By JEFF MEZYDLO (STATS Senior Writer),
The Associated Press
CLEVELAND (AP) - If the Cleveland Indians are to again overtake Detroit atop the AL Central, they'll need Justin Masterson to continue his home success and help end their recent struggles against the Tigers.
Masterson and the Indians look to avoid a sixth consecutive defeat to the visiting Tigers, who'll try to win their fourth straight in the opener of a key four-game set Friday night.
Detroit (46-38) has won six of eight versus Cleveland this season, and swept a three-game home set June 7-9 to increase its division lead to 5 1/2 games over the Indians at the time.
Since then, the Indians (45-40) have won 15 of 23 while the Tigers are 11-12. Cleveland held a one-half game division lead over Detroit on Tuesday, but is currently 1 1/2 after losing two straight at Kansas City to conclude a 7-4 trip.
"I think we're all thrilled we're going back home," manager Terry Francona told the Indians' official website after Thursday's 10-7 loss to the Royals.
Though Cleveland has won 22 of 31 at home, two of those losses came to a Detroit club that's won five of seven at Progressive Field.
The Tigers outscored Toronto 24-9 to win three straight after dropping six of seven. Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter each had three RBIs in Thursday's 11-1 rout of the Blue Jays despite the absence of star Miguel Cabrera, who sat for the first time this season with a sore back.
"I'm sure he would play if I asked him," manager Jim Leyland told the Tigers' official website. "I made the decision, and I'll take the responsibility for it. He always wants to play."
Leading the majors in batting (.364), RBIs (85) and second in home runs (26), Cabrera has hit .409 with four homers and 10 RBIs in his last five at Cleveland.
Hunter is 7 for 13 in the last three games, and batting .333 this season against the Indians.
Cabrera and Hunter have hit a combined .368 with five home runs versus Masterson (10-6, 3.48 ERA), who is 2-7 with a 5.45 ERA in 12 starts against the Tigers. He allowed four runs, including a three-run homer to Don Kelly, in seven innings of a 4-1 loss at Detroit on June 9.
However, the right-hander is 5-0 with a 1.49 ERA in six home starts since he went 1-1 with a 3.92 ERA in the first three.
Masterson's most recent outing came on the road when he tossed a six-hitter and struck out eight during Sunday's 4-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox to record his AL-leading third complete game.
"I think that's the challenge for us as starters - try to go out there and get as much as we can and go as far as we can," he said.
The Tigers counter with Rick Porcello (4-6, 5.21), who has an 8.82 ERA while losing three straight starts since he went 2-1 with a 1.33 ERA in the previous four. The right-hander yielded 13 runs in his previous two before he gave up three in six innings of a 3-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Porcello, who is appealing a six-game suspension for hitting Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist in that contest, allowed two runs over six innings in each of his two starts to go 1-0 against the Indians this season.
Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis is 6 for 20 with a homer against Porcello, and batting .462 with four home runs and 20 RBIs during a 15-game hitting streak.
He's hit .376 with 30 RBIs while reaching base safely in 35 consecutive contests.
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