They aren't necessarily household names, but without Brian Dozier and Mike Aviles, respectively, the Twins and Indians aren't sure where they would be.
Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire returned Dozier to the leadoff spot on Wednesday and the second baseman has rewarded his skipper ever since. Dozier has homered in three straight games and has tallied six RBIs over that span.
"He's being aggressive right now," Gardenhire said. "He's swinging, and that's, you know, he was kind of fighting balls and pushing balls and stuff like that before. Now, he's swinging, and we like that part."
Dozier's re-emergence at the top of the order has Gardenhire feeling confident about his lineup.
"Take a guy like [catcher Joe] Mauer, who's, whatever, 40 percent on-base, and then you get [Ryan] Doumit, who's been really swinging good, and [Justin Morneau] is getting his," Gardenhire said. "If we can get [Josh Willingham] going and start picking up his share of RBIs, you've got a pretty good bunch of guys right there that can do some damage and put some numbers up."
The Indians' lineup, meanwhile, is at less than full strength, with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and first baseman Nick Swisher, the club's No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, on the mend. Aviles has filled in admirably for Cabrera, batting .273 in 54 contests this season. Manager Terry Francona has penciled Aviles into the No. 2 hole in Cleveland's lineup.
"He's done a great job," Francona said. "That's the luxury of having a guy like Aviles. He steps in. It's hard for guys physically when they haven't been playing to play every day. It takes a toll, because you're not used to playing. Mikey hasn't missed a beat. We've not had to sit him one game because his legs are tired or dragging, or it looks like his bat is getting slow. He works so hard, and he understands the game. He's done a terrific job. The fact that we've been hitting him second says a lot."
Aviles played briefly for Francona in Boston in 2011. The Indians acquired Aviles over the winter in the team's first trade after hiring Francona. The skipper said that move was no accident.
"I told him before the year, I said, 'You're going to get your at-bats. You watch," Francona said. "We'll play against a lot of lefties and something will happen, and you'll play for a couple weeks here or there.' It never fails."
Aviles will take the field again on Saturday, one night after the Indians claimed the series opener, 5-1. Twins righty P.J. Walters (2-2, 3.23 ERA) will oppose Tribe right-hander and reigning co-American League Player of the Week Corey Kluber (5-4, 3.58 ERA).
Twins: Willingham contends he feels OK
• Willingham started in left field on Friday, six days after receiving a cortisone shot in his left knee. It was only his third start at the position -- he has mostly been serving as designated hitter -- since June 9, and the first time during that span that he has played the outfield on consecutive days.
The 34-year-old is batting .213 with 10 homers and 32 RBIs.
"He says he feels better, so we're just going to play him until he tells me he can't play," Gardenhire said. "He hasn't said that. He keeps coming in here and saying, 'I feel good. I'm fine. It's getting better.'"
Indians: Kluber seeking continued dominance
• Kluber won both of his starts last week, totaling 16 innings, during which he allowed only one run on 13 hits. He blanked the Nationals for eight frames on Sunday, when he tallied eight strikeouts and didn't walk a batter. For his effort, he took home his first weekly award.
"I've been gaining confidence each time out, trying to build on the last one," Kluber said. "Just trying to pound the strike zone, really. Try to keep it simple, not make it too complicated."
• With his home run on Friday, Dozier surpassed his total of six from last season.
• In the month of June, Indians first baseman Mark Reynolds has four games with two hits and three games with one hit.