Hot-hitting Brantley, Kipnis ready for Rays

Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis continue to surge at the plate.

While the Tampa Bay Rays have made a run to the top of the AL East behind some outstanding starting pitching, the Cleveland Indians have been in a funk offensively.

Nathan Karns has been an unlikely contributor on the mound, and he’ll try to help the Rays win for the 15th time in 20 games Friday night in the opener of a three-game series at Progressive Field.

Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer picked up another victory despite not having his best stuff Thursday when four relievers chipped in with a scoreless inning apiece in a 5-3 win at Washington.

The Rays took three in the four-game stretch, allowing 16 runs Tuesday but giving up a total of four in their wins. The rotation has been one of MLB’s best with a 2.89 ERA in the past 23 contests.

Karns (3-3, 3.67 ERA) entered the season with just five career starts, but he’s gone 2-2 with a 2.88 ERA in his last nine starts and has pitched quite effectively against everyone but the Los Angeles Angels.

After giving up nine runs over 10 2-3 innings in two starts against the Angels, Karns got back on track Sunday when he allowed one run over six in a 2-1 home win over the White Sox. The right-hander scattered seven hits and struck out eight but did not factor in the decision.

"There isn’t a lot of panic out there, I think that with the amount of innings he’s pitched, the amount of starts he’s gotten, that he’s built more confidence," manager Kevin Cash told MLB’s official website.

Karns has allowed two runs or fewer in nine of his past 12 starts. He’ll get his first look at the Indians, who rank near the bottom of the majors with eight home runs and 2.9 runs per game this month.

After they were blanked for the fourth time this season Wednesday, Giovanny Urshela delivered an RBI single in the seventh inning as Cleveland beat the Cubs 4-3.

Michael Brantley is batting .393 over an eight-game home hitting streak, while Jason Kipnis extended his streak to 12 and is batting a major league-best .394 since May 1.

Catcher Yan Gomes, however, could be sidelined after leaving Thursday’s game with neck tightness.

"It’s all muscular – it’s fine," manager Terry Francona said. "I don’t know if he’ll catch (Friday) or not, but he’s OK."

The Indians (31-34) are looking to win back-to-back contests for the first time since a three-game winning streak from May 30-June 2 as they give the ball to Carlos Carrasco (8-5, 4.38).

Carrasco allowed five runs over four innings in a 7-3 home loss to Baltimore on June 7 before rebounding Saturday by giving up three runs with eight strikeouts over 5 2-3 in a 5-4 win at Detroit.

The right-hander improved to 4-1 with a 3.52 ERA over his last five starts.

Carrasco has gone 1-2 with a 3.10 ERA in four career outings versus Tampa Bay (38-30). He yielded one earned run and fanned 10 over 7 2-3 innings in a 2-0 home loss Sept. 27.

Evan Longoria has the most experience in the matchup, going 2 for 10 with a home run. Longoria, Logan Forsythe and Asdrubal Cabrera had two hits apiece Thursday, while Joey Butler hit his fifth homer. right shoulder pain sustained from his stumble over first base three days earlier.