The Cleveland Indians turn to rookie Aaron Laffey on Sunday as they try to sweep a three-game series from the Kansas City Royals and move closer to clinching their first AL Central title in six years.
Laffey (3-1, 5.29 ERA) will make only his seventh major league start. The 22-year-old left-hander was called up on Aug. 25, becoming the youngest starting pitcher to debut for Cleveland (87-61) since 20-year-old C.C. Sabathia made his first appearance in April 2001—the year the Indians last won a division title.
Laffey said he’s thankful for the opportunity.
“It’s awesome,” he told the Indians’ official Web site, “because not only do I get to make my debut, but I get to make my debut with a team in the playoff race. Some guys don’t get to be a part of that at all during their entire careers.
“It’s nice to be in a positive environment, knowing you can win every day and playing with a purpose.”
The rookie has pitched well since his recall from Triple-A Buffalo. He allowed two runs - one earned - and six hits in five innings of a 6-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels last Sunday as Cleveland improved to 5-1 in his starts.
One of those wins came on Aug. 25 over the Royals (63-84). Laffey got 14 groundballs over six innings, and allowed two runs and eight hits in the 9-4 triumph.
Laffey will have to follow up an outstanding outing by Fausto Carmona in Cleveland’s 6-0 victory on Saturday night. Carmona allowed three hits over eight innings, while Travis Hafner homered and Casey Blake drove in two runs.
Blake homered in the ninth Friday to give the Indians a 5-4 win. His two-run single in the eighth Saturday capped a four-run inning for Cleveland, which has won 17 of its last 21 games.
The Indians remained 5 1/2 games in front of second-place Detroit in the AL Central after the Tigers won 4-3 over the Twins later on Saturday. Cleveland, which has a magic number of nine to clinch the division, starts a three-game series against the Tigers on Monday at Jacobs Field.
Saturday’s loss was Kansas City’s ninth in 10 games. The Royals advanced only one runner to third base and they stranded nine runners in scoring position.
Kansas City will try to avoid being swept by sending rookie Billy Buckner (0-1, 5.29) to the mound for his third major league start and fifth appearance overall. Buckner had his longest outing of the season - 5 1-3 innings - in a 4-2 loss to the Twins on Monday. The right-hander allowed three runs, three hits and struck out four, but he also walked five.
“I need to cut back on the walks,” Buckner said. “I had two strikes on a lot of their guys and couldn’t put them away. I’ve got to throw more than 5 1-3 innings.”
Buckner made his major league debut against Laffey and the Indians on Aug. 25. He allowed one run and seven hits in five innings of relief.