Pregame Notes: Cleveland Indians still in search of first series win since opener

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Another underwhelming April is in the books and the Cleveland Indians now set their sights on the Kansas City Royals to kick-start their first extended winning streak of the season

The Kansas City Royals are starting to cool down just as the Cleveland Indians bats begin to heat up.

Since getting the call to move into the lead-off role, Jason Kipnis has been nothing short of fantastic for the Tribe. He is hitting .375 over the last seven days, clubbing three home runs and demonstrating an outstanding ability to get on base in front of Michael Brantley. In turn, Brantley has pounded opposing pitching for four doubles and a home run in his last seven days, adding two stolen bases and seven RBIs in the week.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, has been the reemergence of Ryan Raburn. While Nick Swisher is set to be activated in time for tonight’s game, manager Terry Francona must find a way to continue to get Raburn at-bats against lefties. Raburn is hitting .500 in 12 at-bats over the last week and has hit .457 with seven doubles against southpaws this season.

On the hill to start the series for the Tribe will be right-hander Danny Salazar, who has been a breath of fresh air for the Tribe thus far this season. After losing out on a rotation spot in spring training, Salazar has gone a perfect 3-0 in three starts for the Indians with a 3.32 ERA. Perhaps the biggest key to his success has been his ability to get ahead of hitters and limit his walks, as the hard-throwing 25-year-old has walked just five batters this season.

Salazar faced Kansas City at home in his last start and turned in a steady six innings, allowing four runs on six hits against the red-hot Royals. That performance came on the heals of two masterful outings against Minnesota and Detroit where Salazar tossed a combined 13 innings and surrendered just three earned runs.

The Royals have not been particularly effective against Salazar in his career, as the team’s active players have hit just .232 in their careers against Salazar. Eric Hosmer, however, has gone 6-for-12 with one home run (which he hit last week) and three doubles.

Opposite Salazar will be the Royals’ left-hander Jason Vargas, who earned a victory against the Tribe at Progressive Field in his last start. Vargas boasts a horrid 5.95 ERA over his first four starts this season, but allowed just two runs against the Indians in his last start despite walking five batters in five innings.

Here are the starting lineups:

Lots of changes here, as Carlos Santana takes the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Raburn takes a hot bat into the clean-up spot and plays left field while Swisher makes his debut at DH. Mike Aviles gets the start in place of Jose Ramirez, as Aviles is hitting .286 (4-for-14) with home home run in his career against Vargas. He was 1-for-2 with a home run in last week’s match-up with the Royals’ lefty.    

With Lorenzo Cain serving the back end of his two-game suspension today, Alex Gordon takes the lead-off spot. The Royals will play with just three true outfielders on their roster. Dyson gets the start in center field in place of Cain and middle infielder Orlando Calixte will be the emergency fourth outfielder. Shortstop Alcides Escobar remains on the shelf with a concussion after taking a fastball to the head against Salazar last weeek.

News & Notes:

-Though it has been oft-discussed as a sputtering offense, the Indians currently lead the league in hard-hit rate at 19.0 percent, as compared to the league average at 15.0 percent. The concern, however, stems from the .248 batting average despite leading the league in that category. The MLB average batting average is .249. Here’s the full team-by-team list:

-Per Fangraphs, Jason Kipnis posted a 0.8 WAR through 129 games last season. Through 24 games in 2015, the former All-Star has tallied a 0.7 WAR. Kipnis is hitting .306/.419/.611 since moving into the lead-off spot. He has three home runs and seven RBIs over that nine-game span. 

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Swisher is active for tonight’s game for the first time this season, and Tyler Holt was reassigned to Triple-A Columbus. While he has not lived up to his massive free agent contract with the Tribe, Swisher seems to be seeing the ball much better in the early going and looks to translate his success with the Clippers to the big leagues. In six games with Columbus, the Indians’ veteran has nine hits in 24 at-bats. He has posted a .375/.444/.583 triple-slash line, including one home run and two doubles in the rehab stint. He’ll get his first crack at continuing that success tonight against Vargas.

Next: Who's hot? Who's not? after Week 4

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