CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – The Cleveland Indians earning the best record in the American League also earned them the opportunity to avoid Yankees ace Luis Severino in Game 1.
The hard-throwing right-hander only threw 29 pitches in New York’s Wild Card win on Tuesday, most of them ineffective. That was still enough for Yankees skipper Joe Girardi to hold off on Severino’s second playoff outing until Monday.
Instead, Girardi has gone to mid-season acquisition Sonny Gray for the Game 1 start, which may be even better news for the Indians.
If you believe 10 2/3 innings is a large enough sample size to draw from, you would think the Indians have handled Gray well. The righty was rocked at Progressive Field in late May to the tune of seven earned runs on nine hits over 4 2/3 innings, then allowed four runs (two earned) in his first start for the Bronx Bombers on August 3rd.
At home, which on July 14th was still the spacious Oakland Colosseum, Gray blanked the Indians over six two-hit innings. That was enough for Girardi.
“You know, if you look at some of the outings he’s had against them, the raw numbers he’s had against them, he’s fared as well as any pitcher that we have,” the former catcher said.
Gray has not seen the Indians in over two months, and has been battling himself in the meantime. In his final three regular season starts, the former All-Star allowed five-or-more runs twice, only making it through six once.
He also walked 10 hitters over the course of 14 2/3 innings.
Gray lamented the walks during his Wednesday availability.
“I think throwing strikes, throwing quality strikes, especially early, getting ahead of the count is all things that play a big factor in a starting pitcher’s game,” he said. “Everyone says this is a new season. This is kind of why you play the game. So it’s all about the next game, and the next game for us is tomorrow.”
Gray’s 8.4% walk rate ranks him 14th among qualified starting pitchers this season, while the Indians’ 9.7% rate as a team puts them in a tie with their ALDS opponents for 3rd.
The 27-year old relies heavily on his four- and two-seam fastballs, to the tune of 64.2% of his offerings. The Indians are the 4th-best team in the game in terms of hitting fastballs, according to FanGraphs.
The Wild Card game predictably aided the Indians in avoiding the Yankees’ biggest weapon, their league-leading bullpen, but to an extent greater than anyone would have imagined.
Both Chad Green and David Robertson will be on the shelf for the opener after tossing a combined 5 1/3 innings. Tommy Kahnle has not been ruled out, but also threw 29 pitches over 2 1/3.
It won’t put too much of a dent into a relief unit that will have Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and Aroldis Chapman ready. What it did do was force Girardi to use two roster spots on starters Jaime Garcia and Jordan Montgomery.