The Orioles came to Progressive Field red hot, having won 16 of their previous 22 games before Friday's series opener with the Indians. But in keeping with their trend of struggling against American League Central teams this season, they dropped the first two games of their three-game set against the Tribe, snapping an eight-series win streak and falling to 9-16 against AL Central opponents in 2014.
Baltimore has a comfortable 6 1/2-game lead in the AL East, but the team is focused on halting its losing skid at two by winning the series finale on Sunday. The two-game losing streak is the Orioles' first since June 28-29. They'll turn to right-hander Kevin Gausman to get them back in the win column.
Gausman has been markedly better on the road this season than he has at home. In five starts away from Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the 23-year-old is 2-1 with a 3.21 ERA. In seven home starts, he's 4-3 with a 4.38 ERA.
Gausman took the loss in his last start, allowing three runs on eight hits over five innings against the Cardinals last Sunday. He said free passes at inopportune times have been his Achilles heel as of late.
"My last three starts have all kind of been a grind," Gausman said. "I've kind of been battling myself a little bit at times. I think part of it is I've been walking some guys in some bad situations."
The Indians, meanwhile, are trying to stay in the playoff hunt. They enter Sunday's series finale five games behind the Royals in the AL Central and 4 1/2 games behind the Tigers in the chase for the second AL Wild Card spot.
Cleveland will send hard-throwing right-hander Danny Salazar to the mound, hoping he'll continue what has been a sensational run of starting pitching for the Tribe as of late. Over the past six games, Indians starters have posted a 0.69 ERA (three earned runs in 39 innings pitched).
The 24-year-old Salazar has had multiple stints between the Indians and Triple-A Columbus this season. His most recent big league start came on Aug. 6 against the Reds in Cincinnati, in which he allowed five runs on five hits over four innings. After being optioned to Columbus, he pitched well on Tuesday against Lehigh Valley, tossing seven innings and allowing a run on five hits, walking none and fanning nine.
Indians manager Terry Francona is seeing improvement in the young hurler.
"There's so much to like about him, and he competes," Francona said. "He's at the point in the season now where he has that arm strength, so I think his confidence is probably pretty high."
Orioles: Davis will keep getting chances amid struggles
Chris Davis went 0-for-3 in Saturday's 6-0 loss, and he is batting .191 on the season with a league-leading 146 strikeouts.
Manager Buck Showalter has tried to move him around in the lineup recently, slotting him into the second spot in the batting order for a couple of games before penciling him back into the fifth spot on Saturday.
"Believe me, he thinks every day is the start of something special. I wouldn't sell him short. It's there," Showalter said of Davis, who hit a Major League-leading 53 homers with 138 RBIs last year. "Sometimes it's late. He has a couple of games where it looks like he is really going to get going and spoil us with the level he is capable of, and then it kind of goes away for a little while.
"He knows what's at stake. He knows there's always going to reach a point with everybody where it's, 'How far do you go?' But with Chris, because he defends, because he plays with great effort and he gets some walks now and then, you think about all the big hits he has had for us. So it doesn't send a good message to throw him under the truck."
Indians: Where to put Walters?
Youngster Zach Walters has split his time as a left fielder and designated hitter since joining Cleveland on Aug. 9, but he is most experienced as a middle infielder. Over the past few days, Walters has resumed fielding grounders at shortstop during pregame workouts, but Francona is not ready to give the versatile player time at short in games.
"I don't know quite where he'll play," Francona said. "He sort of fits in the outfield right now, just because of the way we're situated. I think he's a smart enough kid to know that the more positions he can play, the better it is for him. But I don't want to just run him out there at short. I don't know if that's fair to him."
Walters was acquired in the July 31 trade that sent Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals.
• The Orioles are 46-10 when scoring first this season.
• In their last two games, the O's are batting .155 (11-for-71).
• In its last four games against Baltimore, the Indians' pitching staff has a 1.22 ERA (five earned runs in 37 innings).
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.