Indians, Royals as cold at plate as falling thermometer in April

CLEVELAND — Two teams with slumbering offenses will meet — in less-than-ideal conditions — in the second game of a three-game series when the Cleveland Indians host the Kansas City Royals on Saturday afternoon at Progressive Field.

In the first game of the series on Friday, the two teams combined for just five runs and 11 hits in a 3-2 Cleveland victory.

The Indians won despite getting just four hits, which dropped their team batting average from an American League-low .161 to an even lower .157. The Royals will go into Saturday’s game hitting just .202 as a team.

The Indians’ offense received a boost with the return of outfielder Michael Brantley. Brantley. He was activated off the disabled list after he completed his rehab from offseason ankle surgery. His activation paid immediate dividends as Brantley’s two-run single capped a three-run Cleveland first inning.

Indians manager Terry Francona said Brantley’s importance to the Indians’ lineup is immeasurable.

“It’s really nice to have him back because he means so much to what we’re doing here,” Francona said.

Brantley has hit .312 in the last four years with an .851 OPS and two All-Star selections. He was selected to the American League All-Star team last year but missed most of the second half of the season with an ankle injury that resulted in surgery.

Francona said the Indians will ease Brantley back into being an everyday player.

“He’s not going to play four or five games in a row right off the bat,” Francona said. “But if he can play two out of three games to start, that would be good, because he really solidifies (left field).”

Right-hander Trevor Bauer (0-0, 3.60 ERA) will make his second start of the season for the Indians.

Bauer’s first start, a no-decision, came in a 5-4 Indians loss to Seattle on April 1. In that game Bauer pitched five innings, giving up two runs and five hits, with seven strikeouts and three walks.

In three starts against Kansas City in 2017, Bauer was 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA. His career record in 10 starts against the Royals is 2-3 with a 6.36 ERA.

The Royals will send right-hander Ian Kennedy to the mound. Like Bauer, Kennedy also had no decision in his first start of the season, a 4-3 Royals loss to the White Sox on March 31. However, Kennedy pitched well, working six innings and allowing one run and four hits with five strikeouts and two walks.

Last year, Kennedy started two games against Cleveland and was 0-1 with a 10.57 ERA. His career record in 10 starts against the Indians is 2-5 with a 5.90 ERA.

Cleveland and Kansas City hitters, who have struggled to score runs in the first week of the season, will not be helped by the weather in Cleveland. Friday’s game was played with temperatures in the mid-40s. The forecast for Saturday is for temperatures in the mid-30s.

“That’s the way it is sometimes here in April,” Francona said.