The Cleveland Indians may be thrilled to return home.
Justin Masterson may be the most relieved.
Coming off a lackluster road trip, the Indians hope Masterson can continue his home dominance in Friday night’s series opener with the Washington Nationals.
Cleveland (32-33) opened a nine-game road trip by losing seven in a row before finding some solace in winning the last two, including Wednesday’s 5-2 victory at Texas.
“It takes a little pressure off,” second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “You get a happy flight home, you get a day off, you get a little momentum on your side, you get to go home for a long homestand.”
A nine-game homestand may be just what the Indians need to begin cutting into the 4 1/2-game gap on AL Central-leading Detroit. Hosting an NL foe may be even better since they’ve won seven in a row in Cleveland in interleague play, batting .341 with 15 homers while averaging 7.6 runs.
The pitching staff has been particularly outstanding in four home interleague wins this year, compiling a 1.25 ERA with the rotation getting each victory.
Masterson (8-5, 3.68 ERA) was responsible for one of them, allowing one run with seven strikeouts in six innings of a 5-2 win over Cincinnati on May 29. He’s won three straight interleague starts at Progressive Field, yielding two runs with 25 strikeouts in 22 innings.
The right-hander is 5-1 with a 2.36 ERA in seven home starts in 2013.
Masterson, who is making his first career start versus Washington, hasn’t been nearly as effective on the road, compiling an 8.06 ERA while losing four starts in a row, two on Cleveland’s recent trip.
Kipnis was one of the few bright spots for the Indians during that stretch, going 11 for 28 (.393) over the last seven games. He kept that surge going with his best performance yet Wednesday, getting three hits while coming a triple shy of the cycle and driving in a run.
Michael Brantley, who owns a .184 average with two RBIs over the past 11 road games, could be sparked with a return to Cleveland, where he is hitting .345 with 10 RBIs in his last eight contests.
The Nationals (33-32) are hoping for a similar result for Gio Gonzalez (3-3, 3.59), who is facing the Indians for the first time since Sept. 1, 2011, with Oakland. The left-hander is 5-0 with a 0.72 ERA in six career meetings, winning all four visits to Progressive Field.
He’s needed some help from the lineup lately, going 0-1 with a 2.27 ERA while being backed by 11 total runs over his last six games.
The bats provided him two runs Saturday, while he allowed three in six innings of a 4-3 loss in 11 at Minnesota.
Washington, though, has since won four of five behind a .292 average after winning 5-4 at Colorado on Thursday. Still, the team is 5 1/2 games back of NL East-leading Atlanta.
“We just need to grind it out and stay where we’re at and stay within striking distance,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who hit his seventh homer Thursday. “And then hopefully once we get going or maybe this is the start of that, where we can have a good 20-game span. Then all of a sudden we’re right back in it.”
Ian Desmond is doing his part, batting .404 with 12 RBIs during a career-high 15-game hitting streak. He’s been particularly impressive over the last five games, going 11 for 18 with eight RBIs after getting four hits and plating a run Thursday.