CLEVELAND -- It took nearly half a season, but Lonnie Chisenhall finally made enough plate appearances for his batting average to qualify for league-leader status.
Chisenhall crossed the threshold during the eighth inning of Wednesday's game with the Yankees. Despite hitting just .185 over his last 22 games, the Indians' third baseman entered play Thursday ranked fifth in the American League batting race with a .325 clip on the season -- an average that also was tied with Tribe teammate Michael Brantley.
After making the Opening Day roster as a utility player and starting just 13 games in the month of April, Chisenhall has played his way into an everyday role in the hot corner thanks to his penchant for making contact against both righties and, more important, left-handers. Even with the recent slump, the 25-year-old entered Thursday hitting .314 against southpaws this season, which was second only to Yan Gomes among Indians hitters.
"Last year he was given the job, kind of played his way out of it," Tribe manager Terry Francona said. "This year, he was given nothing. [Carlos] Santana did a really good job in Spring Training, but Lonnie also did a good job to the point where, even though it was repetitive, we kept him on our team, because he did such a good job.
"His work ethic was incredible, and his routines picked up and it showed on the field… Now it's kind of hard not to want him there."
Bullpen has been big strength for Tribe in 2014
CLEVELAND -- Last offseason, the Indians witnessed the departure of four experienced relief men in Joe Smith, Rich Hill, Carlos Perez and Matt Albers. As a result, the question became who could replace those players and whether they would do it effectively.
The Tribe bullpen, as it turns out, has become an unquestionable strength of the team in 2014. Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Marc Rzepczynski have emerged as workhorses at the back end -- all three have at least 40 appearances. Kyle Crockett has been a pleasant surprise after his lightning-quick ascension through the Minors. Even Carlos Carrasco has posted a 1.67 ERA in 18 outings since losing his spot in the starting rotation.
Entering Thursday, Cleveland's relievers had combined for a 3.05 ERA -- the third-best mark in the American League -- while registering 289 strikeouts in 297 2/3 innings. The group also saw its 18-inning scoreless streak snapped on Wednesday night after Jacoby Ellsbury's 14th-inning homer off Vinnie Pestano.
"You have to have guys that can pitch, and they have to somewhat complement each other, also. Sometimes it can go under the radar, and you can't always have it like that," Indians skipper Terry Francona said. "They don't always match up perfect. But when it does, I think you can take a bullpen and make it better. We have a number of guys that are capable of snuffing out rallies."
Part of the Tribe's relief pitching success, Francona notes, has been the bullpen's flexibility, allowing the team emphasizing matchups over defined roles. So while Allen has more or less been the de facto closer since John Axford was removed from the role, the team has also gotten saves out of Shaw, Scott Atchison and even Carrasco.
"Sometimes they're etched into innings. I get that. Sometimes it's good," Francona said. "For whatever reason, we went away from Ax as a closer. When we did that, it just seemed to make sense to explain to them we can have a really good bullpen if they're willing to pitch, whether it's the sixth, seventh, eighth."
Tribe gives Jeter pair of unique retirement gifts
CLEVELAND -- Nearly two decades after spending his first Opening Day facing off against the Tribe at Progressive Field, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter received a pair of retirement gifts from the Indians before Thursday's series finale.
Both were distinctly Cleveland.
The first was a Lego portrait of the Captain crafted by Wayne Peltz, the assistant manager for the Indians' visiting clubhouse. The second was a Gibson Les Paul electric guitar -- no doubt given in homage to the city's storied rock n' roll legacy and the presence of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
"I like playing here. I like this stadium," Jeter said earlier this week. "We've always liked coming here and playing. We've had some great battles with some really, really good Cleveland teams. They beat us in '97, we came back and beat them in '98. I enjoy coming here. It's a nice stadium, and the fans have always been great."
As Jeter accepted the good-faith offerings, he was greeted by former teammate Jason Giambi, with whom he spent seven seasons in New York. Both Giambi and former Yankee Nick Swisher got the chance to speak with their former clubhouse comrade this week.
"They're both great teammates," Jeter said. "Jason is probably one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. He's just a good guy. Swisher is a fun personality who enjoys coming here. He's got a lot of opinions, which I'm sure you know. They were both fun to play with. I enjoyed my time with them."
Quote to note
"He's been pitching pretty lights-out. He's attacking hitters, he's getting a good feel for his secondary [pitch], which is pretty good. He's not just a main power-fastball guy, even though his fastball lights up, too. Mainly you can tell his presence on the mound. He's taken ownership of the closer role, and he's running with it."
--Yan Gomes on Allen
• Swisher has played just four of his last 19 games at first base, while spending the remainder as a designated hitter or pinch-hitter.
"He's been doing a lot of stuff while he's been DHing, in the weight room, things like that, trying to get his legs where he can handle the rigors of the whole season," Francona said.
• Chisenhall's impressive offensive production, along with Swisher's trip to the disabled list, helped push Carlos Santana over to first base.
"All the work he did at third has really made him a much more active first baseman," Francona said of Santana. "He has been all over the place."
Francona has not ruled out Santana potentially going back to seeing time as a backup catcher. But as of now, with two full-time catchers already on the roster, the switch-hitter has not appeared as the backstop since May 25.
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.