Tampa Bay enters its final test before the All-Star break two games behind the New York Yankees for first place in the American League's East Division and is coming off last night's 4-0 win over the Indians. Matt Garza pitched six shutout innings to lead the way for the Rays, who have won seven of eight.
Garza (10-5) yielded just one hit and one walk while fanning two, marking the first time since April 18 that the righty went at least six innings without yielding a run. He's now one win shy of tying his career-high.
Gabe Kapler drove in two runs for Tampa Bay, which has won two of the first three games in this set.
Jhonny Peralta and Matt LaPorta each singled for the Indians, who have lost four of five. Starting pitcher Aaron Laffey (1-3) allowed three runs on seven hits and three walks in 5 2/3 frames to receive the loss for Cleveland.
"He pitched OK," said Indians manager Manny Acta of Laffey. "Laffey didn't throw enough strikes, but he made a couple good pitches when he had to. He got a couple double-play balls, but he ended up getting hurt by a couple two-out walks. It didn't matter because we didn't score any runs anyway."
Austin Kearns doubled for Cleveland with two outs in the ninth to extend the Indians' streak of games with an extra-base hit to 36, the longest active streak in the AL.
Cleveland's Justin Masterson has struggled so far this season, and the righty will attempt to turn things around this afternoon. He is just 3-8 with a 5.22 ERA and has allowed 115 hits and 45 walks in 100 innings of work. On Tuesday, Masterson was torched for seven earned runs on nine hits in 5 1/3 innings of action against the Texas Rangers.
Masterson has yet to face Tampa Bay this season and is 1-3 with a 6.33 ERA lifetime against the Rays.
Expected to oppose Masterson tonight is Jeff Niemann, a Tampa righty who has been one of baseball's most surprising pitchers through the first half of this season. Niemann is 7-2 with a 2.65 ERA, adding yet another stud arm to a loaded Rays pitching staff. The 27-year-old threw six shutout innings against Boston on Tuesday, scattering only four hits en route to his latest victory.
Niemann got a no-decision in his only previous start against Cleveland this season and is 0-1 lifetime against the Indians.
Tampa swept a two-game series from the Indians back in May, but Cleveland has won five of the last nine meetings between the teams.