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KC@BOS: Santana fans seven over seven strong frames

The first time Scott Kazmir took the mound this season, he allowed six earned runs before being removed in the fourth inning. But the Indians offense exploded for 19 runs and Cleveland earned the win.

As the Indians prepare to take on the Royals for a matchup between American League Central foes, the standings couldn't be much closer. The fourth-place Indians (8-11) are just three games behind first-place Kansas City (11-8).

Kazmir, who will take the mound for the 8:10 p.m. ET start on Friday, said he was never able to get into a rhythm in his first Major League start since 2011.

"I was a little jittery," said the former first-round Draft pick. "Overall, there's stuff I can take out of this start, what not to do. I never really got into the flow of the game. I was half offspeed, half fastballs. I was just not able to get in sync. You want to attack the hitters. I was not able to pitch my game. I'm a guy who pitches off his fastball. I like to attack the strike zone with my fastball."

The Indians have benefited from the hot-hitting Mark Reynolds, who signed a one-year, $6 million deal in the offseason following a two-year stint with the Orioles in which he hit 60 home runs.

Reynolds, who hit third in the Indians' lineup during a 3-2 loss to the White Sox on Wednesday, is hitting .286 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs. Perhaps more importantly, he's only struck out 17 times in 18 games. He currently holds the MLB record for most strikeouts in a season with 223 in 155 games during the 2009 season.

"I'm glad [his strikeouts are down]," said Indians manager Terry Francona. "He's swinging the bat great. Now, over the course of a year ... the season has a way of having ups and downs. It's kind of fun to watch some guys, sometimes they carry it out.

"Typically, Mark, when he's started out well, those have been his bigger years. The good thing is when he takes a good swing, there's a lot of damage that can be done. That's what you want from your hitters, just repeat good swings, get good pitches to hit and take good swings. If he does that, he's going to do some damage."

Opposing the Indians will be Royals right-hander Ervin Santana, who has looked much more like the pitcher of old and much less like the pitcher of 2012.

Following one of his worst seasons in the Majors, in which he posted a 5.16 ERA and allowed 39 home runs over 178 innings, Santana is 2-1 with a 2.48 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 29 innings. He's walked just five batters.

"When I don't give any walks, it gives me more opportunity to attack the zone and work more comfortably," Santana said.

Indians: Cabrera, Santana could return
After being held out of Wednesday's loss to the White Sox, Carlos Santana (flu-like symptoms) and Asdrubal Cabrera (sore right quad) will used Thursday's off-day to rest in hope that they could each return to the lineup on Friday.

Cabrera tweaked his leg while stealing second base on Monday. Mike Aviles got the nod at shortstop on Wednesday and went 1-for-4.

"He was running the bases and he felt his quad a little bit," Francona said of Cabrera. "We're just going to try to take advantage. It's a miserable day and we [had] the day off [Thursday]. We lean on him pretty hard. So we'll give him a day, let Aviles play short and let [Cabrera] come in Friday feeling really good."

Royals: Moustakas working on his swing
The Royals were hoping 24-year-old Mike Moustakas would continue to build on his 20-home run season from a year ago and become an All-Star third baseman.

But the struggling Moustakas is only 10-for-65 (.158) and has yet to hit a home run.

Manager Ned Yost believes Moustakas' front foot is drifting on his swing, coming forward too quickly, and Moustakas has been taking extra batting practice in effort to fix that.

"You've got to break that habit and get back to staying behind the ball," Yost said. "He did it really, really good in early BP [on Tuesday]. I mean, he was driving the ball into seats, driving the ball into gaps, driving the ball to deep center, just barreling up balls really well. And it may take a few days before he gets the feel of it in a game, but he's definitely on his way to getting there."

Worth noting
• Indians catcher Lou Marson returned from the 15-day disabled list Wednesday and made his first start of the season. He was 0-for-3 out of the eight-hole.

• Indians outfielder Michael Brantley is 7-for-29 out of the leadoff spot, filling in for the injured Michael Bourn.

• After Thursday's 10-inning win against the Tigers, the Royals are 2-0 in extra-inning affairs this season, and have won eight of their last 10 extra-inning games dating back to last season.

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