Unbeaten Keuchel leads Astros into matchup vs. Indians

CLEVELAND — Two of the hotter teams in the American League will meet Tuesday night at Progressive Field when the Cleveland Indians host the Houston Astros in the first of a three-game series.

Both teams got off to lukewarm starts this season, but both are rolling now. Cleveland returns home following a 5-1 trip to Minnesota and Chicago, while the Astros are 9-2 since April 11.

The Indians’ recent surge has been anchored by their starting rotation. In winning the first five games of the trip that concluded on Sunday, Cleveland starting pitchers were a combined 5-0 with a 1.53 ERA. One of those wins was by Josh Tomlin (1-2,11.68), Tuesday night’s starter.

Tomlin’s first two starts of the season were disasters. After those two games, he was 0-2 with an 18.47 ERA, giving up 13 runs on 15 hits in 6 1/3 innings.

But in his third start, an 11-4 win over the Minnesota Twins on April 18, Tomlin pitched six solid innings, allowing three runs. What was the difference in his last start compared to his first two?

“I limited the amount of mistakes I made,” Tomlin said. “I kept guys off the barrel. I was throwing the ball more consistently to the edges of the plate, instead of over the middle of it.”

Tomlin was one of the Indians’ most underrated starters last year. He finished second on the team in wins with a record of 13-9. Only Corey Kluber (18-9) won more games for Cleveland.

Although he is in his eighth season in the majors, Tomlin has never started against Houston and has only one career appearance against the Astros. That came last year, a one-inning relief appearance in which he did not give up a run.

Houston will counter with former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel (3-0, 0.96), who will be making his fifth start of the season. In his first four starts, Keuchel pitched seven innings and allowed one or fewer runs in each of those games. The only other Astros pitcher to have accomplished that feat was Roger Clemens in 2005.

“A lot of it is his breaking ball,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch told MLB.com. “He can back-door his breaking ball, he can front-foot it. He can do anything he wants with his breaking ball when his fastball command is right, and that tandem is very, very good. When he mixes in the changeup, he is a complete pitcher that we’ve come to expect.”

Houston outfielder George Springer’s status for Tuesday’s game is uncertain. Springer strained his left hamstring on Saturday, causing him to miss Sunday’s game and snapping his major league-leading streak of playing in 205 consecutive games. His status is day-to-day.

Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis is expected to make his first appearance in a home game this year. Kipnis started the season on the disabled list because of an inflamed right shoulder, but he returned to play in two of the last three games on the trip that concluded Sunday.

The Indians will be happy to have Kipnis in the lineup. He is a .333 career hitter (5-for-15) vs. Keuchel.