The Cleveland Indians aren't making up any ground in the AL Central race, but they've been playing better of late.
The Tampa Bay Rays can't make that claim.
Cleveland will try to match a season high with a fourth consecutive win Friday night when it continues its four-game series against the visiting Rays.
Since totaling 11 runs during a season-worst five-game skid, the Indians (43-39) have gone 6-2 to keep pace with the surging Chicago White Sox, whom they trail by two games for the Central lead.
The Indians, winners of six of seven at home, are batting .333 with 14 homers and 56 runs in their last eight games overall. Shin-Soo Choo, Michael Brantley and Travis Hafner all homered in Thursday's 3-1 victory over Tampa Bay to open this series.
Choo will look to extend his home hitting streak to nine after going 2 for 3 on Thursday. He's batting .327 with eight home runs since moving to the top of the order May 14, after batting .235 with one homer up to that point this season."He's been phenomenal," said Brantley, who has homered in each of the last two games. "It's nice to have somebody on base with the two, three, four guys coming up. It gives us a big boost, it's going to create more runs and hopefully he can keep swinging it the way he is. He looks real good."
Tampa Bay's Luke Scott does not. By going 0 for 3 on Thursday - he played first base for the first time all season after 55 games as the designated hitter - he set a dubious club record with 39 consecutive hitless at-bats."I would rather take a beating and be bleeding in the street than go through this," Scott said. "It is humbling and very deflating. I take it personally that I am not helping my team."
The longest hitless streak in major league history for position players is an 0-for-46 drought, done last season by Eugenio Velez .
Scott isn't the only Ray struggling at the plate. The club is batting .209 and averaging 2.9 runs per game during a 3-8 slump."This was just a good ballgame that was lost," said manager Joe Maddon, whose team fell to 4-13 against the AL Central this season. "I have no problem with the way we played."
Alex Cobb (3-5, 4.94 ERA) will try to help the Rays (43-40) avoid their first five-game road losing streak since a seven-game skid Sept. 7-13, 2009.
The right-hander is 1-5 with a 5.77 ERA in his last six outings after posting a 2.25 ERA while winning his first two of 2012.
Cleveland will counter with Justin Masterson (5-7, 3.92) as it tries to match its season-best four-game winning streak from June 18-22.
Since losing three straight starts May 29-June 9, Masterson is 3-1 with a 1.55 ERA in his last four outings. The right-hander yielded two runs - one earned - in seven innings of Sunday's 6-2 road win over Baltimore."Masterson was dominant the majority of the game," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He was in command all day. He was able to throw that four-seam by guys whenever he wanted to at 95 or 96. Never a doubt."
Masterson is 1-5 with a 7.14 ERA in seven career starts versus Tampa Bay.
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|July 02, 2012||Hideki Matsui||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hamstring tightness|
|June 30, 2012||Jeremy Hellickson||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised right shin|
|June 29, 2012||David Price||Day-to-Day||Left game - lower back tightness|
|June 20, 2012||Matt Joyce||15-Day DL||Strained left oblique|
|June 17, 2012||Matt Joyce||Day-to-Day||Flu|
|June 15, 2012||Jeremy Hellickson||15-Day DL||Right shoulder fatigue|
|June 30, 2012||Lonnie Chisenhall||15-Day DL||Fractured right ulna - out 4-6 weeks|
|June 29, 2012||Lonnie Chisenhall||Day-to-Day||Fractured right ulna - out 4-6 weeks|
|June 05, 2012||Jose Lopez||Day-to-Day||Sore lower back|
|May 27, 2012||Jack Hannahan||15-Day DL||Strained left calf|
|May 27, 2012||Jack Hannahan||15-Day DL||Strained left calf|
|May 26, 2012||Carlos Santana||7-Day DL||Concussion|
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Luke Scott changed his pregame meal and got his first hit in more than a month.
Tampa Bay's designated hitter broke his team-record hitless streak at 41 at-bats with a two-run homer and the Rays snapped out of their slump by routing the Cleveland Indians 10-3 Friday night.
"Take a 300-pound gorilla and pull it off my back, that's how it feels," Scott said after getting his first hit since June 1. "I just felt relief, felt thankful."
Scott credited All-Star closer Fernando Rodney with a save without throwing a pitch - but for getting him to eat some Spanish-style cuisine.
"Fernando said, `Anybody who wants to throw 100 (mph) or hit home runs, eat this,' and I was first in line," Scott said of a pregame dish that included peas, rice, plantains, shrimp and avocados.
Rays manager Joe Maddon revealed that Scott got a special congratulatory phone call in the dugout after connecting against Justin Masterson (5-8) in a six-run fifth inning.
"It was President Obama," Maddon joked. "I could tell by the ring it was the President."
Actually, it was the Rays' bullpen on the line. They wanted to join the celebration as Scott was hugged and exchanged high-fives with position players after circling the bases.
Even Masterson pretended to enjoy seeing Scott's streak end.
"I was just trying to be friendly," Masterson said. "He was struggling quite a bit, coming close to a record. I figured, what the heck, let's give him an opportunity to get out of that. He's a good guy. It's just people helping people."
Ben Zobrist had a two-run homer, Jose Lobaton a two-run single and Elliot Johnson a two-run double as the Rays broke Cleveland's three-game win streak and improved to 5-13 against the AL Central.
The Rays had scored more than four runs in a game only once in 11 previous contests. Their big outburst helped Alex Cobb (4-5) overcome a shaky start to pitch six innings and win for the second time in seven decisions since May 30.
Scott struck out his first two times up, moving within five at-bats of the major league record. Eugenio Velez went 46 consecutive hitless at bats in 2010-11.
After B.J. Upton hit a one-out single in the fifth, Scott drove the first pitch he saw from Masterson to center, then waited almost breathlessly for the towering shot to land. As it did, Michael Brantley tried to make a leaping catch at the wall, but missed by inches.
"I didn't think I got it all, but knew I hit it good," Scott said. "I just felt relief, felt thankful."
Scott went 1 for 5 overall for the Rays, who came in hitting only .209 (73 for 349) and averaging 2.9 runs in a 3-8 stretch since sweeping an interleague doubleheader from Philadelphia on June 24.
The Rays struck quickly against Masterson, who fell to 1-6 with an 11.40 ERA in eight career starts against them.
Desmond Jennings lined the game's first pitch to center for a single. One out later, Zobrist's 11th homer made it 2-0.
Cobb gave the lead right back in the bottom half as Cleveland got three hits and a walk. Travis Hafner grounded into a double play as one run scored and Asdrubal Cabrera went to third. Cabrera broke for home on a 3-2 pitch, then stopped. It caused Cobb to balk and Cabrera trotted home anyway to tie it at 2.
"Cabrera's a smart baseball player," Maddon said. "He got us."
Said Cobb: "It was just a mental mistake. No excuse. I was not focusing."
Lobaton restored the Rays' lead with a two-run single in the third, breaking a 1-for-18 slump.
Johnson's two-run double off reliever Nick Hagadone made it 8-2 in the fifth. Zobrist added a sacrifice fly and Upton an RBI single.
Shin-Soo Choo's RBI single in the bottom half made it 10-3.
Cleveland put two runners on in the sixth before Cobb again got Hafner to bounce into a double play. Cobb gave up three runs and six hits overall.
Masterson gave up eight runs and nine hits over 4 1-3 innings - one more earned run than he yielded over his previous five starts and 36 innings.
NOTES: Before the game, Maddon defended batting coach Derek Shelton, blamed by some fans back home for Tampa Bay's prolonged slump. "It's not fair for him to be criticized at all," Maddon said. "In today's world, it's so funny how sometimes people immediately want to have somebody's head when things aren't going well." Maddon listed injuries to several key players, including All-Star 3B Evan Longoria , who has missed 59 games with a torn hamstring, and OF Matt Joyce , out since June 20 with a strained left oblique. ... OF Shelley Duncan rejoined the Indians after two days on the paternity list. His wife Elyse delivered twin sons Thursday. INF Jason Donald was optioned to Triple-A Columbus to clear room for Duncan.