The Rays will host the Indians in a three-game weekend series that begins Friday night at Tropicana Field in a 7:10 p.m. ET contest. The two clubs enter the series going in opposite directions with Tampa Bay dropping its last three and Cleveland coming in winners of three in a row.
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi will start for the Rays and the Indians will send right-hander Corey Kluber to the mound.
Odorizzi will be making his third career start against the Indians. His first two career starts (with the Royals in 2012) were both against the Indians. He went 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA over those two starts.
Odorizzi has struggled, which is personified in his splits, which show opponents hitting .140 (7-for-50) the first time through the order. After that, opponents are hitting .465 (20-for-43) the second time through and .500 (9-for-18) the third time. In 15 career games (12 starts) his batting average against jumps from .203 to .323 to .485.
"There's not really much you can do," said Odorizzi when asked if he could address trying to improve the second and third times through the order. "You can't really think about second time through the order when you're not through the first time. That's what gets you in some big trouble."
One thing's for sure, Odorizzi -- and Rays manager Joe Maddon -- are both puzzled at the results given the way Odorizzi's stuff has looked.
"Like I said, everything starts out good, and I hope it's just going to continue that way tomorrow and be effective, go deep in the game," Odorizzi said. "Try to get as low a pitch count as I can keep throughout the whole game. I think if I can maintain a low pitch count, something is going correctly. And so get back on track so I don't have to talk about this anymore."
Since a rough outing in his first start of the season, Kluber has been a steady hand within Cleveland's rotation.
Over his past six turns, Kluber has posted a 2.81 ERA with 46 strikeouts against nine walks in 41 2/3 innings for the Tribe. Across his past three starts, the right-hander has turned in a 1.66 ERA with 29 strikeouts and six walks in 21 2/3 innings.
On Sunday, Kluber overpowered the White Sox over eight innings, during which he limited Chicago to a solo home run from rookie phenom Jose Abreu. Kluber ended the afternoon with 13 strikeouts, including a franchise record seven in a row in one stretch, but the win eluded him when John Axford blew a save in the ninth.
"Klubes was so good [Sunday], just pitched his heart out," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "That's about as good as you can pitch. ... He was so aggressive with the bigger hitters in their lineup. He came in hard, kind of stood them up, opened up the plate for everything else."
Kluber, whose only career outing against the Rays was a rain-shortened appearance (two innings) on May 31 last season, said his increased strikeout rate this season is a byproduct of consistently pitching ahead in the count.
"I don't ever try to strike guys out," Kluber said. "I think it's just a product of executing pitches. I think I'm fortunate enough to have a couple pitches that I can get swings and misses with, if the situation presents itself. You still have to execute it. ... You try to work ahead in the count, put the pressure on them and then, if you do get to that situation, then you can try to put them away."
Indians: First walk-off
Cleveland's 4-3 win Wednesday night gave the team its first walk-off win since Jason Giambi's pinch-hit, solo home run on Sept. 24, 2013, against the White Sox in the bottom of the ninth. The Indians celebrated 11 walk-off wins last season, tied with Boston for second-most in the AL behind on Tampa Bay (13).
Rays: Keeping up with the Joneses
Wednesday night, Rays lefty Cesar Ramos yielded two first-pitch homers to Adam Jones of the Orioles in his first two at-bats. The last batter to hit two first-pitch homers in a game vs. the Rays was J.P. Arencibia of the Blue Jays on Aug. 7, 2010, at Rogers Centre, off James Shields and Dale Thayer. It was the first time since pitch count data is complete (1999) that a single Rays pitcher allowed two first-pitch homers to an opposing player.
• Only four batters (Michael Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Lonnie Chisenhall and Carlos Santana) have experience against Odorizzi, but that group has combined to hit .400 (4-for-10) off the Rays right-hander. Santana has Cleveland's only homer off Odorizzi.
• Expect Indians center fielder Michael Bourn, who returned to the lineup on Thursday after dealing with left hamstring tightness, to be in the lineup on Friday at Tampa Bay. Francona said Bourn might get a day off on Saturday.
• The last time these clubs met, the Rays beat the Indians, 4-0, in the American League Wild Card Game on Oct. 2. Alex Cobb hurled 6 2/3 scoreless innings in his postseason debut for the win.
• In regular-season play, the Rays won last year's season series, 4-2, and are 19-10 against the Indians since 2010. Since the Rays became they Rays prior to the 2008 season, they are 16-7 at Tropicana Field against Cleveland.