The suddenly red-hot Cleveland Indians aim to maintain a hold on first place in the American League Central tonight when they head to Minute Maid Park for the first of three interleague games with the Houston Astros.
The Indians enter with a half-game lead over the second-place Chicago White Sox after sweeping three straight interleague games from the Cincinnati Reds on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at Progressive Field.
Cleveland picked up the third victory against their cross-state rivals when Justin Masterson (4-6) allowed one or fewer runs for the third consecutive start and the Indians' offense finally came alive for him in an 8-1 rout.
"It was nice being able to mix and match a four-seamer, sinker in the zone," Masterson said. "I think that was the probably the biggest thing. It had a lot of good movement in the zone."
Masterson, the Indians' Opening Day starter after a breakout 2011 season, had a 5.14 earned run average heading into June. After allowing an unearned run and only three hits in his fourth career complete game, it's down to a more respectable 3.98.
He struck out nine and didn't walk a batter for the third time in his last five starts.
Asdrubal Cabrera and Johnny Damon homered in a five-run fourth, and Lonnie Chisenhall added a three-run double for the Indians.
Dominican-born righty Ubaldo Jimenez gets the call for Cleveland in the Houston opener with a chance to remain unbeaten against the Astros through six career starts.
The 28-year-old is 3-0 with a 2.27 earned run average in the previous five meetings, allowing eight runs on 25 hits with 24 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings.
His most recent win in 2012 came June 5 at Detroit, where he allowed a run on five hits in 6 2/3 innings of a 4-2 victory.
In two subsequent starts, he's given up five runs on 12 hits in 13 innings of a no-decision at St. Louis and a home loss to Pittsburgh.
Jimenez is 3-3 in seven road starts this season.
Starting for the Astros is 27-year-old Lucas Harrell, who can add to a career- best single-season win total in his first full year with Houston.
The Missouri native was a fourth-round pick of the White Sox in 2004 and debuted with them in 2010, winning once in eight appearances with a 4.88 ERA.
He had a 7.20 ERA over five innings in three relief outings with Chicago before being waived and picked up by Houston, where he went on to go 0-2 in six appearances.
Harrell began this season with three losses in his initial five decisions, but has since won four of six, including an 11-9 defeat of the White Sox on June 10, in which he allowed five runs on six hits in 7 1/3 innings.
He dropped an 8-3 decision at Texas in one start since, on June 16.
On Wednesday in Houston, starter Bruce Chen (6-6) allowed only a run in 5 2/3 innings to help the Kansas City Royals win another interleague series with a 2-1 victory over the Astros.
J.D. Martinez was the only player in the game with two hits for the Astros, who struck out 14 times and have lost five of six.
Jordan Lyles (1-4) pitched well enough to win, allowing two runs and three hits in seven innings, but was dealt the hard-luck defeat.
The Astros have won eight of 15 interleague games with Cleveland since 1997, including two of three when they last met in 2001.
The Sports Network