The Indians spent more than a week in free fall, losing eight straight games to go from a half-game out in the American League Central to 5 1/2 behind the Tigers. But manager Terry Francona's crew might just be headed back in the right direction.
Cleveland won its second straight to finish off a series win against the Rangers on Wednesday in Texas, regaining a game on Detroit to pull 4 1/2 games back. The Tribe comes home for a nine-game stand, beginning Friday night against the Nationals.
The Indians, who are 18-12 at home and 14-21 on the road, will hand the ball to Justin Masterson as they welcome the Nationals for a rare meeting. The teams have split six games all-time, with Washington taking two of three at Progressive Field in 2010.
Masterson (8-5, 3.68 ERA), like his team, has been much more effective at home. He has a 2.36 ERA in seven starts at Cleveland, compared with a 5.12 ERA in seven road outings.
On Sunday at Detroit, the right-hander gave up four runs on six hits in seven innings, walking three and striking out four. Most of the damage came on one pitch, which Don Kelly hit for a go-ahead three-run homer in the sixth.
"Masty competed," Francona said afterward. "I didn't think he had his best command, but he still navigated his way through that lineup."
The Nationals, who will turn to Gio Gonzalez, moved back over the .500 mark with Thursday's 5-4 win in Colorado and have won four of their last five. One thing they have done is find success against the American League. Washington is 8-4 so far in Interleague Play.
Gonzalez (3-3, 3.59) has turned his season around after a slow start, even if he doesn't have many wins to show for it. The left-hander owns a 2.36 ERA and .196 opponents' average over his past seven starts.
Gonzalez has enjoyed pitching at Progressive Field even more than Masterson, albeit in a much smaller sample. In four career outings there, from 2009-11 with the A's, he is 4-0 with a 0.68 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings.
Nationals: Desmond on all-around roll
• Ian Desmond has been getting it done on both sides of the ball lately.
He went 4-for-4 Thursday to extend his hitting streak to 15 games, and that performance came on the heels of a two-hit, three-RBI night Wednesday. It's the longest streak of Desmond's career and his second reaching double digits this season.
Meanwhile, Thursday marked Desmond's career-high 46th consecutive errorless game. Desmond last committed a defensive miscue on April 21 and now owns the longest active errorless streak by a big league shortstop.
• Catcher Wilson Ramos suffered a setback with his strained left hamstring while doing running drills, and manager Davey Johnson called him a "long shot" to return before the All-Star break. Ramos has been on the disabled list since May 15.
Indians: Santana moving around the field
• Carlos Santana was at his natural position behind the plate on Wednesday, but Francona has been making more of an effort to give him starts at first base and designated hitter of late.
Wednesday marked only the fifth time in 13 games Santana was in the lineup at catcher. The Indians want him to stay fresh, and it seems to be working. After a down period at the plate, Santana is 12-for-36 (.333) over his past 10 games.
"I think it will help [Santana]," Francona said. "I think his body will feel fresher. I know he loves to catch, but I think it'll be good for him in the long run. He is [still] going to catch the bulk of the games."
• Slugging first baseman Mark Reynolds has been going through an uncharacteristic power outage. His 0-for-4 game Wednesday was his 12th straight without a home run. Since May 10, Reynolds has two home runs and one double while hitting .180.
• Masterson has never started against the Nationals, facing them only in a relief appearance in 2009, when he was with Boston. Washington center fielder Denard Span is most familiar with Masterson, going 7-for-28 (.250) with three doubles, a home run and a .382 on-base percentage during his days with the Twins.
• Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman had a two-run homer and an RBI double Thursday against the Rockies. It was the fifth time this season Zimmerman has driven in at least three runs in a game.