CLEVELAND -- Every player within the Indians' clubhouse is shifting his focus for the final six weeks of this season. Cleveland has fallen out of contention, so the goal now is to concentrate on improving rather than the team's place in the standings.
That is the way Jason Kipnis views the Tribe's situation.
"We've got to get better," Kipnis said on Monday. "Winning games right now, as far back as we are, as much as it stinks to say, it's not going to change too much. I don't see us making up 16 games in the last month.
"What is important is I think we need to get better in all aspects. Not just as a team, but all of us players need to get better. I need to get better. We need to take something out of this."
In a way, the Indians' fortunes have mirrored the production of Kipnis this year.
"A little bit," he agreed. "It's kind of the tale of two cities here. That just means that myself and the team have a lot of things to work on."
Kipnis got off to a strong start for Cleveland, but his numbers began to lag once the calendar reached late June. The Indians were in first place in the American League Central with a 37-33 record on June 23. Entering Monday's game with the A's, the Tribe held a 55-72 mark and sat 16 1/2 games behind the Central-leading White Sox.
Over his last six games, Kipnis has started to look better, hitting .308 (8-for-26) with one homer and two RBIs. In his previous 48 games, which fell mostly within the Tribe's recent slide, the second baseman hit .207 (35-for-169) with no home runs and 19 RBIs.
Kipnis is hitting .257 with 12 homers, 15 doubles, 26 stolen bases and 62 RBIs through 119 games this season.
"He's swung the bat better as of late," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "It's part of the development process for those guys. You come up here and have some good times and some rough times. Right now, I think he's bouncing back and swinging the bat better."
As for his late-season goals, Kipnis said he is focusing on executing his game plan on a daily basis.
"This is my first full season," he said. "It's the first time being up here the whole time and coming down the stretch. Everyone knows me now. I'll be facing guys for the second or third time this season. Maybe four times if it's in our division. It'll be about executing.
"Guys have their plans and I have my plans. So it's going to come down to finishing the season strong and not giving away at-bats."
Hernandez leaves in third with sprained ankle
CLEVELAND -- It was immediately clear that something was wrong with Indians starter Roberto Hernandez after he fired a changeup to Oakland's Seth Smith in the third inning of the Tribe's 3-0 loss on Monday night.
Following the pitch, Hernandez motioned with his glove for Cleveland catcher Lou Marson to head to the mound. Moments later, Hernandez was heading off the field alongside a trainer due to a sprained right ankle, bringing a premature end to the pitcher's first home start of this season. The Indians said Hernandez is day to day.
Indians manager Manny Acta noted that head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff does not believe the injury is serious.
"Lonnie doesn't think it's too bad," Acta said. "He was looking at him after he came out of the game. He feels that it's nothing major, but at that point, [Hernandez] felt that it was bothering him to push off the rubber.
"We'll see how he is [on Tuesday], but we're not anticipating anything lengthy."
Acta said it was too early to know if Hernandez would need to miss a start.
"I don't think we can assess that [right now]," Acta said. "We've got five days."
The 1-1 offering to Smith -- the 68th pitch of the game for Hernandez -- marred his return to the Progressive Field mound after months of legal woes. Hernandez had made two previous starts this year for the Indians, but this was Cleveland's first look at the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona.
Hernandez finished with 2 1/3 innings and was charged with three runs on four hits in his abbreviated effort. The right-hander exited with the A's holding a 2-0 lead, but Oakland tacked on another run following his departure. That third run came via an RBI single from Chris Carter against Tribe lefty Chris Seddon.
Acta said Hernandez hurt his ankle while running to back up home plate when Yoenis Cespedes doubled with one out and a runner on first base in the third.
Hernandez, who went 7-15 with a 5.25 ERA for the Indians last year, entered the night with two losses in his first two outings of the season. His performance on Monday increased his season ERA to 7.53 through 14 1/3 innings.
On Jan. 19, Hernandez was arrested outside the United States consulate in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on charges of using a false identity. The charges were later dropped in favor of having Hernandez perform community service, and he eventually regained a working visa in order to return to the U.S. to pitch for Cleveland.
Indians eye triple digits in stolen bases
CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Manny Acta does not believe his philosophy on stolen bases varies too much from that of other managers in the big leagues.
"I'm just like everybody else," Acta said. "Everybody likes stolen bases if the guy is safe. If the guy gets thrown out, everybody hates it. It's that simple."
This season, the Indians have used stolen bases more than in recent years.
Entering Monday's game against Oakland, Cleveland had 85 stolen bases, which ranked seventh in the American League. The Indians are on pace to top 100 stolen bases in a season for the first time since 2000, when the team swiped 113. The Tribe has topped 90 stolen bases just twice (2010 and 2004) in the last 11 seasons.
After stealing three bags in Sunday's loss to the Yankees, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis upped his team-leading total to 26 stolen bases in 31 chances this year for a success rate of 84 percent. Shin-Soo Choo ranks second on the Indians with 15 in 21 chances (71 percent).
Michael Brantley, with 12 stolen bases in 20 opportunities for a 60-percent rate, ranks third on the club.
Acta said he is fine with his players running as long as the success rate is solid.
"Nobody feels it's great if you don't do the right percentage," Acta said. "If you make it 70 percent of the time or higher, I'm good. If you don't? It's not worth running. It's that simple. So there's not that big difference in philosophy.
"If you have guys that can't run, you shouldn't be running.
Indians hope lefty Perez can return in 2012
CLEVELAND -- The Indians will need to decide whether to offer left-hander Rafael Perez a contract this winter, so it would benefit the club to see the reliever back on a mound before this season is in the books.
Perez's recovery from a strained left lat muscle, slowed by a handful of setbacks, has created doubt about his ability to rejoin Cleveland's bullpen before the end of the year. The Indians are still hopeful that he will be back some time in September.
"We'd love to see him," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
Perez, 30, sprained his right ankle during a Minor League rehab appearance with Triple-A Columbus on Aug. 11, and the lefty has yet to return to pitching off a mound. Perez has not pitched in a game for the Indians since April, when his lat injury forced the team to place him on the disabled list.
"He's still just nursing that sore ankle of his," Acta said. "Not until that's over with, is he going to be able to get back on the mound and compete."
In eight April outings, Perez posted a 3.52 ERA over 7 2/3 innings, displaying decreased velocity and spotty command. Perez went 11-3 with a 3.12 ERA over 141 appearances between 2010-11, but Cleveland does not want to rely solely on his past success when determining whether the pitcher still fits into plans for the future.
Perez, who is earning $2.005 million this year, will be eligible for arbitration for the final time this winter.
"I think it's important to see him," Acta said, "just to see how healthy he is and how he bounces back. Whether we make a decision [to offer him a contract] or not, you still have to be able to see him. You don't want to make a decision based on what you saw in [April]."
Quote to note
"When a team struggles after the All-Star break like we have, you're put in a position where you have to start taking the positives that you can out of things. To finish up a good year personally, to play spoiler, to get momentum going into the end of the year, where it's something positive you can look back on, I think that's what everyone's trying to do at this point. Everyone's trying to finish strong."
--Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis
Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was given a day off from being in the starting lineup on Monday, when Cleveland opened a four-game series with the A's. Cabrera entered Monday mired in a 1-for-19 slump. Over his last 56 games, the shortstop has hit .248, dropping his season average to .274 from .300 in that span.
"He's been a little banged up," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "And he looks a little tired to me, so he needs a day off."
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis is only the seventh player in franchise history to have at least 10 home runs, 25 stolen bases and 60 RBIs in the same season. The list also includes Bobby Bonds (1979), Von Hayes (1982), Joe Carter (1986-88), Kenny Lofton (1996, 1998, 2000), Roberto Alomar (1999-2001) and Grady Sizemore (2007-08).
Indians catcher Carlos Santana has hit .279 (39-for-140) with a team-high 26 RBIs in 42 games since the All-Star break. Shin-Soo Choo ranks second on the club with 15 RBIs over that same span.