Two pitchers who took opposite approaches to the All-Star break are set to duel Sunday afternoon when the Cleveland Indians and host Oakland Athletics conclude their three-game set.
The series has been about as evenly contested as possible for two days.
Oakland rallied on a Jed Lowrie walk-off homer for a 5-4 win on Friday, and Cleveland answered with a 3-2 victory Saturday as a potential game-winning homer by Oakland’s Sean Murphy was caught on the warning track in the ninth inning.
The series finale will match Zach Plesac (4-3, 4.31 ERA) of the Indians against All-Star Chris Bassitt (10-2, 3.28) of the A’s.
Plesac will pitch at the major-league level for just the second time since suffering a broken thumb in a freak accident in the aftermath of an Indians’ loss to the Minnesota Twins on May 23.
The right-hander worked four innings in his return on July 8, holding the Kansas City Royals to three runs on five hits. He recorded a no-decision in Cleveland’s 7-4 victory.
Plesac used the All-Star break to prepare himself for the second half. Plesac, after all, has been thrust into the team’s ace role with Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale out with injuries.
Indians manager Terry Francona applauded Plesac’s patience in working his way back into form before taking the ball.
“He has been exemplary in his work, which is not surprising,” Francona said. “We’ve had people from other teams come to us and say, ‘You know, watching this kid on the field, man, wow, that’s pretty special what he’s doing.’ So that makes us proud.
“We knew he wanted to pitch right away for us. I think we have an obligation, though, to make sure that guys can compete with health and not hurt themselves.”
Plesac hasn’t lost since April 20 against the Chicago White Sox. He’s gone 3-0 since with a 3.27 ERA in seven starts.
The 26-year-old has yet to face the A’s in his three-year career. In fact, he’s pitched just twice in California as a big-leaguer, winning both games against the Los Angeles Angels.
A Saturday start could have meant the Ball State alum going head-to-head with Indiana State rival Sean Manaea, but Francona was exercising caution by holding back Plesac. A’s skipper Bob Melvin, conversely, was pushing his left-hander up a day as a precautionary move for his ace, Bassitt.
Melvin announced after last Sunday’s victory at Texas that Bassitt had been penciled into opening the second half on his usual four days’ rest.
It’s not usual for guys who pitch on the Sunday before the All-Star Game to return in the showcase two days later, but Bassitt talked his way into the contest.
“I didn’t expect him in the game, to tell you the truth,” Melvin said. “But when they said (in the sixth) inning, ‘Here comes Chris Bassitt,’ I had to kind of refocus.”
Bassitt, who threw 24 pitches in an adventurous inning during the American League’s 5-2 win, will take a 10-game winning streak into the second half. He hasn’t lost since dropping his first two starts of the season.
Like Plesac, Bassitt has yet to defeat Sunday’s opponent. He is 0-1 with a 4.24 ERA in three career starts against the Indians.
–Field Level Media