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Francona walks 'fine line' using 'pen at record pace

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Francona walks 'fine line' using 'pen at record pace

MINNEAPOLIS -- During a mound visit on Tuesday night, while the Indians were trying to claw back into the game against the Twins, second baseman Jason Kipnis had an emphatic message for manager Terry Francona.

"He's like, 'We're going to win this game,'" Francona said on Thursday morning. "I told him, 'I'll keep bringing pitchers in all game. If you guys are going to keep scoring, I'm with you.' I kind of felt a sense of urgency. It was like, 'If these guys want to keep playing, I'll help.'"

Francona then chuckled.

"I probably overdid it a bit," he added.

In Cleveland's 7-5 comeback win over Minnesota that night, Francona used seven relievers, including four in the seventh inning alone. Francona has been utilizing his eight-man bullpen army at a record pace this season, but the manager has tried hard to keep his relief corps as fresh as possible at the same time.

Heading into Thursday's game against the Twins, Francona had used his bullpen a Major League-leading 446 times. The Rockies ranked second overall with 413 total relief appearances and the Angels (397) ranked second in the American League. Through it all, the Tribe bullpen had posted an AL-best 21-percent inherited runners scoring rate and the league's third-best ERA (2.85).

"I think that's a tribute to those guys," Francona said of the group's strong numbers amidst the high usage. "I also think that we have worked hard to balance pitching them enough where we can win, and not overdoing it. That's a fine line."

To Francona's point, the Indians entered Thursday as the only team in baseball with four relievers with at least 55 appearances (Bryan Shaw, 61; Cody Allen, 59; Marc Rzepczynski, 57; Scott Atchison, 55), but the Indians had no relievers in the AL's top 10 for innings pitched. Overall, the Tribe bullpen's rate of 16.4 pitches per inning was the sixth-lowest mark in the league.

At Cleveland's current pace of 3.6 relief appearances per team game -- a figure that could rise after rosters expand on Sept. 1 -- the team would log around 578 combined relief games by season's end. That would shatter the AL record of 540 (set by Francona's 2013 Indians) and come within range of eclipsing the Major League record of 588 (2007 Nationals).

"I don't see anybody on fumes out there," Francona said. "We watch so carefully."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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