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Guardians look to climb closer to division title

Not looking ahead is a message the Cleveland Guardians are giving as they open a weekend series against the Texas Rangers on Friday in Arlington, Texas.

Though the Guardians are in superb shape to win the American League Central, manager Terry Francona is taking it day-by-day.

“I don’t even come close to thinking like that,” Francona said in a pregame radio interview when asked about being close to clinching. “I think our guys (just) play.”

Cleveland (83-67) can move closer toward locking up the division with a successful series against Texas (65-84).

After sweeping a three-game road series against the Chicago White Sox, the Guardians are seven games up in the Central with 12 to play.

Having a cushion in the standings, Francona is mindful of resting some key players against the Rangers.

“We’ll try to elevate some of that, who needs rest, by coming to the ballpark later,” Francona said.

Already, Francona is leaning toward giving left-handed-hitting Josh Naylor Sunday off because the Rangers are scheduled to start lefty Cole Ragan. With a scheduled off day on Monday, that would give Naylor two straight days off. The same is being considered for infielder Andres Gimenez.

“We’re thinking about things, but we have to play still,” Francona said.

Guardians right-hander Cody Morris (0-2, 2.30 ERA) and Rangers right-hander Jon Gray (7-7, 3.80) are the scheduled starters for the Friday series opener.

The Rangers enter the set having won two of three against the visiting Los Angeles Angels. Corey Seager belted a two-run homer in the eighth inning on Thursday, lifting Texas to a 5-3 win.

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Morris, 25, is a September call-up making his fifth big league start. It will be his first appearance against the Rangers.

A seventh-round pick by Cleveland in 2018, Morris was impressive in his latest start. Although he was charged with the loss on Sunday against the Minnesota Twins, he gave up just one run on six hits and one walk with six strikeouts in six innings.

Morris missed time earlier in the season due to a right shoulder strain.

Gray has faced the Guardians once in his career, earlier this year. On June 7 at Cleveland, the 30-year-old gave up five runs in five innings in a loss.

The Rangers have been building up Gray slowly since he was reinstated from the injured list on Sept. 12 after missing about six weeks with a left oblique strain.

In two September starts, Gray is 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA, having given up a total of three runs in eight innings during road games against the Miami Marlins (Sept. 12) and the Tampa Bay Rays (Saturday).

As the Rangers prepare for the remainder of their schedule, they added some catching depth, signing veteran Kevin Plawecki on Wednesday.

Interim manager Tony Beasley said Plawecki isn’t expected to get too much playing time, but he does provide flexibility if Jonah Heim and Sam Huff are used.

Heim, 27, has appeared in 118 games after playing in 82 a year ago. Huff, 24, has played in 37 games. Both are threats at the plate.

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“He frees us up to do some things with Huff and Heim, as far as giving Heim more rest at this point,” Beasley said during his pregame radio show. “We can get both bats in the lineup, if we need to as well. So it gives us flexibility in our lineup as far as giving Heim days off behind the plate.”


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