CLEVELAND -- Once thought to be an Achilles' heel, the Indians' starting rotation has perhaps been the club's most well-functioning component over the last few weeks.
In the 16 games before Monday, Cleveland's starters went 8-2 with a 1.79 ERA, while holding opposing hitters to a .181 batting average. As a whole, the staff has not conceded a run in 21 straight innings, the longest such streak since the 2008 team strung together 22 consecutive scoreless frames.
"They've given us a chance to win every night," manager Terry Francona said. "Even the nights when we kind of kick the ball around, or we didn't hit, we had a chance to win every game, because of our pitching. That's a good way to play."
The Indians are 10-6 during their past 16 games, during which the staff has combined for a Major-League leading 2.08 ERA and allowed just four homers. Cleveland lost five of those games by one run, with the other defeat being decided by two runs. The Tribe averaged just over seven hits and one error per game in its most recent six defeats.
But, as Francona said, that's hardly been the fault of his club's pitchers, particularly the starters. The ace, All-Star Justin Masterson, is 2-0 with a 1.27 ERA during his past three turns. In his last seven starts, Scott Kazmir is 3-0 with a 1.60 ERA. Corey Kluber has a 1-0 record and 2.67 ERA over his past five outings, while Ubaldo Jimenez has gone 2-1 with a 2.83 ERA across his last five appearances.
Monday's starter, Zach McAllister, had one start under his belt since returning from the disabled list, where he spent about seven weeks with a right middle finger sprain. Last Tuesday, he allowed eight hits and four runs (three earned) over five innings in a loss at Seattle.
"I like this group. I think they respect each other a lot, which is good," said Francona, who sees his starters often spending time together. "You can tell they care about each other."
Francona aims to find balance with Reynolds
CLEVELAND -- Indians slugger Mark Reynolds watched from the bench as his teammates swept the Texas Rangers over the weekend.
An ineffective bat of late has resulted in less playing time for Reynolds, who was penciled into the No. 7 slot as the designated hitter on Monday, when the Tribe opened a four-game series with the White Sox. Before Monday, Reynolds had been held out for three straight games and seven of the past 11 contests.
"Everybody wants to play. My play lately has gotten me to the bench," Reynolds said. "I'm doing the best I can, hitting in the cage, hitting extra every day, just trying to keep comfortable with my setup and stay with my approach, not try and do too much when I do get in there."
In 41 games since June 2, Reynolds entered Monday hitting .159/.266/.203 with two home runs and six RBIs. That lack of production is the polar opposite of Reynolds' output during April, when he batted .301/.368/.651 with five doubles, eight homers and 19 RBIs. Reynolds began to cool off in May -- when he hit five home runs -- but he's been beyond frigid during the last two months.
Reynolds' slump has presented a tricky problem for manager Terry Francona, who knows how serious of a threat Reynolds can be at the plate and that further playing time is necessary for Reynolds to turn things around. At the same time, the Tribe has plenty of other capable hitters on its roster, and winning baseball games remains the primary goal.
So, what's Francona's plan for handling Reynolds?
"Quite honestly, I don't know," the skipper said. "I think we all feel like he's got that streak in him, and when he does, he's so dangerous. He can actually carry a team. Finding that, I know, probably takes getting some rhythm on his part.
"I told him this the other day. I was like, 'I'll do my best.' It's like you try to strike a balance between knowing that you have a guy that has a dangerous bat, hasn't been swinging it, you have other guys that have, so you kind of walk that fine line. I'm going to do the best I can."
Three of Chicago's scheduled starters in this series are left-handers. Francona said he's going to take advantage of that, with regards to the right-handed-hitting Reynolds, though his batting average against southpaws is just five points higher than it is against righties.
Meanwhile, Reynolds is simply happy to go out and play. After signing a one-year deal with the Indians in the offseason, he has dealt with more adversity than he'd probably like during his first season in Cleveland.
"In the past, when I struggle, they still threw me out there every day because they know I'm eventually going to get myself out of it," Reynolds said. "Hopefully, that guy that was in April and May can come back and help us down the stretch."
Tribe not influenced by Tigers' Deadline move
CLEVELAND -- As the last-place Chicago White Sox rolled into town, American League Central-leader Detroit made a trade on Monday to bolster its most glaring weakness.
At the moment, however, the Indians are more concerned about playing the White Sox than watching the Tigers, but Detroit's acquisition of right-handed reliever Jose Veras certainly did not go unnoticed in Cleveland. With the non-waiver Trade Deadline on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, manager Terry Francona was asked whether the Veras trade puts pressure on the Tribe to make a move.
"I don't think that has any bearing on what we're doing or how we'll do it," Francona said.
After managing in Boston from 2004-11, Francona got a firsthand look at divisional arms races, as the Red Sox and Yankees continually tried to one-up each other, on the field and in avenues of player acquisition.
"I think sometimes you can react to something," Francona said. "Sometimes, you're trying to keep up with the Joneses."
In this case, the Joneses and Tigers are one and the same. Like Detroit -- which entered Monday with a three-game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central -- the Indians would do well to upgrade their bullpen, and general manager Chris Antonetti has acknowledged that. Specifically, Antonetti touched on the difficulty his relievers have had in retiring left-handed hitters.
The Indians' lefty relievers had combined for a 6.54 ERA and 1.48 WHIP entering Monday.
"I just think that Chris has a real good grasp of who we are and where we're going, and how we're trying to get there," Francona said. "I don't think he'll ever lose sight of that, and I mean that in a good way."
Quote to note
"It can be. It's funny, because Carlos Santana asked me something yesterday. It wasn't about him or anything. He's asking about the Deadline, and I thought yesterday was the 25th. So, that's how much I've been in tuned to it. Obviously, it's not that much of a distraction."
-- Indians manager Terry Francona, when asked whether Wednesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline is a distraction for teams.
• With two straight shutout victories entering Monday's series opener, the Indians have 14 shutouts this season, the highest mark in the Majors. That total is Cleveland's best since 1976, when the Tribe blanked its opponents 17 times. Eleven of the Indians' shutouts this season have come at Progressive Field, setting a new record for the ballpark. Since 1916, the only Indians team to tally more shutouts at home was the championship club of 1948, which had 14 home shutouts.
• Pitching for Triple-A Columbus, No. 6 prospect Danny Salazar struck out 11 in just five innings on Sunday. Salazar was one strikeout shy of matching his professional high of 12, which he accomplished on May 2 with Double-A Akron.
• Mike Aviles' eighth-inning blast in Sunday's win gave the Tribe a season-high eight straight games with at least one homer.
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.