Sabathia has a chance to become the majors’ first 12-game winner on Saturday night when he looks to maintain his dominance over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays when the teams continue their four-game series at Jacobs Field.
Sabathia (11-2, 3.24 ERA) had 12 wins all of last season, but is tied for the major league lead in victories with Boston’s Josh Beckett, who also pitches on Saturday.
The first-place Indians (47-32) have a one-half game lead over Detroit in the AL Central, and are 14-3 in Sabathia’s starts this year.
Sabathia is 6-1 with a 2.62 ERA in his last nine outings, and on Monday, the left-hander gave up nine hits while striking out eight and walking none of a 5-2 win over Oakland for his second complete game of the season.
“He’s become a true No. 1 pitcher,” Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said, “and one of the best in the game.”
Sabathia, who is a virtually a lock to make his third All-Star team, has been at his best at Jacobs Field, leading the majors in home wins. The staff ace is 8-1 with a 3.05 ERA in 11 home starts this season, with Cleveland winning 10 of those games.
The Indians are a major league-best 28-12 at home this season.
Sabathia has been even more impressive at Jacobs Field against the Devil Rays (33-45), entering with a 27-inning scoreless streak at home against them. He’s won all four home starts against Tampa Bay with a 0.58 ERA in those games and 33 strikeouts in 31 innings.
In his only start against Tampa Bay this season, Sabathia allowed three runs, seven hits and struck out eight in seven innings of a 4-3 victory at Tropicana Field on April 20, but did not factor in the decision. He hasn’t loss to the Devil Rays since 2004, and is 6-1 with a 2.45 ERA in nine career games against them.
Cleveland won Friday’s series opener 2-1 behind Ben Francisco’s first career home run leading off the bottom of the ninth inning in his first career start.
“It was an awesome day,” said Francisco, who also got his first major league hit in the fourth. “I was just trying to get on base and I ended up doing something special.”
The Indians have won two straight and four of five, but have not won three in a row since May 30-June 1.
The Devil Rays have lost five straight and 12 of 16, and have scored just 10 runs during their skid.
“We’ve got to get our offense started again,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said.
Carlos Pena has 11 homers in 29 career games at Jacobs Field, but struck out in all four at-bats on Saturday. Pena, who has a team-high 17 home runs, has a season-high seven-game homerless drought, and is just 3-for-18 (.167) with eight strikeouts lifetime against Sabathia.
Tampa Bay’s J.P. Howell (1-1, 4.45) looks for his first win in nearly a month when he takes the hill Saturday.
Howell gave up one run in eight innings to win his season debut on June 3, but has yielded 15 runs in 22 1-3 innings over four starts since. The left-hander allowed three runs and eight hits while throwing a career-high 111 pitches in just five innings of a 5-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Monday, but did not factor in the decision.
Howell is 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in two career starts against the Indians.