Two second-place teams looking to gather momentum in their pursuit of division titles go head-to-head Friday night when the Cleveland Indians take on the host Oakland Athletics in the opener of a three-game series.
Indians right-hander Eli Morgan (1-3, 8.44 ERA) and A’s righty Chris Bassitt (10-2, 3.28) are the scheduled starters when Cleveland begins its quest to cut into the Chicago White Sox’s eight-game lead in the American League Central and Oakland looks to chop into the Houston Astros’ 3 1/2-game advantage in the AL West.
The clubs haven’t met this season, and they haven’t seen each other since the A’s took five of six from the Indians in May 2019.
They’ll meet in a three-game rematch next month in Cleveland.
Both teams entered the All-Star break on winning streaks — the Indians having swept a three-game home series from the Kansas City Royals while the A’s were taking the last two in their three-game road set against the Texas Rangers.
Morgan hasn’t pitched since July 3, when he was the loser in a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Astros.
The 25-year-old California native has allowed either three or four runs in no more than five innings in each of his past four starts, despite three of them having been at home.
He has never faced the A’s. In fact, he has never started a major league contest west of Chicago in his five-game career.
Morgan draws the start in the second-half opener with Cleveland’s top two pitchers — Shane Bieber (strained right shoulder) and Aaron Civale (sprained right middle finger) — out of action. Zach Plesac, who has made one appearance since returning from a thumb injury, is slated to start the series finale on Sunday as the Indians hope for better health in the second half.
“Franmil (Reyes) just got back, I’m back, Plesac’s back,” catcher Roberto Perez noted. “We just have to continue to fight.”
Neither team made much of an impact at the All-Star Game earlier this week.
With Bieber unable to pitch, third baseman Jose Ramirez was the only Indians player to participate in the game. He got in for two innings at third base and flied out in his only at-bat.
A’s first baseman Matt Olson also came off the bench, replacing the game’s Most Valuable Player, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., at first base in the fifth inning. Olson struck out in both his plate appearances.
Bassitt pitched the sixth inning and allowed one run (unearned), one hit and two walks. He struck out Kris Bryant with runners at second and third to end the inning and preserve a 5-2 lead.
The first-time All-Star was pitching on one day’s rest after having worked seven innings in Oakland’s 4-1 win at Texas on Sunday. The club leader in wins will be pitching in his normal rotation in the second-half opener as he attempts to extend a personal 10-game winning streak.
Bassitt has never beaten Cleveland in his career, going 0-1 with a 4.24 ERA in three starts.
He looks forward to the challenge of leading Oakland’s uphill climb in the second half.
“Overall, I think we underachieved almost the whole first half,” he said. “I thought our hitting was spotty, our pitching at times was spotty. Obviously, our record is pretty good, but I think we can do a whole heck of a lot better.”
–Field Level Media