Tribe will take on Astros, Yankees, and Orioles before returning home.
By THE SPORTS XCHANGEFS Ohio
The Indians' schedule included only eight home games in the month of June, and they've already played them. Following an off day Thursday, they will conclude the month with a 10-game trip to Houston, the New York Yankees and Baltimore.
It will be an important trip for the Indians, who despite all the road games this month have managed to climb into first place in the AL Central. They hit the road after going 4-2 on a homestand that concluded with a three-game sweep of Cincinnati.
The Indians' recent surge coincides with improvement from the rotation, specifically Nos. 1 and 2 starters Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. Masterson was masterful Wednesday against the Reds, pitching a three-hitter.
Jimenez will be on the mound Friday when the Indians open a three-game series against the Astros in Houston. He has slowly shown signs of coming out of his season-long slump. On May 27, he had an ERA of 5.79. However, in three starts since then, he has a 2.75 ERA.
The Indians need both Masterson and Jimenez to be rotation leaders, and in recent starts, they have been. The offense is not a high-octane unit, so big explosions are rare. The team need the starting pitchers to pitch deep into games so it can get to the strong back end of the bullpen, setup man Vinnie Pestano and closer Chris Perez.
When Cleveland can do that, it frequently can win despite its mediocre offense. However, if a starting pitcher doesn't pitch deep into the game, it exposes the lack of depth in the bullpen and forces the offense to have to outslug the opposing team, something the lineup is not equipped to do.
--2B Jason Kipnis leads the Indians in home runs (11), RBI (41), stolen bases (17), hits (75) and runs (46). Asked if he thought Kipnis should be on the American League All-Star team, Manager Manny Acta said, "Yeah, absolutely. Unfortunately we have some stud second basemen in the American League. It's a tough crowd, but without a doubt Jason has played like an All-Star, and he has the numbers. I'd like to see him there."
--1B Casey Kotchman, who has been brilliant defensively all year, continues to slowly add points to his batting average. He hit .149 in April but has steadily improved since then. In his last six games, Kotchman is hitting .364. "He's had better at-bats in the last month. He knows what he's doing at the plate," manager Manny Acta said.
--RHP Chris Perez has 22 saves, which leads the American League. Last year, when Perez finished fourth in the AL with 36 saves and was selected to the AL All-Star team, he didn't pick up his 22nd save until July 15.
--C Carlos Santana is hitting .232 this year after hitting .239 in 2011. Santana does hit for power -- last year he set an Indians record for home runs by a switch hitter with 27 -- and he draws a lot of walks. Manager Manny Acta said he thinks Santana can turn into a more complete offensive player. "I think he can become a .280 to .300 hitter in the big leagues," Acta said. "It's scary how good he can be."
--INF Jose Lopez made his first start at second base Wednesday as 2B Jason Kipnis was given a day off. Lopez has proven to be a very versatile player. He has started games at first base, third base, designated hitter and second base, and he's hit in every spot in the order with the exception of first, second and third.
BY THE NUMBERS: .135 -- Batting average of right-handed hitters vs. RHP Vinnie Pestano.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I trust him anywhere in our lineup." -- Manager Manny Acta, on CF Michael Brantley, who has hit first, second, third, fifth, sixth, and seventh in the batting order.
--DH Travis Hafner (sore right knee) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 24. He had surgery May 31 to repair a frayed meniscus. He took batting practice June 19, but the timetable for his return was uncertain.
--LHP Rafael Perez (strained left lat muscle) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 26, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on May 26. He was cleared to resume a throwing program in mid-June.
--OF Grady Sizemore (back surgery in March 2012) went on the 60-day disabled list April 4. He was cleared to begin baseball activities in late April and took live batting practice May 16. His rehab was slowed again in early June, and there was no timetable for his return.
--RHP Carlos Carrasco (Tommy John surgery in September 2011) went on the 60-day disabled list March 26. He is expected to throw off a bullpen mound in New York in late June. The timetable for his return to game action remains unknown.