Indians close out road swing in Kansas City

Two teams at opposite ends of the American League Central Division standings will meet Friday night at Kauffman Stadium in the first contest of a three-game series.

The first place Cleveland Indians (73-54) will face the fifth-place Kansas City Royals (38-90), who are 35 1/2 games behind division leading Cleveland.

For the Indians, this will be the final three games on a seven-game two-city road trip to Boston and Kansas City. The Indians split a four-game series with the Red Sox, who have the best record in the majors. Now comes a three-game series with the Royals, who have the second-worst record in the league.

The Indians won the first two games in Boston, and lost the last two, including a 7-0 blanking by the Red Sox on Thursday. The only good to come out of Thursday’s game for the Indians was the return of right-hander Josh Tomlin, who was activated off the disabled list prior to the game and pitched the last three innings of Thursday’s blowout.

That was the silver lining to the loss, according to manager Terry Francona.

“Josh got into a good rhythm and gave us three innings, so now we go into Kansas City with our bullpen back to where it should be,” Francona said. “(Friday’s game) will be every bit as important to us as (Thursday’s game).”

Friday’s pitching matchup will be Cleveland right-hander Mike Clevinger (9-7, 3.25 ERA) versus Kansas City right-hander Brad Keller (6-5, 3.32).

Clevinger is coming off an 8-0 victory over Baltimore in his last start Sunday. In that game, Clevinger pitched six scoreless innings on seven hits, with seven strikeouts and one walk. He was removed from the game because his pitch count was at 104.

Clevinger has rebounded nicely from a midseason slump. After going 1-4 with a 4.85 ERA in five July starts, Clevinger is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in four August outings.

In two starts against the Royals this year, Clevinger is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA. His last appearance against Kansas City was a 6-2 win on May 12, when he pitched 7 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and eight hits, with five strikeouts and no walks. In seven career appearances against the Royals, Clevinger is 4-0 with a 2.17 ERA.

Keller has split the 2018 season between the starting rotation and the bullpen. In 14 starts, he is 5-4 with a 3.67 ERA. In 21 relief appearances, he is 1-1, 2.01.

Keller’s last start was a 5-4 win over the White Sox on Saturday, when he pitched five innings, allowing one run and five hits, with five strikeouts and no walks. In his last six starts, Keller is 4-2 with a 3.65 ERA.

Friday will be Keller’s first career start against Cleveland. He has made two relief appearances against the Indians this season, going 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 4 1/3 innings.

The Indians will be without reliever Neil Ramirez, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list Thursday with lower back spasms.

Despite losing their last two games in Boston, the streaking Indians come to Kansas City having won nine of their last 12 games. Cleveland is 15-6 in the month of August.

The Royals have lost five games in a row and are 5-17 in August.