A wily strikeout artist and a rising young arm will clash during Friday night's series opener between the Rangers and the streaking Indians.
Yu Darvish -- he of a 5-2 record and sterling 2.08 ERA -- will take the hill for Texas. In just his third season in the Majors, Darvish has proven to be a menace to opposing hitters, fanning at least six batters in all but one of his starts and hitting a double-digit strikeout total three times this season.
Through 10 starts, Darvish has the lowest season ERA of his career while holding hitters to a .210 average. But the numbers perhaps come as surprise to the right-hander after he dealt with hip discomfort throughout the offseason and had to alter his training routine as a result.
"If you just look at the numbers, it looks better than last year," Darvish said on Wednesday. "But I really couldn't prepare myself as I wanted during the offseason, so I'm not sure if I could say 'Yes' to your question."
Darvish went eight shutout innings in his last start, striking out 12 Nationals batters while allowing just five hits.
For the Indians, Trevor Bauer will be making his fourth start since taking Danny Salazar's spot in the rotation on May 20. The 23-year-old right-hander recorded his third quality start of the season last time out, holding the Rockies to two runs over six innings.
The outing came on the heels of Bauer's worst game of the season -- a four-run affair in Baltimore that lasted 4 1/3 frames and saw him allow two home runs -- but he says he was able to to refocus himself in the following days.
"My start against the Orioles was my worst command of the whole year," Bauer said. "Kind of struggled through that one, did the best I could with what I had out there. Worked on my command between the Orioles and the Rockies. I worked on a lot in between those two starts."
Much of Bauer's success this season has stemmed from extensive offseason work that focused on refining his pitching mechanics so that he can maximize his velocity. Bauer has averaged over 96 mph on his four-seam fastball this season, as opposed to 93 mph in the previous two seasons, according to Brooks Baseball.
"You can definitely see the difference in Trevor just from Spring Training," reliever Cody Allen said. "Because he's got unbelievable stuff as well. Attacking the strike zone, making more quality pitches, using his fastball better. He's a really smart guy, too. So the more and more he pitches, gets comfortable, sees pitchers, he's going to get better and better."
The Indians enter Friday coming off consecutive home sweeps over the Red Sox and Rockies, and are riding a six-game overall winning streak after winning on a 12th-inning walk-off homer by Asdrubal Cabrera on Wednesday night. The Tribe's starting rotation has led the way during that stretch, turning in a collective 2.84 ERA while striking out 46 and walking 11.
"If we're going to win, it's going to start with the starting pitching that night," Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Since May 1, the Indians are 19-13 and have swept three different teams.
Indians: Bourn to run
As Michael Bourn grows healthier, the Tribe's lineup grows more dangerous.
On Sunday, Bourn electrified Progressive Field by delivering the decisive blow -- a walk-off two-run blast in the ninth -- that completed the Tribe's sweep of the Rockies. The center fielder followed that up with two-hit performances in wins over the Red Sox on Monday and Tuesday.
For Bourn, the recent success has had much to do with feeling more assertive on the basepaths as he further distances himself from offseason hamstring surgery.
"Just taking an opportunity when it's there," he said. "That's the main thing, not try to miss out on too many opportunities. If an opportunity exists there you got to try to be aggressive."
After missing almost half of April with a hamstring injury, Bourn hit .303 with a .346 on-base percentage in May.
"That's part of my role," Bourn said. "It's just what comes with the territory. Try my best to get on any way I can. I'm going to hit the ball, take my walk, whatever it is, get on base and take it from there."
Rangers: Scheppers activated; Poreda optioned back to Triple-A
Tanner Scheppers, the Rangers' Opening Day starter, was activated from the disabled list Thursday and returned to the team as a reliever.
He was used right away, as he pitched the eighth inning in a series finale win against the Orioles. Scheppers wasn't welcomed back kindly, giving up a solo homer to Adam Jones, the first batter he faced. Scheppers also walked a batter in his inning, but the Jones homer was the only run to cross the plate.
Before Thursday, Scheppers had not pitched in the Majors since April 17, sidelined with inflammation in his right elbow. The right-hander made five rehab appearances since May 24 (three with Triple-A Round Rock, two with Double-A Frisco) and allowed five earned runs on nine hits in a combined 5 2/3 innings.
Scheppers, 27, got off to a rough start when he allowed seven earned runs to the Phillies in four innings during the Rangers' first game of the season. It didn't get too much better for him, either, as he compiled a 9.82 ERA and 1.909 WHIP in four starts before heading to the DL.
The Rangers optioned left-handed reliever Aaron Poreda to Triple-A in order to make room for Scheppers. In 16 games for the Rangers this season, Poreda is 2-0 with a 3.29 ERA.
• With Wednesday night's win over the Red Sox, the Tribe is back at the .500 mark for the first time since April 24, when the club was 11-11. The Indians were 30-30 through their first 60 games last season.
• Friday's game will mark the first time Indians outfielder David Murphy faces his former team. Murphy hit .275 with 85 home runs and 362 RBIs across seven seasons with the Rangers.
• The banged-up Rangers lead the Majors in using the disabled list this season (18 times) and also have the most current players on the DL with 12.
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.