Kluber getting closer to return as his replacement heats up

CLEVELAND -- Indians ace Corey Kluber is getting closer to coming off the disabled list, but his replacement in the rotation has filled in admirably.

Friday night, Mike Clevinger will make his fourth start in place of Kluber as Cleveland hosts the Kansas City Royals in the first contest of a three-game series. Clevinger was recalled from Triple-A Columbus on May 7 after Kluber was placed on the DL with a lower back strain.

Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on SportsTime Ohio

In three starts filling in for Kluber, Clevinger is 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA. He has held opposing teams to a .113 batting average. In 17 innings, he has allowed three runs on six hits with 18 strikeouts. His only negative stat is 11 walks, but even that number is diminished in importance by Clevinger's low hit total.

Clevinger's first start in place of Kluber came May 7 against the Royals. Clevinger got the win that day, a 1-0 victory in which he pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed one hit and four walks while striking out five. In three career appearances against Kansas City (two starts), Clevinger is 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA.

Clevinger is coming off his best start of the year. In his last start May 20 at Houston, Clevinger held the high-flying Astros scoreless on two hits over seven innings in a 3-0 Indians victory.

The Indians and Royals are coming off postponed games Thursday -- the Royals in New York and the Indians in Cleveland.

Ian Kennedy (0-4, 4.06), the scheduled starter Thursday against the Yankees, will start Friday against the Indians. Last year, Kennedy made six starts against the Indians and was 2-4 with a 5.30 ERA. In eight career starts versus Cleveland, he is 2-4 with a 5.19 ERA.

The Royals (19-27) come into Friday's game last in the AL Central and the lowest winning percentage (.413) in the American League.

While speculation has already begun that Kansas City will be sellers at the trade deadline, Royals general manager Dayton Moore said his team still hopes to be in the hunt this year.

"I'm not throwing up the white flag," Moore told "We just go. We go and we play and we do everything we can as an organization to win every game. We strive to get better every day.

"We are going to remain focused on winning in 2017, and I mean throughout 2017. We believe we owe it to our players and to our fan base. We'll remain laser-focused on winning."

The Indians are winning more than the Royals, but not as much as was expected of the defending American League champions. Cleveland is 24-21 and in second place in the division.

The Indians' biggest area of concern is the starting rotation, which was expected to be one of the best in the majors this year. Instead, the Indians have the highest starters ERA in the league at 4.98.

The Indians are also short-handed among their position players. On Thursday, outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall was placed on the seven-day concussion disabled list.

"He was experiencing concussion symptoms (Wednesday)," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. "He got tested and was found to have a lower grade concussion."

Another outfielder, Austin Jackson, is on the DL with a hyper-extended left big toe. However, Jackson could be activated Friday, or sometime over the weekend.