Indians heating up, go for 6th straight vs. Blue Jays

CLEVELAND — It took the arrival of some warmer weather, but the Cleveland Indians have finally started to hit. That might be bad news for the Toronto Blue Jays, who will visit Progressive Field on Friday night for the opener of a three-game series.

The Indians have won five games in a row. In the first three wins, they only scored seven runs, but in their last two, they have scored 14 runs, including a 9-3 win Thursday, as they completed a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers.

Cleveland is 6-1 in the first seven games of a 10-game homestand in which the first five games were played in temperatures in the 30s and 40s.

In the last two games, the temperatures were in the 50s and 70s, and the Indians’ bats have responded.

“The warmer weather helps. We had some good at-bats tonight,” said Cleveland manager Terry Francona following Thursday’s win.

Still, the Indians are being carried by their pitchers. At the start of play Thursday, Cleveland pitchers ranked second in the American League with a 2.82 team ERA, and its hitters ranked dead last with a team batting average of .170, which was 30 points below the next closest team.

“Whatever we had, it must have been contagious, because everyone had it,” said Francona of the team-wide slump from which the Indians seem to be emerging.

The biggest slumper currently is designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, who will be facing his former Toronto teammates this weekend. Encarnacion leads the Indians with three home runs. The problem is he only has three other hits.

Encarnacion is hitting .136 with three home runs and four RBIs. His last home run came on April 2. In nine games since then, he is hitting .065 (2-for-31) with 12 strikeouts and zero RBIs.

“Edwin has gotten into a funk. His timing is off,” Francona said. “The good news is that we’ve seen this before, and by the end of the season he’ll have his usual numbers.”

Encarnacion will try to get untracked against the Blue Jays. It’s a team Encarnacion did well against last year. In six games against Toronto in 2017, Encarnacion hit .368 (7-for-19) with one home run, five RBIs and a .571 on-base percentage that was bolstered by eight walks in 28 plate appearances.

Marcus Stroman (0-1, 8.38 ERA) will start Friday night’s game for the Blue Jays. In his career vs. Stroman, Encarnacion is 2-for-5.

In two starts against Cleveland last year, Stroman was 1-0 with a 0.66 ERA. He gave up one run on 11 hits, with eight strikeouts and seven walks in 13 2/3 innings. In five career appearances against the Indians, Stroman is 2-0 with a 2.17 ERA.

Mike Clevinger (1-0, 0.71) will start for the Indians. It will be Clevinger’s second career appearance against Toronto. His first came as a reliever on Aug. 21, 2016, when he pitched 1 1/3 scoreless inning to get the win in a 3-2 victory. He gave up one hit, with three strikeouts and one walk.

Clevinger, who gets overshadowed by some of the bigger names in the Cleveland rotation, was a solid contributor last year, going 12-6 with a 3.11 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .211 batting average. In his two starts this year, Clevinger has allowed one run in 12 2/3 innings.