DETROIT -- Cliff Lee will have to wait. His former spot in the Indians rotation once again belongs to Aaron Laffey. Manager Eric Wedge confirmed before Tuesday's series opener with the Tigers that the left-handed Laffey, not Lee, will get the starting nod Saturday in Kansas City when the Indians renew their need for a fifth starter. That leaves the veteran Lee, who last summer signed a three-year, $14 million contract extension through 2009, down in Triple-A Buffalo, where he was optioned July 27.
"This is more about Laffey," Wedge said. "Cliff is going to be up here at some point in time. But we're trying to do what's best for the team." Laffey made two starts for the Tribe earlier this month, going 1-1 with a 5.73 ERA against the Twins and White Sox. With three off-days in the span of a week, the Indians no longer had a need for their fifth rotation spot, so Laffey went back to the Bisons, where he went 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two starts, earning International League pitcher of the week honors. Over his last 13 outings with Buffalo, Laffey, who began the year at Double-A Akron, is 9-0 with a 1.92 ERA. Wedge was impressed with the 22-year-old's poise in his starts at the Metrodome and U.S. Cellular Field. "You look at his composure, his pitchability and the way he handled certain situations," Wedge said. "And his stuff was good. He stayed within himself and gave us a chance to win both ballgames." The Indians didn't feel they have as good a chance with the 28-year-old Lee, who went 5-8 with a 6.38 ERA in 16 starts before his demotion to the Minors. Lee has shown signs of improvement in Buffalo, going 0-2 with a 3.46 ERA in five starts the past month, though his walk total of 18 in 26 innings is a bit disconcerting. Wedge said the Indians won't get ahead of themselves and declare Laffey the fifth starter for the remainder of the season. But this promotion is especially significant, because players not on the active roster before Sept. 1 aren't eligible for the postseason roster. "When you get to this point in time, it's about results," Wedge said. "Out best option at this time is Laffey." Jeremy Sowers, who is 3-5 with a 3.91 ERA in 12 starts since being sent to Buffalo in mid-June, was not given serious consideration for the fifth spot, though Wedge did say he has "come a long way." Laboring Lofton: Kenny Lofton was in his familiar leadoff spot on Tuesday night. But he hasn't been putting together familiar results. In fact, Lofton's return to the Tribe, after a triumphant kickoff July 27, has been largely anticlimactic. He is batting just .254 with six runs scored and three RBIs in 19 games with the Indians, and he's yet to steal a base. "You can't steal second base," Lofton said, "if you're not on first." Cleveland's slumbering offense could benefit from having Lofton on first more often -- if not by hit, then at least by walk. But he had drawn just four walks with the Tribe. To that, Lofton hinted that the umpires haven't been giving him a favorable strike zone. "I can't say what I want to say," he said. "But it's not always on me when trying to draw walks." He then put the onus on reporters to bring up the issue more often, saying, "People take notice of what you guys write." Eye on September: When rosters expand Sept. 1, don't expect the Indians to pluck too many players from the Minor League ranks. In 2006, the Indians promoted seven players from Buffalo in the month of September. In 2005, with the club in contention, the number was five. In '04, a whopping 11 players received a promotion. This year's tally should be closer to the '05 number. "Mostly, [the promotions will go to] guys who can contribute and we can utilize," Wedge said. "It's not going to be anything extreme, versus years past." Straight up: The Mariners announced the Sept. 26 twin bill with the Tribe at Safeco Field will be a traditional doubleheader, not a split doubleheader. That means the games will only feature one gate, with the nightcap coming 30 minutes after the first game, which will begin at 7:05 p.m. ET. The Indians will be considered the "home" team in the first game because it is a makeup of the fourth snowed-out date from Jacobs Field in April. They will bat last in that game, though they'll still occupy the visiting clubhouse and dugout. Tribe tidbits: Designated hitter Travis Hafner's condition continues to progress, as he gets further removed from the mild hamstring strain he suffered Aug. 7. Pronk did some running drills before Tuesday's game, in which he batted fifth. "He's heading in the right direction," Wedge said. ... The Tribe batted .303 in the weekend series against Tampa Bay. Cleveland is batting just .254 in the second half. ... Despite a 16-19 record in the second half, the Indians had gained 2 1/2 games on the Tigers in the American League Central standings, entering Tuesday night. Down on the farm: Top pitching prospect Adam Miller was reinstated from the Buffalo disabled list and worked a scoreless inning, striking out two batters, at Ottawa on Sunday. Miller missed a month with right elbow inflammation. ... Lee gave up three runs -- two earned -- on five hits over five innings for a no-decision in Buffalo's 5-3 loss to Ottawa on Monday. Third baseman Andy Marte made a pair of costly errors. On deck: The Indians and Tigers continue their important three-game set in Motown with Wednesday's 7:05 p.m. ET game at Comerica Park. Right-hander Paul Byrd (11-5, 4.41 ERA) will oppose righty Justin Verlander (13-4, 3.63).
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.