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BAL@TEX: Saunders holds O's to two runs over six-plus

Justin Masterson fought through command woes for the better part of four outings leading up to this most recent start for the Indians. Then, his control issues were there again in the first three innings against the Red Sox on Monday.

 

Masterson quickly righted himself to an extreme extent.

"He just couldn't command," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Then, he got into a rhythm where I'm not sure I've ever seen him like that."

In the fourth inning on Monday, Masterson needed only nine pitches to strike out three Boston batters, becoming the first known pitcher in Indians history to complete an immaculate inning. Between the end of the second inning and into the sixth, the big sinkerballer rattled off 25 consecutive strikes for Cleveland.

No Major League pitcher had thrown that many strikes in a row since 2012, when Scott Diamond and Bartolo Colon each accomplished the feat.

"When he got 25 strikes in a row, it almost got into my head," Indians catcher Yan Gomes said. "It was like, 'Maybe if I call this pitch right here, I know he'll put it where I want it, but it'll be a ball. I don't want to call it.'"

Masterson will look to pick up where he left off -- seven shutout innings that included 10 strikeouts and three hits scattered en route to a win over the Red Sox -- when he takes the hill against the Rangers on Sunday. Prior to his strong showing against Boston, Masterson had gone 0-3 with an 8.84 ERA in his previous four turns for the Tribe.

"Sometimes, there's not an explanation," Francona said of Masterson's turnaround. "Sometimes confidence plays a part in it. Because I saw, there were some times during that game [against Boston], in his delivery, he was nursing it up there. He wanted to throw a strike. He didn't know where it was going, but he knew he needed to throw a strike. I think he was hoping the movement would get him out of it, which it did, and then he got confident."

Cleveland's rotation leader will square off against Texas left-hander Joe Saunders, who will be making his third start since coming off the disabled list due to an ankle injury.

On Tuesday, Saunders picked up a no-decision against the Orioles after allowing two runs on 10 hits with two strikeouts and one walk. The left-hander logged 101 pitches, including 57 strikes, in his second start back for the Rangers.

"I still think there's plenty of room for improvement," Saunders said. "I think there's some things to iron out here and there. But, it's coming along."

Indians: Handling Axford
Francona handed deposed closer John Axford a higher-leverage situation on Friday, using the righty in the eighth inning with one out, two runners on base and Cleveland trailing by one run. The manager said he is trying to give Axford higher-pressure situations with the eventual goal of returning him to the closer's job.

"We want him to impact our bullpen, for sure," Francona said. "That would be the goal. But, again, when we do it, we want to make sure he stays there. The way we're situated now, if he does come in and walk somebody, you can match up and we have a lot of guys to do it. So, it's been working pretty well."

Rangers: Soto improving
Rangers catcher Geovany Soto has targeted July 18 -- Texas' first game after the All-Star break -- for potentially returning to the lineup. Soto went on the disabled list for a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee in March and underwent surgery to correct the problem. He's now doing all of his usual exercises with the exception of hitting and deep squatting.

"I think the procedure was fairly easy," Soto said. "It wasn't really a complex procedure, but it still needs some time to heal. It's just biology. It needs time to heal."

Worth noting
• Two Texas hitters with good success against Masterson in limited sample sizes include former Cleveland outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (.600 average in fve at-bats) and shortstop Elvis Andrus (.462 average in 13 at-bats). Tribe center fielder Michael Bourn has hit .417 in 12 career at-bats against Saunders. Gomes is 5-for-9 (.625) in his career against the lefty.

• Rangers closer Joakim Soria picked up a save against the Indians on Friday, giving him 13 saves this season in 14 chances, including one in each of his past five appearances. In those 14 save opportunities, opposing batters have posted a .085 (4-for-47) average with 16 strikeouts.

• Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall is currently below the minimum requirements to qualify for the batting race. Chisenhall's .361 batting average did, however, lead all Major League batters with at least 150 plate appearances, entering Saturday's action.

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