Royals in search of fourth straight series win in rubber game with Indians

CLEVELAND — Trying to stay interested in a division race they have all but officially won, the Cleveland Indians will play the finale of a nine-game homestand Wednesday afternoon when they host the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field.

The two teams have split the first two games of their three-game series.

Cleveland’s lead in the Central Division is 14 1/2 games over the Minnesota Twins. The challenge for the Indians is to not lose their edge as they play out the regular season in which not much is on the line.

Manager Terry Francona said he will give selected players some days off. Left fielder Michael Brantley didn’t play Tuesday, and third baseman Jose Ramirez will not play Wednesday.

“This doesn’t change how we play the game. We’re still trying to win,” Francona said. “But I’m going to keep an eye on the guys with a lot of at-bats.”

Francona admits he’s walking a fine line during the last month of the regular season.

“Once the (regular) season is over, you’ve got to re-create your momentum (for the postseason), regardless of how you played (in the last month),” he said. “Momentum can leave you in a hurry, or you can start your own momentum.”

The goal for the Indians is to finish strong, and get injured players Trevor Bauer, Andrew Miller and Josh Donaldson off the disabled list.

“We want to get everyone healthy,” Francona said. “The hope is in a couple of weeks we’ll have our team together and they’ll be able to play together for some games (before the start of the postseason).”

One player who will be a key during the postseason will be pitching for Cleveland on Wednesday when Corey Kluber makes his 29th start.

Kluber (17-7, 2.80) is in contention for his third Cy Young Award, and he has pitched well recently, going 5-1 with a 2.57 ERA in his last seven starts.

Kluber leads the league in innings pitched and is tied for the lead in wins and complete games. He is fifth in ERA, and in the top 10 in strikeouts and opponents’ batting average.

In his last start, a 3-0 win over Tampa Bay on Aug. 31, Kluber pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing two hits, with eight strikeouts and two walks.

In three starts against Kansas City this year, Kluber is 2-1 with a 3.93 ERA. His last start against the Royals was a 7-1 loss on Aug. 25. In that game, he gave up five runs and nine hits, with six strikeouts and two walks. Kluber is 11-7 with a 3.09 ERA in 23 career starts against Kansas City.

The Royals on Wednesday will start right-hander Brad Keller (7-5, 3.26), who in three career appearances (one start) against Cleveland is 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA.

Keller’s last start was a 9-2 win over Baltimore on Aug. 31 in which he pitched eight innings, allowing two runs and five hits, with four strikeouts and two walks.

In his last start against Cleveland, on Aug. 24, Keller had no decision in a 5-4 Kansas City win. He pitched five innings, allowing two runs and six hits with five strikeouts and one walk.

The Royals on Tuesday recalled pitchers Glenn Sparkman and Jerry Vasto from Triple-A Omaha and reinstated pitcher Eric Skoglund from the disabled list.

The Indians selected the contracts of outfielder Brandon Barnes and infielder Adam Rosales from Triple-A Columbus.