Rays-Indians Preview

The Associated Press

The Cleveland Indians' sizzling offense has been a major reason for the team's solid stretch over the last week.

The Tampa Bay Rays' struggling lineup may want to take notes.

Cleveland seeks its fifth victory in its last six games when it hosts Tampa Bay in the opener of a four-game series Thursday night.

The Indians (42-39) have outscored opponents 38-18 over their last five contests after beating the Los Angeles Angels 12-3 on Wednesday, as each starter recorded at least one hit.

Michael Brantley and Casey Kotchman each hit a three-run homer for Cleveland, which has averaged 7.6 runs while hitting .342 in its last seven games. Shin-Soo Choo is 12 for 27 (.444) over his last six.

Travis Hafner went 1 for 3 with two walks Wednesday in his first game since having right knee surgery May 31, and manager Manny Acta welcomed his presence in the lineup.

"We had a lot of quality at-bats and you could see Hafner's effect right away," Acta said.

Johnny Damon had a season-high three hits. The veteran batted .261 in 150 games for Tampa Bay in 2011, and his former team isn't playing nearly as well as his current squad lately.

The Rays (43-39) are averaging 3.1 runs and hitting .217 while dropping seven of their last 10, including a 4-3 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday.

Luke Scott went 0 for 4 and is hitless in his last 36 at-bats - one short of the team record set by Jose Cruz Jr. in 2004.

Tampa Bay, though, has won 10 of the last 12 home meetings with Cleveland, and it will look to get its offense going against Indians starter Josh Tomlin, who hasn't pitched well recently.

Tomlin (4-5, 5.85 ERA) got a lift Saturday from his offense, which helped him score an 11-5 win over Baltimore after he allowed five runs and seven hits while issuing a season-high three walks in six innings.

The right-hander is 1-2 with an 8.24 ERA over his last four starts, allowing at least five runs in three of those outings. He went 0-1 with a 5.25 ERA in two starts versus the Rays in 2011 in his only career outings against them.

Jeremy Hellickson will oppose Tomlin hoping to stay healthy while getting back in the win column.

Hellickson (4-4, 3.44) is 0-4 with a 4.45 ERA in his last six starts since beating Boston on May 16. He left Saturday's 6-2 loss to Detroit in the third inning, when he took a line drive off his right shin.

Hellickson, who was making his first start since a stint on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, said he's ready for Thursday's outing despite some lingering pain.

"I wasn't too concerned," Hellickson told the Rays' official website. "I knew I was going to be sore, but it was just a bruise."

The right-hander allowed three hits in seven innings of a 7-0 win over the Indians on May 29, 2011, in his only career start against them, but he's well aware of Cleveland's recent hot hitting.

"It's a heavy left-handed lineup," Hellickson said. "They've got a lot of guys that put the ball in play and a few guys in there that hit for power. All in all, it's a very solid lineup."

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