Darvish tries to slow down red-hot Indians

( - Yu Darvish takes the mound opposite Trevor Bauer on Friday night, as the Texas Rangers welcome the Cleveland Indians to Globe Life Park in Arlington for the opener of a four-game set.

Darvish, after missing his previous turn in the rotation with a stiff neck, returned to silence the Washington Nationals on Sunday. The right-hander tossed eight shutout innings and allowed only five hits to go along with a season-high 12 strikeouts. Darvish threw 70 of his 102 pitches for strikes.

"When guys can mix up four or five different pitches, all different speeds and locations, it makes it tough to sit on any one pitch," Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said of facing Darvish. "A big part of it is having those pitches, and also his location and being able to run it up there 96 (mph) when he wants to. ... There's a reason he's put up the numbers he has."

Over his last five starts, Darvish is 4-1 with a 1.66 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .210 against him this season.

Meanwhile, this is the fourth start for Trevor Bauer since he took Danny Salazar's spot in Cleveland's rotation. The right-hander was impressive against Colorado his last time out, as he allowed only two earned runs on four hits over six innings of work. Bauer struck out eight and walked only one batter, marking the third time in four starts this season that he has struck out eight batters in a game.

"You can definitely see the difference in Trevor just from Spring Training," reliever Cody Allen said. "Because he's got unbelievable stuff as well. Attacking the strike zone, making more quality pitches, using his fastball better. He's a really smart guy, too. So the more and more he pitches, gets comfortable, sees pitchers, he's going to get better and better."

Cleveland has gotten hot and enters Friday's series opener in search of a season-best seventh straight victory after getting the day off Thursday. On Wednesday, the Indians notched a 7-4 win over Boston in extra innings.

Asdrubal Cabrera provided the fireworks with a walk-off homer in the 12th, but it is the starting rotation that has been the primary reason behind the team's current streak. The starters have combined for a 2.84 ERA while striking out 46 and walking only 11 over the last six games.

"If we're going to win, it's going to start with the starting pitching that night," Indians manager Terry Francona said.

This marks the start of a 10-game road swing for the Tribe, who will also play at Kansas City and at Boston during the trip.

Texas is looking to build on Thursday's 8-6 victory over Baltimore after dropping the first two games of that series.

The Rangers jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two innings before Baltimore fought back to tie the score at 5-5 in the fifth. Texas scored three times in the seventh, thanks to a pair of errors by shortstop J.J. Hardy. Robbie Ross Jr. pitched two innings in relief and retired all six batters he faced to earn the win.

Cleveland won five of six head-to-head meetings with the Rangers last season.