CLEVELAND -- Mike Aviles is not a typical bench player, but that is exactly what the Indians had in mind when they acquired the versatile utility man prior to last season. Cleveland manager Terry Francona does all he can to treat Aviles as a regular part of the lineup.
"You're almost looking for games to get him in," Francona said. "That's kind of how we feel about him."
On Saturday, Aviles made the most of a return trip to the starting nine, driving in four runs, collecting three hits and delivering the decisive blow in a 7-6 Interleague victory over the Rockies at Progressive Field. His go-ahead single off Colorado lefty Rex Brothers in the eighth inning helped propel the Indians to their second win in a row.
Tribe starter Trevor Bauer set the tone early with a solid six-inning outing against the National League's most productive lineup, and Cleveland's offense did just enough to overcome a brief lapse from the bullpen. Aviles found his way into the middle of it all, coming through again for an Indians club that has leaned on him as an important role player for the past two seasons.
"He's been awesome," Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall said. "We just don't miss a beat. Mike's a great Major League player. You just put him in the lineup and usually you don't lose any production with Mikey in there."
A year ago, Aviles filled in admirably as Cleveland's starting shortstop for most of June while Asdrubal Cabrera was on the disabled list. This season, Aviles ws asked to step up again -- this time at second base -- when All-Star Jason Kipnis was shelved with a right oblique injury at the end of April.
Aviles started in place of Kipnis again on Saturday, when the Tribe's regular second baseman was given a scheduled day off.
In the 25 games he played during Kipnis' absence -- the second baseman was activated from the 15-day DL on Wedesday -- Aviles hit .287 with seven extra-base hits, 11 runs scored and 12 RBIs. With his 3-for-4 showing against the Rockies, Aviles improved his season marks to .280 with 10 extra-base hits, 18 runs and 21 RBIs in 43 games played.
For his career, Aviles has hit .271 with a .697 OPS as a starter and .304 with an .806 OPS when entering a game off the bench. Defensively, Cleveland has used him at five positions this season (second base, shortstop, third base, left field and center field).
"When guys go down, he'll get an opportunity to play wherever it is on the field," Francona said. "He stays in shape so he can handle it. And he plays with energy."
Bauer, who was saddled with a tough-luck no-decision, limited the Rockies to two runs on four hits in his time on the hill, ending the afternoon with eight strikeouts and just one walk. In the second inning, DJ LeMahieu came through with an RBI double and Charlie Blackmon delivered an RBI single, accounting for all of Colorado's work off the righty.
"I definitely got more comfortable as the game went on," said Bauer, who pitched through flu-like symptoms.
Bauer was in line for the win following his exit, but Colorado struck for four runs in the seventh inning to pull the game into a 6-6 deadlock. That rally began with a solo homer by Corey Dickerson, who sent a pitch from reliever Scott Atchison out to right. Atchison then yielded consecutive singles to Wilin Rosario and LeMahieu, though the second in that series came with an asterisk.
On the play, LeMahieu sent a grounder directly at Aviles, who mistakingly stepped to his right as the ball skipped by him and into shallow right-center field. The second baseman said the shadows on the field toyed with his vision and he did not see the ball off the bat. A would-be double-play turned into a two-on, one-out situation.
"It looked like it was going up the middle," Aviles said. "Next thing you know, it's going to my left. So it was definitely one of those situations where I'm not too proud of it."
Blackmon made the Indians pay by drilling the only pitch thrown by Indians lefty Josh Outman deep to right field for a three-run, game-tying home run.
Aviles would eventually receive his shot at redemption.
Chisenhall helped key the Tribe offense with three RBIs and two hits, including a two-run homer off Rockies lefty Franklin Morales in the sixth inning. Chisenhall also had an RBI single within a four-run push by the Indians in the second inning, when Aviles crushed a pitch from Morales to the Home Run Porch in left field for a three-run shot.
"He leaned all over that ball," Francona said. "That wind, there were some balls hit pretty good today that didn't go."
In the eighth inning, the Indians threw their plans of a full day off for Kipnis out the window.
This time around, it was Kipnis who came off the bench, and he helped initiate Cleveland's final push with a leadoff walk against Brothers. Chisenhall followed with a perfectly-executed sacrifice bunt that moved Kipnis to second base. That set the stage for Aviles, who slashed a pitch into right field for an RBI single that put the Indians up for good, 7-6.
"I figured he probably wasn't going to give me anything over the heart of the plate," Aviles said. "So, I was just trying to be a little patient, which is definitely not my style. ... I got a pitch up and was able to get the barrel on it. Luckily, it fell in and Kip was able to get around the bases."
It was just what the Indians needed on a day Aviles was again called upon to fill in.
"Mikey knows that he's going to play probably more than the average guy that doesn't start," Francona said. "He just knows how to play the game."