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CLE@MIN: Huff tosses seven shutout innings

MINNEAPOLIS -- It was extremely hot and humid at Target Field on Monday afternoon -- the type of nasty, uncomfortable conditions that make players long for air conditioning and plenty of water. David Huff did not want to be out on the mound longer than necessary.

So Huff, summoned from the Minors for what was believed to be a spot start, devised a sound strategy. The Indians lefty pounded the strike zone efficiently and enticed the Twins into swinging early. In doing so, Huff turned in seven shutout innings to guide Cleveland to a 5-2 win over the Twins in the first game of a day-night doubleheader.

"I was just trying to pump the strike zone," Huff said. "With the conditions the way they were, nobody wants to be out there any longer than they have to, so you've just got to go strike one, strike two and make them swing the bats."

Huff's plan worked. It worked so well, in fact, that the Indians (50-44) decided to keep him around for more than a one-and-done emergency outing. Between the first and second game of the twin bill, the Tribe optioned starter Jeanmar Gomez back down to Triple-A Columbus in order to activate Fausto Carmona from the 15-day disabled list.

Prior to Monday's game, the general thought was that Huff would be the player sent packing when the time came to have Carmona back to start the second game. Considering Gomez allowed five runs (all courtesy of home runs) in a forgettable showing on Sunday in Baltimore, the Tribe took a different route.

Needless to say, Huff made a strong impression.

"Nice job by David Huff," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "I can't say enough about the job he did. He was on three days' rest, and it was so humid and hot out there. He kept himself well between innings and gave us an opportunity to win. It was a good win."

For Huff, it marked his first win in the big leagues since May 23 of last season. The lefty went winless in his last seven starts for the Tribe a year ago and ended the campaign with a 2-11 record. This past spring, Huff was a candidate for a rotation job, but was ultimately sent to Triple-A for more polishing.

While at Columbus, Huff had a laundry list of adjustments to tackle. He focused on his fastball location, especially low and away. He started working on developing a cutter -- a pitch he featured throughout Monday's 88-pitch effort. Huff also altered his windup and tweaked the motion with his front arm for more deception.

Huff said he currently feels like a completely different pitcher than only a few months ago.

And that is a good thing.

"It was almost like I was getting lazy with my windup," Huff said. "I finally saw it and we made the corrections. Now we're here where we're at."

Huff received all the run support he would require in the third inning, when shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera highlighted a four-run burst with a three-run homer off Minnesota's Anthony Swarzak. The blast, which towered out to right field, was Cabrera's 17th of the season and his third in a five-game span.

Entering this year, Cabrera had 18 homers in the past four years combined.

"Flat out, he's been our MVP without question," Acta said.

For good measure, Austin Kearns provided the Tribe with some insurance, belting a ninth-inning solo homer into the second deck above left field. That gave Cleveland a 5-0 cushion, which held up after Indians reliever Chad Durbin surrendered a two-run homer to Michael Cuddyer in the bottom of the frame.

Rookie reliever Vinnie Pestano finished the ninth, picking up his second save and sealing the win for Huff.

Overall, Huff scattered five hits over his seven innings, ending with five strikeouts and two walks. He was not overpowering, but Huff was able to sidestep the few jams he encountered. Despite working with some traffic, Huff did not allow any baserunners beyond second.

"He pitched well," Cuddyer said. "He went both sides of the plate with cutters and mixed up the curveball. He went up and down and used pretty much all four zones of the strike zone, which is good."

It might have been a new-look Huff for Indians fans, who saw him struggle to the tune of a 6.21 ERA in 15 starts a year ago. Even in 2009, when Huff won 11 games as a rookie for the Tribe, he had a 5.61 ERA and was inconsistent throughout his 23 outings.

At Triple-A this season, however, Huff showed progress, going 8-3 with a 3.86 ERA over 100 1/3 innings for the Clippers. More importantly, he willingly tackled changes to his delivery and approach and put those alterations on display in Minnesota.

"I just kept doing what I've been doing," Huff said.

He hopes to keep doing the same for the Indians.

"This team is really good," Huff said. "I'm just trying to be a part of it."

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