As much as has been made of the absences in the Indians' offense lately, Cleveland hasn't been getting much help from its pitching staff, either. With last-place Kansas City in the opposite dugout, it's growing close to do-or-die time for the Tribe, as far as the American League Central race is concerned.
Having started Wednesday's 9-2 loss to the last-place Mariners without their six most accomplished hitters -- Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore (catcher Carlos Santana also exited in the ninth inning after being hit by a foul ball) -- the Indians have now lost six of their past seven. Over that stretch, the starting rotation has an ERA of 9.61 (37 earned runs in 34 2/3 innings) and an 0-5 record.
Thome will be a welcome site for Friday's starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who's still trying to have an impact on the Indians playoff chase.
It'll be the first time most Royals have seen Jimenez, with only three current players having faced the former Rockies starter. Jeff Francoeur, who's squared off against Jimenez most often, is only 2-for-16, yet both hits are solo home runs.
"It'll be interesting to see how he's throwing and what he's featuring," Francoeur said. "I don't think he's been exactly what he was two or three years ago.
"He was nasty the last time I saw him. He was throwing 98 [mph] or 99 [mph] with a good slider."
That wasn't the case in Jimenez' most recent start, when the right-hander imploded for eight runs and nine hits in 3 1/3 innings against the Tigers.
"The first two innings, I felt really good," Jimenez said afterward. "In the third inning, they did a really good job. They came hacking. They were looking for the perfect pitch to hit, and they hit it."
Jimenez will be up against former Rockies teammate Felipe Paulino, who was dealt to Kansas City on May 26.
"We were teammates for about a month and a half in Colorado and I saw him pitch over there. He's a pretty good pitcher and hopefully this will be a good fight," said Paulino.
The right-hander, who earned his second win of the season Saturday against the Red Sox, scattered four runs and eight hits over six innings in a 9-4 victory. He walked three and struck out three, and was the beneficiary of a big Royals sixth inning to get his first win since July 5.
"Right now, I have a problem with my command a little bit -- well, not really my command, [but] I'm making too many pitches," Paulino said following the win. "I [have to] try to figure it out right now. [Throwing] 100 pitches in six innings, that's too many for me. But I'm trying to figure it out and will try to make less pitches per inning and find a way to go longer in the game."
Paulino has four strikeouts in six career innings of shutout ball against the Indians.
Royals: Double trouble
For the first time since 2003, the Royals have four players -- Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera -- with at least 30 doubles.
Gordon was out of Thursday's lineup against the Blue Jays after getting hit in the right elbow by the first pitch of Wednesday night's game. While he managed to play the rest of the Royals' 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays, Gordon's elbow became more painful and swollen overnight.
Mike Moustakas had hit safely in eight consecutive games, going 14-for-29 (.482) with four doubles over that span.
Indians: Thome back with Tribe
Thome, who returned to the Indians Thursday, spent the first 12 seasons of his Major League career from 1991-2002 with the team. The Peoria, Ill., native is the franchise leader in home runs (334) and walks (997) and ranks second all-time in club history in career RBIs (927), fifth in runs scored (917), fourth in total bases (2633), third in on-base percentage (.414) and extra base hits (613).
"Jim Thome is a Hall of Fame-caliber player and person," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said in a press release. "He has meant so much to this organization -- both on and off the field -- and it is an honor to bring him back to finish out the season in an Indians uniform where he created so many great memories."
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Indians have hit three walk-off home runs when trailing this year. Before this season, Cleveland hadn't had such a blast since May 20, 2003.
The Tribe has six total walk-off homers this year, the most since 1996, when it also totaled six. Tuesday's walk-off victory in Game 1 of the team's doubleheader against the Mariners was Cleveland's 10th walk-off win of the year and its 15th win in its last at-bat at Progressive Field.
Kansas City is in the midst of a 10-game road trip and a stretch that includes 17 of 20 games away from home.
Besides Francoeur, Melky Cabrera is a career 0-for-2 against Jimenez and Alcides Escobar is 0-for-6.