The Cleveland Indians are back at .500 again. This time, they’re determined to keep moving in a positive direction.
The Indians (29-29) try to climb above the break-even mark when they meet the Oakland Athletics (28-31) in the decisive contest of a three-game set Thursday at Jacobs Field.
Cleveland improved to .500 for the seventh time in the last 17 games with an 11-2 victory over the Athletics on Wednesday. The Indians, though, lost their next game after four of those previous six wins—something of which they are well aware.
“I keep feeling like we’re going to get on a big roll,” said Indians starter Paul Byrd, who won for the first time in more than a month Wednesday. “We blow out a team and then we come back and get blown out the next day. It has been a very strange year.”
The team’s inability to hit and pitch well on the same day over its last 13 games has been especially strange. During that span, Cleveland has won four times by at least nine runs, and lost three games by seven runs or more.
Cleveland is 9-0 when it scores 10 runs or more this season, and 22-11 when it records 10 or more hits. The Indians are 12-25, though, when scoring six runs or fewer and 7-18 when getting nine hits or less.
That has much to do with the team’s pitching, a major strength last year as Cleveland finished 93-69. While the Indians’ offense has been inconsistent of late, the pitching staff has struggled all season. Cleveland’s .287 batting average is third in the AL, but its 5.05 ERA is among the league’s worst.
Cleveland had 15 hits in Wednesday’s win, including a season-high four home runs. Aaron Boone hit a three-run shot and Grady Sizemore had his third homer in the last four games, while Victor Martinez added a solo shot and had a season-high four RBIs.
Ben Broussard, batting .362 this season, had two hits and two RBIs to up his average to .522 (12-for-23) in June.
Cleveland will try to wrap up its 10-game homestand with its sixth straight home series win over the A’s, who took the opener 7-6 on Tuesday.
Jason Johnson (3-5, 5.92 ERA) tries to avenge one of his worst losses of the season when he takes the ball for Cleveland. The right-hander lasted just two innings in a 12-4 loss to the Athletics on May 4, giving up seven runs, six hits and three walks without a strikeout.
Johnson has struggled against the A’s throughout his career, posting a 1-8 record with a 5.50 ERA in 14 appearances and going winless in his last 10 starts against them.
Johnson has one win in his last eight starts and is coming off a 10-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Friday, when he allowed four runs, three hits and four walks in five innings.
Esteban Loaiza (0-3, 8.35) will make his first start in more than six weeks when he takes the mound for Oakland. The right-hander has been on the disabled list since the end of April with a strained muscle in his left side, and is still seeking his first victory for the A’s after signing as a free agent in the offseason.
In his four starts before the injury, Loaiza allowed 30 hits and 17 runs in 18 1-3 innings. He issued nine walks in those outings and opponents hit .385 against him.
The 34-year-old journeyman made two rehab appearances for Triple-A Sacramento, giving up five earned runs and 11 hits over 7 2-3 innings.
“We were pleased with the way he threw the ball,” Athletics manager Ken Macha said. “He threw 80 pitches (in his last rehab start) so he should be able to go into the 90s if he’s pitching well enough.”
Loaiza is 3-3 with a 5.68 ERA in 12 appearances against Cleveland. He’s struggled in two road starts this season, going 0-2 with an 11.42 ERA.
The A’s have lost 11 of their last 14 on the road, getting outscored 78-56 in that span.
Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez, 5-for-10 with five RBIs against Cleveland this season, sat out Wednesday’s game with back spasms.