Even though they've dropped five out of their last six and 10 of their last 16 entering Friday night's game against the Orioles, the Indians insist this year is different. Cleveland, currently 2 1/2 games behind the White Sox for first place in the American League Central, feel its best baseball is yet to come.
"We're competitive, despite not playing our best baseball," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "I think there's still a lot of potential with this team to play better than it's played over the first couple months of the season."
The Indians will turn to veteran right-hander Derek Lowe in the second game of a four-game series against Baltimore at Camden Yards. The Indians took the first game, 7-2, on Thursday, snapping a five-game losing streak.
Lowe, who was the team's best starter through the first two months of the season, has had a rough June. He is 1-3 with a 6.44 ERA in five starts this month, and 7-6 with a 4.28 ERA on the season.
Lowe pitched better in his last start, against Houston, when he allowed only three runs over 6 2/3 innings. But like many of the Indians' starting pitchers recently, Lowe took the loss due to a lack of run support.
"I thought Derek did a tremendous job for us," Indians manager Manny Acta said after the game. "He threw the ball well. He threw 16 ground balls and just two fly balls. Some of them went through, but the majority of them went to our infielders.
"He did just a fantastic job to keep us in the game. So he deserves a lot of credit. We just couldn't back him up offensively."
The Orioles, losers of three straight and seven out of nine, will counter with right-hander Jake Arrieta. He's been much better in his last three starts after a brief demotion to the bullpen, going 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA in those starts. Arrieta allowed only one run over six innings in his last start, against Washington, but got a no-decision. He struck out five and walked only one.
Arrieta said he's learning how to just pitch instead of over-thinking every mistake.
"My whole thought process is really just execution and not mechanical," he said. "When I get in that thought process of being too mechanical, that's when things go wrong or I'm not able to stop the bleeding. So keeping it simple and focusing on quality pitches and executing is what translates into success."
Arrieta is 3-9 with a 5.55 ERA on the season.
Indians: Santana misses Thursday's game
• Catcher Carlos Santana was out of the lineup Thursday, a day after being removed in the ninth inning with mid-back tightness. Santana was re-evaluated by team athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff before Thursday's game, and Acta doesn't believe the injury will require a stint on the disabled list.
"Carlos is much better. He tested very well for Lonnie," Acta said. "We're going to try to give him the day off completely and then see where he's at [Friday]."
Besides the injury, Santana has also struggled at the plate recently. Santana has hit .151 (14-for-93) over the last 27 games, and he's hitting just .220 with five home runs and 29 RBIs on the season. Santana hasn't recorded an RBI in 10 games since June 15.
"I think it's good for me," Santana said of the day off. "I've been thinking too much and I think this day off will help me relax."
• Designated hitter Travis Hafner, who is currently on the disabled list after having arthroscopic knee surgery, could be activated when the Indians return to Cleveland for a seven-game homestand on Monday. Hafner hasn't played since May 23.
Orioles: Avery recalled
The Orioles recalled outfielder Xavier Avery from Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday. Avery, who last played with the Orioles on May 29, started in left field and batted second Thursday night against the Indians, going 1-for-4.
To make room for Avery, Baltimore placed designated hitter Nick Johnson on the 15-day disabled list. Johnson felt pain in his right wrist after fouling a pitch off on Wednesday and is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Friday.
Avery hit .217 with four doubles, no home runs and four RBIs during his first stint with the Orioles. He was surprised to get the call on Thursday.
"You never know what to expect," Avery said. "I'm very happy to be back and playing up here."
• Including Thursday's 7-2 loss to the Indians, the Orioles have scored only 16 runs over their last 10 games, going 3-7 during that stretch.
• Lowe has the most starting experience against Baltimore of any pitchers on the Indians roster. He is 8-8 with a 4.38 ERA in 16 career starts (34 games) against the Orioles.
• Arrieta is 1-0 with an 8.18 ERA in two career starts against the Indians.
• Acta held a closed-door meeting with his team prior to Thursday night's game. He said he simply wanted to remind his players that all teams go through rough patches throughout the long season. The Indians responded by blasting three home runs in their 7-2 win.