Winners of four of their last five, the Cleveland Indians try to stay near the top of the American League Central as they close out the first half of the 2012 season and a four-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays this afternoon at Progressive Field.
Still only three games behind front-running Chicago in the division, the Indians were led by starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez in their 7-3 home triumph on Saturday as the hurler gave up just two runs on five hits, while striking out eight over six innings.
Cleveland hitters spread the wealth as six players were credited with at least one RBI, while Shelley Duncan plated two as he notched his eighth home run of the campaign.
After breaking out of an awful hitting slump on Friday, Luke Scott added his 11th home run yesterday, one of two hits, and knocked in a pair for the Rays who are now third in the AL East and 7 1/2 games out of contention. Also with two hits was B.J. Upton, who added his seventh long ball of the season in the losing effort.
Tampa Bay starter Matt Moore was dealt his sixth loss of the season as he permitted five runs on five hits, walking five, while striking out three through 4 2/3 innings.
"They came out patient, but ready when I did come in the zone with something," said Moore, who hadn't allowed as many as five runs since May 6. "I just wasn't doing a very good job of giving them different looks in the zone."
Taking the mound for the Rays this afternoon will be James Shields as he guns for his second straight win and the third in the last four decisions overall.
Shields, who began the campaign 6-1, now finds himself just three games over .500 even after his most recent triumph. Against the New York Yankees on Tuesday, the right-hander was touched for four runs on 10 hits, striking out five over seven innings as the squad topped the Yankees, 7-4.
A member of the Rays since 2006, Shields has faced the Indians eight times previously but has a record of only 1-5 with a 3.83 ERA to show for his efforts.
Meanwhile, the Tribe plan to hand the ball to Zach McAllister, an Illinois native who was originally drafted by the Yankees in the third round of the 2006 draft.
McAllister, who is getting his first look at Tampa Bay in his career, has delivered back-to-back wins and is now 3-1 on the season overall. On Tuesday the right-hander clashed with the Angels, giving up five runs -- three earned -- on eight hits while fanning five over six innings of action in a 9-5 victory.
Off the field the Rays received some disappointing news as word came that third baseman Evan Longoria, who has been out of action since late April due to a partially-torn left hamstring, has not been healing according to plan and might not be back in uniform at the major league level until August at the earliest. Before heading to the injured list Longoria was hitting .329 with four home runs and 19 RBI in 23 outings.
"I have no idea when he's going to actually be able to play again," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "... It's probably going to take more than less time to get him back on the field."
With Longoria out of action the Tampa Bay offense has slowed considerably and is now third from the bottom in the AL in team batting at just .232.
Tampa Bay, which now has a record of just 5-14 against members of the AL Central, had won the season series between the teams the last two years with a combined 11-4 mark.