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CLE@KC: Kazmir fans six batters over five innings

Heading into their home game against the Astros on Saturday, the Indians are right where they want to be. They hold a playoff spot in their hands, putting them in position to fulfill their quest to reach October.

After their rain-shortened win Friday night, the Indians are one of the top two teams in the American League Wild Card race, and they can't ask for much more with nine days remaining in the season.

It will be Tribe veteran Scott Kazmir taking on rookie right-hander Paul Clemens in the third game of a four-game series between the surging Tribe and the Astros on Saturday, and the Indians hold their fate in their hands down the stretch.

It was situations like this weekend's series against the Astros with postseason hopes on the line the team had in mind when the Indians recruited Nick Swisher as a free agent during this busy offseason, and Swisher is bringing his infectious energy to the race.

"Every game we play, man, is big from here on out," said Swisher, who saw a nine-game hitting streak end in Friday's 2-1 win. "It's so tight. That Wild Card has kind of made everything a lot more interesting, I guess, down the stretch. But to be one of those teams who's actually fighting for that spot, it makes it even more interesting.

"So for us, just to be in the spot we're in, man, coming from a team last year -- we lost close to 100 games -- to be sitting in the spot we're in right now ... not only are we excited, man, I think the city should be excited, all Cleveland Indian fans, man, because we've got a scrappy group here and it's going to be interesting to see what happens at the end."

The Indians will turn to Kazmir, also signed during the offseason, to keep the momentum going against the Astros. Kazmir, 29, will be making his 28th start -- but his first of the season on April 20 was also against the Astros and his first outing in the Majors in more than two years.

Over his last 16 starts, Kazmir has lowered his ERA from 5.89 to 4.34, though he's coming off a loss to Kansas City.

Clemens is 0-1 with a 3.24 ERA in three starts after appearing in 30 games in relief for the Astros, plus a few weeks in Triple-A. He's coming off his best outing, throwing a career-high seven innings Sunday and holding the Angels to two runs in a loss.

"It actually showed me something, that I can pitch a little bit more with my other stuff and still go to my fastball when I need it," Clemens said. "It will be nice to get my true fastball back."

Astros: Martinez returns to lineup
J.D. Martinez made his first start since July 26 on Friday, going 1-for-3 with a single -- his first hit since being activated from the disabled list on Sept. 13 after missing nearly two months with a sprained left wrist.

Martinez said he wants to play winter ball this offseason to make up for his lost at-bats.

• The Astros have lost seven games in a row for the first time this season and have been outscored, 34-11, during the streak. The club lost six straight on seven occasions this year.

Indians: Aviles snaps skid
Mike Aviles hit an RBI groundout in the second inning Friday, but his double in the sixth might have been bigger for future games. It snapped an 0-for-23 slide at the plate for the infielder.

• Cleveland's record against below-.500 teams improved to 48-18 (.727), which stands as the best record against teams with a losing record in the Majors, according to Elias.

Worth noting
• The Indians lead the first season series with the Astros as American League brethren, 4-1.

• The Indians have feasted on the AL West, winning 23 out of 31 games this season.

• The Astros are now 0-5 in their season-ending stretch against contenders Cincinnati (0-3), Cleveland (0-2), Texas and New York.

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