The Cleveland Indians have hit hard times the past week and hope a quick two-game set with the nearby Cincinnati Reds can get them back on the path they were once on.
The Indians were winners of five straight from May 15-20, but have dropped five of the past six games, including the last three matchups of a four-game series with the Boston Red Sox. Cleveland's bullpen imploded the last two installments of the series, none worse than Sunday's 6-5 setback.
Cleveland was clinging to a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth inning at Fenway Park. That's when things got ugly for Cleveland closer Chris Perez, who walked Dustin Pedroia to start the inning and gave up an ensuing double to David Ortiz. Pedroia scored after a Mike Napoli groundout, then Ortiz stole third and came around to score on a Jarrod Saltalamacchia groundout.
After Perez loaded the bases, he was lifted for Joe Smith because of stiffness in his throwing shoulder and the new relief pitcher surrendered a game-winning two-run double to Jacoby Ellsbury. Perez was dealt his first loss of the season (2-1) and it's unknown if he'll land on the disabled list.
Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher both homered, while Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber struck out 10 and allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings. The Tribe is just 1 1/2 games behind Detroit for the AL Central lead.
"He's gaining confidence," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Kluber. "You can see it in the way he attacks pitches, the way he attacks hitters, and the results of this game weren't what we wanted at the end, but his start was fantastic."
Ubaldo Jimenez's last start was far from fantastic and the right-hander aims to bounce back Monday on Memorial Day. Jimenez was roughed up for six runs and seven hits in four innings of last Wednesday's 11-7 loss to the Tigers and the Indians had won each of his last five starts. Jimenez dropped to 3-3 in nine starts with a 6.04 earned run average.
Jimenez is 2-0 in four road outings this season and has yet to lose in five career starts against the Reds, going 3-0 with a 3.09 ERA.
Cincinnati will try to get back on track at Great American Ball Park and is coming off Sunday's 5-4 loss in 10 innings to the Chicago Cubs. The Reds had won five in a row and 12 of 14 games, and were aiming for a sweep of the Cubs.
Welington Castillo stroked an RBI double with two out in the top of the 10th and Cincinnati was shut down in the bottom half to absorb the loss. Jay Bruce homered and Zack Cozart added a pair of RBI in defeat, while J.J. Hoover gave up the go-ahead run in the 10th to take the loss.
Johnny Cueto started for Cincinnati and limited the Cubs to just a run and four hits through seven innings in the no-decision.
"We went as far as we could with Johnny," Baker said.
The Reds, who are even with Pittsburgh for second in the NL Central standings at 1 1/2 games behind St. Louis, will hand the ball to starter Mike Leake Monday in the Battle of Ohio. Leake aims to throw another scoreless gem as he went 6 2/3 innings on May 15 at Miami and followed that performance with seven shutout frames in last Tuesday's 4-0 road win against the New York Mets.
"Everything seemed to work," Leake said after his latest start. "They were pretty aggressive tonight, so I was able to locate the fastball first pitch and get some early outs. If I needed to go deep, I had some other pitches to use as well."
Leake has held the opposition off the scoreboard in three of his nine starts and is 4-2 with a 3.25 earned run average. The right-hander is 3-1 in his past four decisions and 1-0 with a 4.15 ERA in three career starts against Cleveland.
Cincinnati and Cleveland split six meetings a season ago in the battle for the Ohio Cup. The Indians have claimed ownership of the prize the last two years.