As they return from a seven-game road trip six games below .500 and riding a four-game losing streak, the Indians of May have perhaps epitomized the hot-and-cold team still struggling to find its identity.
Over the past month, the Indians have been swept by the A's, getting outscored, 30-6, across three games at home. They also notched a three-game sweep of the division-leading Tigers, winning two of those tilts in extra innings. They lost two struggling bats to the disabled list in Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana, 2013 All-Star Jason Kipnis has been out of the lineup since he suffered an oblique injury on April 29, and the team has gone 5-8 on the road, adding to an American League-worst 9-19 record away from its home ballpark.
But perhaps one of the more telling stats for an Indians team that has been under .500 since April 24 is this: entering Wednesday, the Cleveland starting rotation had the fourth-worst ERA in baseball (4.77). Justin Masterson has struggled, Danny Salazar was demoted to Triple-A on May 16 and Zach McAllister went on the DL last week.
By pure contrast, Cleveland's pitcher for Friday night's series opener with the Rockies, Corey Kluber, has been an unbridled beacon of hope among a beleaguered group of starting arms.
At 5-3 with a 3.10 ERA, the right-hander enters the weekend leading the Indians' staff in wins, innings pitched (72 2/3) and quality starts (eight). He also ranks among the league leaders with 83 strikeouts.
Kluber has been downright dominant on the mound in May, allowing just eight runs in 35 2/3 innings, and he's coming off a brilliant performance vs. the Orioles in which he went seven shutout innings.
"I just think he's kind of getting into the season," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "He's obviously very comfortable using all of his pitches, attacking hitters the right way and he's got some confidence going. He's a guy that has great stuff, and when he puts it all together like he's doing right now, he's going to have really good outings. He feels good and he's going good, so it's good for him to be on that wave right now."
Kluber recognizes that many of his teammates are not performing as they had hoped, but he also believes this group of Indians -- as evidenced by their sweep of Detroit -- has the ability to recover from their slow start.
"I know for us in here, there's never been any panic or any worry, because we do know what type of group we have in here. We're resilient, and we kind of have that experience of last year that we can look to," Kluber said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that we're not playing our best right now, but we also haven't played our way out of anything by any means. You throw a couple good weeks together and you can use that as kind of momentum to get on a good roll."
Opposite the home team, right-hander Juan Nicasio (5-2, 3.61 ERA) will take the hill for the Rockies.
Over his past five outings, Nicasio has only allowed seven runs in 30 innings pitched -- despite issuing 12 walks against 13 strikeouts in those games. The key to his success, he said, has been his ability to induce ground-ball outs with his four-seam fastball.
"I'm controlling my fastball and pitching for contact, not trying to strike people out. That helps me go a long time in the game," Nicasio said.
Nicasio says the difference between now and the last two years is experience. He missed much of 2012 with a right knee injury and pitched through knee pain in 2013, but even with the lingering injury he still managed to log 157 2/3 innings last year and learn plenty along the way.
"You take experience and use it," he said. "Last year was a big year for me because I made 31 starts. But now I know a lot of hitters, know a lot of teams. I know the league better. Now I have a plan for every team I face."
Rockies: CarGo nursing calf injury
Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez was limited to a seventh-inning pinch-hit appearance Wednesday night after a right calf contusion forced him to an early exit in the previous game. The former National League batting champion fouled a pitch off his leg in the second inning of Tuesday's game with Philadelphia, and he was eventually removed in the bottom of the fifth after experiencing some muscle tightness.
"Yesterday, I was limping pretty bad, but now I feel good, actually," Gonzalez said before Wednesday's 6-3 loss to the Phillies.
Gonzalez, considered day to day, has dealt with a handful of nagging injuries in 2014, including knee tendinitis and an injury to his left index finger.
"The injuries have been crazy," Gonzalez said. "The tendinitis is from fatigue, from a lot of work and a lot of running, because it's not easy to play in the outfield. It started last year, but I played through it and was the same player, with a pain in my knee. I was stealing bases, I was going after balls and I was hitting the ball hard. Then with the fingers, and the foul ball, there's nothing I can do about it."
Gonalez is hitting .262 with seven homers and 29 RBIs this season.
Indians: Chisenhall seeing time at first
With first baseman Swisher nursing a hyperextended knee on the disabled list, Lonnie Chisenhall could begin filling the injured veteran's vacated spot on the diamond.
Chisenhall, batting .358 with a .416 on-base percentage, has spent much of the season splitting time between third base and designated hitter. However, Indians manager Terry Francona had Chisenhall pinch-hit for first baseman Jesus Aguilar in the fourth inning of Tuesday night's game with the White Sox, and he hinted that he could continue playing there.
"I had no qualms about playing him at first," Francona said. "Again, I think that's that little bit transformation of Lonnie, that he welcomes whatever."
Chisenhall said he feels confident he can handle the first-base job but understands that he'll have to get acquainted with some of the nuances of the position. That especially applies to fielding bunts and weakly-hit balls down the first-base line.
"I know there's going to be some instances where I'm going to have to make a decision on the fly or learn after that fact," Chisenhall said. "It's just a matter of getting those reps over there and let things happen."
• The Tribe activated Kipnis from the disabled list ahead of Wednesday night's series finale with the White Sox. Kipnis batted cleanup and went 0-for-4 with a strikeout in his first game back. Infielder Justin Sellers was sent back down to Triple-A Columbus to make room for Kipnis.
• It's no secret the Rockies have hit remarkably well at Coors Field -- most teams usually do. Through 24 home games, they are batting a collective .344 and have scored 162 runs, with both marks leading the Majors entering Wednesday. In 29 away games, however, Colorado owns a far more pedestrian .242 batting average, and the team has been shut out twice during its current road trip.
• The Tribe is 8-10 all time against the Rockies, but 6-3 at Progressive Field. This series will mark Colorado's first trip to Cleveland since 2011.
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.