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Series Preview #2: Cleveland Indians (2-1) at Tampa Bay Rays (1-2)

| On 05, Apr 2013

By Bob Toth

The Cleveland Indians continue their early tour of the American League East as they head to Florida to begin a three-game, weekend series with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Cleveland will spend 13 of their first 16 games going up against four different teams from the East. Only a three-game series next weekend with the Chicago White Sox will break up the eastern monotony. The Indians will play 13 consecutive games before their first day off of the season on Monday, April 15.

The young Tampa Bay Rays will look to keep pace in the competitive East. Counting this series against the Indians, the Rays will play just eight of their 27 April games against teams that had fewer than 85 wins in 2012. After an off day next Thursday, they will play 17 straight games.

Cleveland continues its six game road trip to start the 2013 season after taking two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays.

Justin Masterson (1-0, 1.50 ERA) outdueled reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey in Tuesday’s season opener, a victory claimed by Cleveland, 4-1. After a shaky start, Masterson retired the final eleven batters he faced and relievers Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez allowed only one base runner while striking out one batter each. Asdrubal Cabrera hit his first home run of the season to give the Indians the insurance runs they needed. Perez’s save was the 100th of his Indians career.

The hero of game two was Mark Reynolds, who demolished an 11th inning moon shot to the Rogers Centre restaurant in left-center off of Sergio Santos to give the Indians a 3-2 win. Ubaldo Jimenez looked like a new man in limiting the Jays to just one run, a home run by Maicer Izturis, in six innings in game two. Perez, in for the save for the second straight night, missed his target with one out to Jose Bautista, who drove the game-tying laser beam home run over the left field wall in the bottom of the ninth. Joe Smith saved his first Major League game with a quiet 11th inning.

The Indians dropped the series finale, 10-8, after a poor pitching performance and a lackluster defensive effort. The Blue Jays offense shelled Indians starter Brett Myers (0-1, 12.60) for seven earned runs and four home runs in his first start since 2011. The Cleveland offense kept the game close, as both Carlos Santana and Reynolds hit home runs and the team had eight total extra base hits scattered amongst its 14 hits on the night. Eight of the nine starters had hits and the six, seven, and eight hitters had two runs batted in each. Santana was just the elusive triple short of the cycle.

The Indians (2-1) have spent all three games of their season on the road and tied for first place in the AL Central.

Left fielder Michael Brantley has been the team’s hottest hitter out of the gate. The son of a former Major Leaguer, he has hits in each of his first three games, including four in Wednesday’s outing. He leads the team in batting average (.545) and on-base percentage (.643) and is tied with six hits.

Santana has also started out strong, with six hits on the young season. Half of these hits have gone for extra bases, including a double and home run in Thursday night’s loss.

Drew Stubbs, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Jason Kipnis have scuffled a bit early, as each has just two hits in their first 14 at bats. They have combined to strike out 15 times.

Brantley (a .360 batting average) and Kipnis (.320) both hit the Rays well last season.

In roster transactions, the Indians announced on Thursday afternoon prior to their game with the Blue Jays that fifth starter Scott Kazmir would be placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to April 2nd, with a strained rib cage muscle. It is believed that the veteran left-hander, trying to return to the Major Leagues for the first time since throwing 63 pitches in one and two-thirds innings of work on April 3rd, 2011, will miss two to three starts. Trevor Bauer, the 22-year-old top prospect of the Indians farm system, will be the first of the starting arms in Columbus to get a crack at the Cleveland starting rotation.

The Indians claimed right-handed pitcher Robert Whitenack off of waivers from the Chicago Cubs. He was optioned to Double-A Akron.

The Rays dropped two of three at home this week to one of last season’s surprise teams, the Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles won Tuesday’s opener from St. Petersburg by a 7-4 final, defeating David Price. The returning AL Cy Young Award winner lasted six innings, allowing two runs on seven hits, but reliever Jake McGee allowed five runs taking the mound after Price. Baltimore’s Jason Hammel worked six innings and allowed three runs on three hits for the win. Matt Wieters and Chris Davis homered for the O’s.

The Rays suffered a rare blown save from All-Star closer Fernando Rodney in Wednesday’s game, but a walkoff home run from Matt Joyce gave the Rays their first victory of the season. Former Indians outfielder Shelley Duncan hit a three-run home run in the sixth to tie the game at four all and the Rays worked up to a 7-5 lead before surrendering single runs in the eighth and ninth innings to the Orioles.

Baltimore claimed the rubber match, winning 6-3 over former Indians pitcher Roberto Hernandez. The Orioles’ Davis hit his third home run in as many days and had four runs batted in for the second straight game. Hernandez became the oldest starting pitcher for the Rays since June of 2006. He gave up four earned runs on six hits in the loss, striking out seven.

The Rays (1-2) enter the series with the Indians tied with the Blue Jays and the New York Yankees in last place in the AL East, one game out of first place. They finished 90-72 and in third place in the East last season.

Outfielder Ben Zobrist leads the team across the board in nearly every offensive category to start the season. He leads the team with a .455 batting average, .417 on-base percentage, .727 slugging percentage, five hits, one home run, and four runs batted in.

Evan Longoria, their star third baseman, has five hits in his first 12 at bats. He did not play against the Indians in 2012, when he missed over half of the season with injury. He has batted just .250 in his career against the Indians, his third-worst mark against an AL opponent.

Designated hitter Luke Scott, who ended his 41 at bat hitting slump with a home run in Cleveland last season, is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left calf muscle. He was the most successful Rays hitter last season against Cleveland, batting .424 in eight games with three home runs and nine runs batted in. Reliever Juan Carlos Oviedo is on the 60-day disabled list while recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right arm.

The Rays batted .247 against the Indians last season, their sixth-best batting average against any one team they faced in 2012.

The Indians have been extremely successful against the Rays in their short history. In 119 games, Cleveland owns a 73-46 all-time record (.613) against Tampa Bay, their best record against any American League team. The two teams split their eight games last season at four games apiece. Both teams were 2-2 at home.

The Indians’ Zach McAllister will make his first start of the season on Friday, taking on Rays pitcher Matt Moore. Last season, McAllister was 6-8 in 22 starts for Cleveland, but was marred by the long ball, giving up 19 home runs in 125 1/3 innings. Moore finished the 2012 season 11-11 in 31 starts with a 3.81 ERA in 177 1/3 innings pitched.

Bauer will make his first Cleveland Indians and American League start on Saturday evening. The former first round draft pick of 2011 was 1-2 for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012 with a 6.06 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in four starts while dealing with injuries. He will face right-hander Alex Cobb, who was 11-9 in 23 starts last season for the Rays. He threw two complete games, including a shutout.

Masterson will attempt to replicate his final three-plus innings of his season-opening performance in the series finale on Sunday afternoon. He earned the win and rebounded well after a shaky start, limiting the damage to just one run on the evening. Price (0-0, 1.50) will make his second start of the year in his Cy Young defense. He was 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA in his award-winning season last year.

Friday and Saturday will both feature 7:10 PM start times. Sunday’s game is scheduled for a 1:40 PM first pitch. All three games will be aired on Fox Sports Sportstime Ohio and Sun Sports. Saturday’s game will also be broadcast nationally on the MLB Network. Follow the description of any of the games on both the Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays radio networks.

The two teams will face each other one final time in Cleveland for a three-game weekend series, starting May 31.

Photo: Chuck Crow / Cleveland Plain Dealer

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