CLEVELAND -- One out from his first complete game, rookie Josh Tomlin cringed as Indians manager Manny Acta jogged to the mound for a visit.
Tomlin braced for bad news.
Acta, though, delivered only a pointed message to his young pitcher.
"I told him, 'cowboy up and get this guy out. I want this to be special for you,'" Acta said.
Tomlin laughed, nodded and finished what he started.
A 19th-round draft pick who began the season in the bullpen at Triple-A Columbus, Tomlin pitched a four-hitter for his first career complete game, helping Cleveland avoid a 100-loss season and move a step closer to escaping the AL Central's basement by beating the Kansas City Royals 7-3 on Friday night.
Tomlin (5-4) allowed three runs, struck out a season-high six and walked two. The Royals did little against him for 8 2/3 innings, flailing at his cut fastball and getting just one run and three hits before Wilson Betemit hit a two-run homer in the ninth. That's when Acta came out to talk to the right-hander, who had little to say.
"Manny told me to cowboy up," Tomlin said. "I said, 'Yes, sir.'"
Tomlin then retired Kila Ka'aihue on a routine fly ball to right to finish off the Royals.
Cleveland's Jayson Nix homered twice and Shin-Soo Choo had three hits off Luke Hochevar (6-6) as the Indians snapped a five-game losing streak and crept within one-half game of the fourth-place Royals.
As bad as they've been this season, the Indians (63-91) can't surpass 99 losses even if they don't win any of their final eight games, and they still have a chance to better their win total of 65 from 2009.
And, as bad as they were for a 41-year span between World Series appearances in 1954 and 1995, the Indians have never finished in last place two straight seasons.
Tomlin was recalled from the minor leagues in July. After confounding the world champion New York Yankees for seven innings to win his major league debut, the right-hander lost three consecutive starts and struggled in a few other outings.
But he's shown signs of improvement, and although he wasn't on the radar when the season opened, Tomlin's closing it in the Indians' rotation with a chance to stay there for some time.
"This guy has stayed true to himself," Acta said. "He has always believed in himself and he's one of those guys who has to keep opening people's eyes from level to level. He pitched his way up here and he's doing it up here. He can pitch."
Choo, the AL's top player last week, continued to clobber Kansas City pitching. This season, he's batting .350 with 18 RBIs in 16 games against the Royals. He reached base all five times and showed off his speed by tagging and taking third on a fly ball to short center in the fifth and stealing second in the seventh.
Choo is batting .647 (11 for 17) with three doubles, three homers and eight RBIs in his career against Hochevar, who has given up trying to get the outfielder out.
"I pounded him in and he hit a ball in," Hochevar said. "I pounded him away and he hit a ball away. I pitched him backwards. He's seeing the ball good right now."
Nix homered in the second and again in the eighth to make it 6-1.
Tomlin, who lasted just five innings in a loss last week at Kansas City, didn't allow the Royals a hit through the first three innings. But Mike Aviles opened the fourth with a double, moved to third on a fly ball and scored on Betemit's fly to deep left to make it 3-1.
That was all Kansas City could muster until the ninth.
"He stymied us big-time," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He really spotted his fastball well. He changed speeds with it. His cutter was really good. He pitched a great game."
Tomlin is one of 10 rookies on Cleveland's roster. ... Indians closer Chris Perez returned to his home in Florida to be with his expectant wife, Melanie, who is pregnant with the couple's first child. ... The Royals activated RHP Kanekoa Texeira (strained elbow) from the 15-day disabled list. He had been out since Aug. 29. He's 1-1 with a 4.84 ERA in 43 games since being claimed on waivers from Seattle on June 3. ... Indians SS Asdrubal Cabrera had three hits. He was back after missing three games with a jammed left wrist. ... Indians CF Michael Brantley sat out with a strained left hamstring. Acta said Brantley might be available Saturday.