The big left-hander will try to continue a string of 34 consecutive scoreless innings by Indians starting pitchers - a run Sabathia started - as Cleveland (20-19) looks to make it two wins in a row over the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday.
Sabathia certainly didn’t struggle in his last start, beating Toronto 6-1 on Friday after allowing one run and six hits with nine strikeouts in seven innings. He didn’t give up a run in his final two innings of that start - a two-inning stretch that began the stunning streak of dominance by Cleveland pitchers.
Aaron Laffey defeated the Blue Jays with seven strong innings Saturday, and Paul Byrd followed Carmona and Lee by scattering five singles in 7 1-3 innings of a 4-0 win over the A’s (23-17) on Tuesday.
“It’s a friendly competition. (They) try to keep one-upping one another,” manager Eric Wedge said. “… All we ask is to give us a chance to win, but they’re going above the call of duty.”
Tuesday’s victory was Cleveland’s third shutout in four games and fourth win in its last five. The shutdown pitching has been all the more crucial for the Indians in the early going, as they’re tied for ninth in the AL in runs with 168.
Sabathia (2-5, 6.55 ERA) seems poised to continue the scoreless run. After going 0-3 with a 13.50 ERA in his first four starts, he’s 2-2 with a 1.98 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 27 1-3 innings in his last four.
Sabathia lasted at least six innings in each of his previous four outings after failing to get out of the sixth in his first four.
“He’s pitching with confidence,” Wedge told his team’s official Web site. “He’s throwing the ball where he wants to throw it and making adjustments when he needs to.”
Sabathia, though, has struggled against the A’s, losing six of his last seven starts with an 8.05 ERA over that span. His shortest and worst outing of the season came against Oakland, as he allowed nine runs in 3 1-3 innings of a 9-7 home loss April 11.
“They always do a good job making you throw pitches,” Sabathia said after that game. “Today they didn’t even have to. I wasn’t close. It was one of those days.”
Sabathia also faced the A’s in his start prior to that defeat, pitching 5 1-3 innings and giving up four runs in a 6-1 road loss April 5. He’s 2-7 with a 6.84 ERA in his career versus Oakland.
The A’s beat Texas 12-6 on Sunday, but they’ve lost three of four, getting shut out twice over that span. No Oakland player in Tuesday’s starting lineup finished the game hitting better than .279.
Like Cleveland, Oakland has gotten an outstanding performance from its pitching staff early in the season. The A’s 3.32 ERA is the best in the majors even though opening day starter Joe Blanton leads the team in losses. Blanton (2-5, 3.82) also has the worst ERA among Oakland starters.
Blanton’s two victories this season have come in his only two starts on the road. He beat Sabathia in Cleveland on April 11 despite allowing five runs in 7 2-3 innings.
Oakland took two of three in each of its two April series against the Indians, but would need to win Wednesday to have a chance to repeat the feat a third time. The A’s were 2-5 in Cleveland last year.