With both the Reds and Indians looking to fight their way back into their league's respective playoff pictures, the four-game Ohio Cup series will open on Monday with a marquee pitching matchup as Alfredo Simon will duel Corey Kluber.
Simon, like the rest of his team, has somewhat struggled since his appearance in the All-Star Game. He's 0-3 in three starts, but he showed huge improvement in his last outing against Arizona, when he went seven innings and allowed two earned runs.
"When I go out there, I just try to do my job," Simon said after that start. "I just try to throw a quality game and I know [our hitters] are struggling right now and we aren't scoring a lot of runs right now, but I don't focus on the hitting, I just focus on throwing my seven innings, doing my job."
Kluber has been more convincing since the All-Star break, continuing his strong season by hurling a total of 26 2/3 innings and allowing two earned runs in the process. He was brilliant in his last start, throwing his first shutout and needing only 85 pitches (69 strikes) to do it.
"It's almost just as good as a perfect game or no-hitter," Indians catcher Yan Gomes said of Kluber's precise performance. "I was actually getting kind of nervous in the ninth. I'm like, 'This is good -- can't mess this up.'"
After the team dealt Justin Masterson to St. Louis, the start was a sign that Kluber is ready to step in as the leader of the Tribe's pitching staff.
"I think he really stepped up today," said pitching coach Mickey Callaway. "We're looking for him to be a leader, especially now that Masty's gone. There's a big void to fill there because Masty did such a good job of that. I think Kluber's that guy, and a little part of me thinks that he went out there and pitched like that because he knows that he's going to step up and do what he can do to lead this staff."
Reds: Diaz earning more responsibility in Reds bullpen
The way Reds reliever Jumbo Diaz has pitched since his first callup following 12 seasons of Minor League baseball, it's easy to wonder why the 30-year-old wasn't promoted sooner.
Following a rocky debut vs. Toronto on June 20, Diaz has a 1.23 ERA with two earned runs allowed over 14 2/3 innings pitched. On Saturday vs. the Marlins, the right-hander worked 1 2/3 scoreless innings before Cincinnati lost 2-1 in 10 innings.
As he's pitched well, Diaz has gotten to work in more and more high-profile situations. He was used Saturday to finish the eighth inning and work the ninth as Jonathan Broxton was unavailable. Manager Bryan Price isn't afraid to use him to set up, or even to close should Aroldis Chapman or Broxton not be available.
"The other part of it that has been impressive has been his demeanor," Price said. "Maybe that's just the maturity of a 30-year-old man with a lot of life experience in this game. He's embraced this opportunity, he's early to the ballpark. He's not cavalier about it. He's been very, very focused on maintaining his in-season shape and fitness. We haven't been as consistent out of our bullpen in 2014 as we were in '12 and '13, so he's given us a real boost."
Indians: Gomes expected back in lineup Monday
Yan Gomes was out of the Indians' starting lineup for the second day in a row due to neck stiffness on Sunday, giving first-year man Roberto Perez the starting nod at catcher in his place. Cleveland manager Terry Francona revealed that Gomes began experiencing discomfort on Friday, when he was removed in the sixth inning of the Tribe's blowout 12-2 win over the Rangers.
"It got worse as the night went on, but we got him out of there because we had the lead," Francona said before Sunday's tilt with Texas.
Gomes, hitting .281 with 14 home runs on the year, has played in 95 of the Tribe's first 110 games. Though the neck injury appears minor, the Indians are opting to remain cautious given the Brazilian backstop's heavy workload this season. The club believes he could be back in action by Monday after he pinch-hit in the ninth inning on Sunday.
• This will be Kluber's first career start against the Reds, but he's 3-1 in his career in Interleague Play with a 2.00 ERA.
• After losing their first four series after the All-Star break, the Reds' win over Miami on Sunday earned them their first series win in the second half.