Indians-Astros pitching duel continues Saturday

HOUSTON — Having spent most of this season lauding his starting rotation, a quintet of pitchers worthy of any and all accolades, Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch was keen to acknowledge just how good the five starters the Cleveland Indians have relied on this season have been.

While the Astros (29-17) entered the series leading the majors in starters’ ERA at 2.24, Cleveland ranked second overall at 3.42. True to that form, Astros right-hander Charlie Morton limited the Indians to one run on four hits and one walk over seven innings on Friday, pitching Houston to a 4-1 victory in the opener.

His mound counterpart, Indians right-hander Mike Clevinger, suffered his first loss after allowing two runs in the seventh inning. Prior to that, Clevenger proved to be up to the task of maintaining his road ERA of 0.83, a mark that ranked second in the majors entering Friday.

“They’re hard to hit,” Hinch said of the Indians’ starters. “They get soft contact, they get swings and misses, and they’re really tough on right-handed hitters. When you look at Clevinger, (right-hander Corey) Kluber ( Saturday’s starter), (right-hander Carlos) Carrasco (on Sunday), we’re not facing (Trevor) Bauer and (Josh) Tomlin but they come at you with really good right-handed starters every night.

“They’ve been that way and they’ve got a couple guys on the DL who’ve been tough in the past as well. They haven’t gotten the credit that they deserve the last few years of potentially the best starting pitching over a three-year span that’s been tough on us for sure.”

Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (3-5, 3.10 ERA) will start for Houston on Saturday. He recorded the Astros’ lone victory against Cleveland last season, twirling a complete game on April 25 while allowing two runs on six hits and three walks with five strikeouts in a 4-2 road win.

Keuchel, 4-0 with a 2.21 ERA over six career appearances (five starts) against the Indians, has logged at least seven innings in four consecutive starts this season, his longest such streak since doing so over nine appearances from 2016-17.

Kluber (6-2, 2.34 ERA) will pitch on extended rest as the Indians seek to square the series. He has allowed three or fewer runs in each of his last 21 starts dating back to Aug. 1, 2017, which is tied with Sonny Siebert for the longest streak by an Indians starter since 1908.

Kluber faced the Astros once last season, striking out 10 batters while limiting Houston to three runs on eight hits and four walks over seven innings in a 4-3 win at Progressive Field. He is 5-3 with a 3.26 ERA over eight career appearances (seven starts) against the Astros, including a 2-2 mark and 3.42 ERA over four games (three starts) at Minute Maid Park.

With off days bracketing their three-game set in Houston, the Indians (21-22) are likely to keep their starters on turn despite the extra rest. The day off Monday will be their third since May 10.

“Yeah, I think so,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We reserve the right to see how we get through the next couple of days, see if the extra day will help them (Clevinger and Kluber).”