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Indians-Red Sox Preview

AP - Sports

Terry Francona has the Cleveland Indians surprisingly atop the AL Central, and Justin Masterson is unexpectedly among the league's top pitchers.

A day after the Indians enjoyed rare offensive display at Fenway Park, Masterson gets another chance at the longest scoreless streak of his career against the Boston Red Sox on Friday night.

Cleveland (27-19) finished 68-94 last season, 20 games out of first place. To turn around the franchise, the Indians hired Francona after he was dismissed following eight years in Boston (28-20) that included two World Series titles.

The move is paying off - Cleveland leads the division by one-half game on Detroit - the two-time reigning Central champion.

The Indians, 22-9 in their last 31, also gave Francona a memorable return to Fenway, pounding out 16 hits in a 12-3 win to open this four-game set with their highest scoring game there without a homer since June 24, 1953.

"I think everyone wanted to go out there and get a win, not just for the team but for (Francona) also," said starter Zach McAllister, who was credited with Thursday's victory. "He's been great for us this year and he's well liked everywhere he is. It's definitely exciting to get him a win."

Giving the ball to Masterson (7-2, 2.83 ERA) should give the Indians a good chance at another win.

The right-hander is tied with two others for second in the majors in victories, one back of Tampa Bay's Matt Moore. That's a dramatic improvement after he went 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA in 2012.

Masterson has won three straight starts behind a 1.17 ERA, and he's matched his career high from April 2-12 by tossing 19 consecutive scoreless innings after beating Seattle 6-0 on Sunday.

He struck out 11 Mariners while yielding three hits in seven innings.

"From the very first pitch of the game he came out firing," Francona said. "He was not only firing, but he was pitching. He was using both sides of the plate. He was using a two-seamer, four-seamer, throwing breaking balls to both sides of the plate. He kept going up, down, in, out. He worked ahead."

Now, Masterson is on the verge of the Indians' longest scoreless streak since Vinnie Pestano went 21 innings from June 30-Aug. 9.

His previous shutout streak, though, came to an abrupt end against Boston on April 17, when he surrendered three runs in the opening inning before yielding one more over the next four of a 6-3 loss.

Masterson also lost his last visit to Fenway on May 13, 2012, surrendering six runs and hitting three batters in six innings of a 12-1 defeat.

The Red Sox have dropped six of seven at home, but hope John Lackey (2-4, 3.31) can begin turning that around.

Only the weather could stop the right-hander Sunday, when he yielded an unearned run and one hit in six innings before a three-hour rain delay forced him to leave a 5-1 win at Minnesota. He had lost his previous three starts with a 4.96 ERA.

"Crisp. He was powerful," manager John Farrell said. "Overall, just a solid performance for him."

The same can't be said of Lackey's last three starts versus Cleveland. He's 0-2 with an 8.83 ERA while allowing the Indians to hit .324. However, he hasn't faced the Indians since a loss at Fenway Park on Aug. 1, 2011.

It's unclear if Boston will have Will Middlebrooks in the lineup after lower back spasms forced him to leave in the fifth inning Thursday.

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