As the American League Central race becomes a game of catch-up with division-leading Detroit, Thursday night's tilt between the second-place Indians and third-place Royals -- the first of a four-game set at Kauffman Stadium -- could help determine which team has the better chance of closing the gap.
The series opener will fittingly feature a clash between two quality arms, with Cleveland turning to right-hander Corey Kluber and Kansas City going with southpaw Danny Duffy.
Kluber has been a stalwart for an otherwise shaky Tribe rotation this season and leads team starters in wins (10), ERA (2.95) and strikeouts (152). He has been especially potent on the mound of late, winning four of his last five starts while posting a 1.96 ERA over that span.
Kluber's last performance -- 8 2/3 frames of two-run baseball in a win over the Tigers -- was dominant.
"He was terrific," Tribe manager Terry Francona said. "He commanded his fastball -- especially to his glove side, and with all those right-handed hitters up there. Then, he could spin his breaking ball off of that. He was really good. Yeah, that's what you're looking for."
The Indians, who are 4-3 so far on their road trip facing all division opponents, are looking for another strong performance out of Kluber.
For the Royals, they'll aim to continue their recent success against the Tribe, having won three of the pair's last four meetings. They'll also need Duffy to keep providing the team with quality innings.
Duffy has a 5-10 record despite a commendable 2.66 ERA and eight quality starts in 14 tries this season. The issue, of course, has been the Royals averaging an AL-worst 2.66 runs per nine innings when Duffy is on the mound.
"Danny's a team guy and Danny'll never make an excuse about anything. Never," manager Ned Yost said. "He's 100 percent behind his teammates; he just goes out and competes."
In Duffy's last outing, for example, he held the Red Sox to two runs (one earned) over 6 2/3 innings, but wound up on the losing end of a 2-1 game.
Indians: Ramirez recalled, Aviles should still contribute
With shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera still out of the starting lineup with back spasms, the Tribe recalled infielder Jose Ramirez from Triple-A Columbus on Wednesday to shore up its depth at the position. Left-hander T.J. House (1-2, 4.50 ERA) was optioned to the same affiliate in order to clear a spot on the active roster.
Ramirez started at shortstop and batted second during Wednesday's series finale with the Twins, and he went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
But Francona noted that he still expects utilityman Mike Aviles to spend time in the infield, should Cabrera remain sidelined. Aviles started at shortstop on Tuesday.
"It's not that Aviles can't do it, but you hate to go into a game with no backup," Francona said. "That's a little dangerous. We did it for a day, but that's not something you want to live with."
Ramirez, listed as Cleveland's seventh-best prospect by MLB.com, has hit .302 with 22 extra-base hits across 60 games with Columbus this year.
Royals: Hosmer's return short-lived
First baseman Eric Hosmer made his return to the starting lineup on Wednesday afternoon, which was a day sooner than the team expected. The 24-year-old had missed the previous two games after getting hit in the hand by a pitch on Sunday.
"You just don't know," Yost said of the injury. "I don't know how fast they're going to heal. It's still a little sore, but it's playable. It's down to where it's manageable."
At least it was until the eighth inning. That's when Hosmer left the game and Billy Butler pinch-hit for him. Hosmer had a sacrifice fly in the first inning, then grounded out in his subsequent two at-bats. After his third at-bat, Hosmer had difficulty gripping the bat, and the Royals aren't sure if he'll play Thursday.
Hosmer entered play Wednesday riding a 16-game hitting streak, which was the longest active streak in the Majors.
• Injured Tribe outfielder Michael Bourn (hamstring) took part in some light running and hitting with the team earlier this week, and he is pleased with his progress thus far. The 31-year-old has been on the 15-day disabled list since July 6.
• The Royals' Bruce Chen recorded his 82nd win on Tuesday night, which tied him with Mariano Rivera for the most all-time victories by a Panamanian pitcher.
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.