Francona familiar with slow starts

Terry Francona will look to point the Indians in the right direction in May.

There is only one glimmer of optimism to take out of the Indians’ 11-17 start — it’s not the first time Terry Francona has been in this situation. In fact, it is the third straight year that he has directed a team that had only 11 wins and was under .500 after April.

Last season, the Indians were 11-13 and 3 ½ games out of first place. Three years ago in Boston, the Red Sox were 11-15 and five games out. Going into Friday’s game against the White Sox, the Tribe are 5 ½ games behind Detroit in the AL Central.

"My feelings about our team don’t change on a road trip. It was a rough trip," Francona said after Wednesday’s 7-1 loss to the Angels. "We’re going to have to be strong enough at home and know the best way to remedy it is to play better."

They can start by returning to fundamentals as they lead the AL with 26 errors and have had one in all but eight games. They are also proving that they can’t rally late with a 1-13 record when trailing after six innings. In 15 of the 27 games, they have scored three runs or less.

"This isn’t uncharted waters. We’ve been down them before," Nick Swisher said. "It’s tough, battling back every game is tough. We’re going to hit our stride. When this team gets hot, it’s scalding. It’s time to turn it up."

SHOWING SKIN

Last season the Indians went 18-12 in May.

KEY QUESTIONS FOR MAY

Who moves into the starting rotation? With Carlos Carrasco in the bullpen, it could be either Trevor Bauer or Josh Tomlin. Bauer did well in a spot start in the second game of a doubleheader against San Diego on April 8 but Tomlin has also pitched well in Triple-A Columbus. Whoever it is, their start would come on May 6 against Minnesota. Tomlin pitched a three-hitter in the Clippers’ 3-0 win over Durham on Thursday while Bauer is still listed as the probable starter on the Clippers’ website for Saturday.

How long is Jason Kipnis out and who will play second? Kipnis is expected to be out 3-5 weeks after being placed on the disabled list on Friday. Francona said that he will mix and match with Mike Aviles, Elliot Johnson and Jose Ramirez, who was called up from Columbus. A lot of it will depend on who is the starting pitcher that day. In terms of the batting order, it looks like Nick Swisher will bat third.

Can Justin Masterson rebound? The right-hander had a rollercoaster start. He pitched great in the opener with seven shutout innings but has a 6.04 ERA in his other six starts. According to Brooks Baseball, Masterson’s fourseam fastball is two miles per hour slower than at this time last year and he has been relying more on his sinker than fastball. The couple times that Masterson has pitched with the lead, he has run into trouble.

KEY MAY SERIES

White Sox (Friday-Sunday) and Twins (Monday-Thursday): The entire seven-game homestand is key considering they are division opponents and that the Tribe went a combined 2-5 against them last month. The last time the Indians lost six straight (Aug. 5-10 last season) they went 9-4.

MAY DAYS

Career numbers in May for key Indians players:

TRIBE MONTH IN REVIEW

Offense: Avg.OBPOPS

Yan Gomes: .324.351.939

Nick Swisher: .253.351.795

Jason Kipnis: .279.341.843

Asdrubal Cabrera: .285.345.786

Carlos Santana .229.344.697

Michael Brantley: .295.325.722

Michael Bourn: .265.324.680

David Murphy: .264.319.734

Lonnie Chisenhall:.194.242.533

Ryan Raburn: .181.231.515

Jason Giambi: .279.398.912

Pitchers: W-LERAWHIP

Justin Masterson: 7-104.381.402

Corey Kluber: 1-35.171.309

Zach McAllister: 3-23.361.314

Danny Salazar: 0-0

Carlos Carrasco: 3-14.841.343

Trevor Bauer: 1-11.591.324

Josh Tomlin: 3-23.53.961

John Axford: 3-2, 15 saves2.701.479