|Red Sox, Indians to decide season series|
CLEVELAND -- The American League Central champion Cleveland Indians will host the AL East champion Boston Red Sox on Sunday night in the finale of a three-game series between clubs that could meet in the AL Championship Series.
Cleveland will likely play Houston in the Division Series, and the Red Sox will play the winner of the wild-card game in the other Division Series. The Indians and Red Sox have split their first six games this season.
Sunday's game will feature starting pitchers who are not in either team's rotation, but are making spot starts.
Cleveland sends out Adam Plutko, who has only started 11 games this year. Boston's starter will be Hector Velazquez, who will make his eighth start of the year.
Plutko (4-5, 5.27 ERA), is 4-5 with a 5.37 ERA in his 11 starts. In four relief appearances, he has a 4.50 ERA and no record.
His last start was a no-decision on Sept. 8 against Toronto, a game the Indians won 9-8. Plutko pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing five runs and nine hits, with four strikeouts and no walks.
Plutko's last appearance was as a reliever Sept. 16 against Detroit in which he pitched one scoreless inning on two hits, with one strikeout and no walks.
Plutko has one career appearance against the Red Sox. It came Aug. 23, a 7-0 loss in Boston. He pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up five runs, five hits and five walks with four strikeouts. He hasn't won a game since June 24. In nine appearances (six starts) since, he is 0-4 with a 5.77 ERA.
When Indians manager Terry Francona has to go to his bullpen Sunday, he'll call on a unit that was a disaster in the first two months of the season, but has been much better of late. The turnaround started when veteran left-hander Oliver Perez was signed as a free agent after the Yankees released him June 1.
Perez made his debut with the Indians on June 2. In 49 appearances, he is 1-1 with a 0.87 ERA. In 31 innings, he has allowed 14 hits, with 41 strikeouts and six walks while holding opposing hitters to a .136 batting average. Left-handed hitters are hitting .180 against him, right-handers .071. He has allowed only 7.3 percent of his inherited runners to score (3 of 41), the best mark in the American League.
"He's been so good, he's changed our bullpen," Francona said. "He's pitching with a ton of confidence."
Francona appreciates the stability that Perez has brought to the bullpen.
"Bullpens are so volatile. Guys get on runs. You see it every year. It's so up and down," he said.
Velazquez is 7-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 44 appearances (seven starts). As a starter, he is 2-2 with a 4.00 ERA. In 37 relief appearances he is 5-0 with a 2.75 ERA.
Velazquez's last start came Sept. 5 when he had no decision in a 9-8 Boston victory over Atlanta. In that game, he pitched four innings, allowing two runs and five hits, with two strikeouts and three walks.
Velazquez's last appearance came in the first game of this series Friday night, when he pitched one-third of an inning, allowing no runs and one hit. That is Velazquez's only career appearances against Cleveland.