Rays-Indians Preview

The Associated Press

The Cleveland Indians aren't making up any ground in the AL Central race, but they've been playing better of late.

The Tampa Bay Rays can't make that claim.

Cleveland will try to match a season high with a fourth consecutive win Friday night when it continues its four-game series against the visiting Rays.

Since totaling 11 runs during a season-worst five-game skid, the Indians (43-39) have gone 6-2 to keep pace with the surging Chicago White Sox, whom they trail by two games for the Central lead.

The Indians, winners of six of seven at home, are batting .333 with 14 homers and 56 runs in their last eight games overall. Shin-Soo Choo, Michael Brantley and Travis Hafner all homered in Thursday's 3-1 victory over Tampa Bay to open this series.

Choo will look to extend his home hitting streak to nine after going 2 for 3 on Thursday. He's batting .327 with eight home runs since moving to the top of the order May 14, after batting .235 with one homer up to that point this season.

"He's been phenomenal,'' said Brantley, who has homered in each of the last two games. "It's nice to have somebody on base with the two, three, four guys coming up. It gives us a big boost, it's going to create more runs and hopefully he can keep swinging it the way he is. He looks real good.''

Tampa Bay's Luke Scott does not. By going 0 for 3 on Thursday - he played first base for the first time all season after 55 games as the designated hitter - he set a dubious club record with 39 consecutive hitless at-bats.

"I would rather take a beating and be bleeding in the street than go through this,'' Scott said. "It is humbling and very deflating. I take it personally that I am not helping my team.''

The longest hitless streak in major league history for position players is an 0-for-46 drought, done last season by Eugenio Velez.

Scott isn't the only Ray struggling at the plate. The club is batting .209 and averaging 2.9 runs per game during a 3-8 slump.

"This was just a good ballgame that was lost,'' said manager Joe Maddon, whose team fell to 4-13 against the AL Central this season. "I have no problem with the way we played."

Alex Cobb (3-5, 4.94 ERA) will try to help the Rays (43-40) avoid their first five-game road losing streak since a seven-game skid Sept. 7-13, 2009.

The right-hander is 1-5 with a 5.77 ERA in his last six outings after posting a 2.25 ERA while winning his first two of 2012.

Cleveland will counter with Justin Masterson (5-7, 3.92) as it tries to match its season-best four-game winning streak from June 18-22.

Since losing three straight starts May 29-June 9, Masterson is 3-1 with a 1.55 ERA in his last four outings. The right-hander yielded two runs - one earned - in seven innings of Sunday's 6-2 road win over Baltimore.

"Masterson was dominant the majority of the game,'' Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He was in command all day. He was able to throw that four-seam by guys whenever he wanted to at 95 or 96. Never a doubt.''

Masterson is 1-5 with a 7.14 ERA in seven career starts versus Tampa Bay.

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