think people sometimes take for granted that he's a situational guy, and he's not," Francona said. "He's learned to take the sting out of a lot of left-handers' bats. He's always going to be tougher vs. righties because of his style. But he's learned how to elevate a fastball, throw a breaking ball to a lefty, to kind of neutralize them enough [to] where he can pitch full innings when the game is on the line."
The struggles of former setup man Vinnie Pestano have forced Cleveland to treat the eighth inning differently than it has before. Smith has made 37 appearances in the eighth, in which he owns a 1.93 ERA.
In all, Smith -- who is eligible for free agency after this season -- has recorded 45 strikeouts against 21 walks over 53 2/3 innings, while keeping opposing batters to a .244 average with a 1.29 WHIP. Of his 20 inherited runners, only five have come around to score.
"He's just really dependable," Francona said. "You can't run on him. He doesn't really walk very many guys. That's a nice combination."
Increased velocity has Ubaldo finishing fast
CLEVELAND -- Ubaldo Jimenez might never be the overpowering pitcher he once was for the Rockies. Over his past three starts with the Indians, though, the right-hander has showed glimpses of the fastball velocity that made him a dominant starter in the past.
Teams tasked with taking on Jimenez have noticed.
"It seems like he's gotten some arm strength back," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, whose team was blanked over six innings by Jimenez in Cleveland's 4-3 win on Tuesday night.
Over his past three appearances, Jimenez has stayed around 93-94 mph with his fastball, topping out at 96-97 mph at a handful of turns. That is more reminiscent of 2010, when the righty led the Majors with an average fastball of 96.1 mph. This is a recent trend, however, considering Jimenez's fastball has been a career-low 91.5 mph on average this year, according to fangraphs.com.
On the season, Jimenez is 10-9 with a 3.79 ERA, 147 strikeouts, 75 walks and 147 1/3 innings logged across 27 starts. His rate of 9.00 strikeouts per nine innings is the best mark of his eight-year career, which includes a career-best 214 strikeouts during his Cy Young-contending season with Colorado in 2010.
Jimenez's showing this year has been a drastic improvement over 2012, when the pitcher went 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA for the Indians.
"It was all about being 100 percent, basically, with my mechanics," said Jimenez, who was acquired from the Rockies in a deal prior to the July 31 Trade Deadline in 2011. "I've been working harder the last two years, trying to get back to who I was before. I've been getting there. I feel really good. I feel strong right now."
Dating back to May 27, Jimenez ranks seventh in the American League with a 2.81 ERA, trailing only David Price, Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Parker, Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish in that span. Jimenez has posted a 2.22 ERA over his past eight starts, going back to July 22, during which time he has ranked fourth in the AL in strikeouts (53) and seventh in opponents' batting average (.212).
"This has been now the third start in a row where it looks like he's kind of got a second wind," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "His fastball has got life to it. He's throwing in, especially to left-handers. And that creates the separation in his offspeed. Man, that's exciting to see."
Surging Indians unable to draw a crowd on Tuesday
CLEVELAND -- The Indians beat the Orioles on Tuesday in front of what was a historically small crowd for a September game at Progressive Field.
Both clubs have realistic chances of securing an American League Wild Card spot, adding serious postseason ramifications to this week's series in Cleveland. And though the Indians -- who entered Wednesday with a record of 73-65 -- are firmly in contention in September, just 9,962 fans came to Progressive Field to watch them duel a talented and intriguing Orioles team on Tuesday.
"I think everybody would rather play to a packed house," manager Terry Francona said before Wednesday's series finale against Baltimore. "It's more fun. [There's] more enthusiasm in the ballpark. I also know that this city has been hit pretty hard in these times."
Since Jacobs Field opened in 1994, the venue has never hosted a September crowd as small as the one that showed up on Tuesday to see Ubaldo Jimenez throw six scoreless innings against a Baltimore lineup that features stars such as Chris Davis and Manny Machado.
"Of course, we notice," Jimenez said afterward. "What can we do? We're in the playoff chase. We just got 9,000 people. There's nothing we can do. We have to go out there and try to compete -- whoever is in there rooting for us."
With a 41-27 record at Progressive Field, the Tribe has the fifth best home record in the league and the 10th best home record in baseball. The Indians have also won nine games in their last at-bat, including a Major League-leading five walk-off home runs.
As their push for the playoffs continues during the season's final month, the Indians are undoubtedly hoping to entertain more fans in their home park.
"The people that come are very loyal," Francona said. "I guess the way I'd view it is the people that come and the people that watch the Indians, I hope they leave happy."
• Indians starter Justin Masterson, who suffered a strained left oblique in his outing against the Orioles on Monday, is currently in the midst of a six-day shutdown period. Following the rest, the right-hander will be re-assessed before potentially being cleared to resume light catch.
• On Wednesday, the Indians named Double-A Akron lefty Kyle Crockett the organization's Minor League Player of the Week for Aug. 27-Sept. 3. The 21-year-old Crockett, selected in the fourth round of this year's First-Year Player Draft, posted a 0.36 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings between Class A short-season Mahoning Valley, Class A low Lake County and Double-A Akron this year.
• First-base prospect Jesus Aguilar set a Double-A Akron franchise record with 105 RBIs this season, breaking the previous record of 97 (Carlos Santana, 2009; Wes Hodge, 2008). Aguilar's 105 RBIs ranked sixth overall among all Minor Leagues players with full-season affiliates this season.
• During batting practice prior to Wednesday's game against the Orioles, the Indians had a live chicken roaming the outfield with the players. Coming off a stretch of six losses in eight games, the unexpected visitor brought some levity and laughter to the Tribe.
Quote to note
"He's been great. He's the main reason why I've been able to get where I am right now. He's been there ever since he got the job. He's been there with me, working hard, every single day."
--Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez, on pitching coach Mickey Callaway
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.