Yankees’ Sabathia back in Cleveland facing Indians

CLEVELAND — On April 8, 2001, 20-year-old CC Sabathia made the first start of his major league career, at Progressive Field. Saturday night, 37-year-old CC Sabathia will make the 557th start of his major league career, at Progressive Field.

Sabathia (6-4, 3.34 ERA) will be on the mound for the New York Yankees, pitching against the team that drafted him, and for whom Sabathia won 106 games and a Cy Young Award, the Cleveland Indians.

It will be the third game of a four-game series between the Yankees and Indians, who have split the first two games of the series.

For Sabathia, pitching in Cleveland is always a homecoming of sorts. The Indians selected him with the 20th pick in the first round of the 1998 June draft. He won 17 games as a rookie in 2001 and spent the next 7 1/2 years with the Indians, winning the Cy Young Award in 2007.

Sabathia still ranks fifth on the Indians’ career list for strikeouts (1,201) and ninth in winning percentage at .599 (106-71).

Cleveland traded him to Milwaukee in 2008. He signed with New York as a free agent in 2009, and his 126 wins for the Yankees makes him one of just eight pitchers in history to have won 100 games for two franchises.

Sabathia’s 2,921 career strikeouts are the third most by a left-hander in major league history, trailing only Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton.

Friday will be Sabathia’s second start of the season against his former team. On May 4, Sabathia pitched six scoreless innings giving up three hits, with seven strikeouts and no walks, but got no decision in New York’s 7-6 victory. In 12 career starts against the Indians Sabathia is 4-3 with a 3.36 ERA. In 123 career starts at Progressive Field he is 51-41, with a 3.80 ERA.

One of the challenges for Sabathia will be keeping Indians leadoff hitter Francisco Lindor off base. In addition to hitting .297, with 25 home runs and 62 RBIs out of the leadoff spot, Lindor has scored a major league-high 85 runs.

“He loves hitting (leadoff) and we like him hitting there,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “He’s really taking to it. He’s on a pace to score a ton of runs, and that’s how you win games.”

Mike Clevinger, who was 11 years old when Sabathia made his major league debut, will start Saturday for Cleveland. Clevinger (7-4, 3.34) will be making his second start against the Yankees this year. On May 6 in New York, he pitched one of his best games of the season. In 7 1/3 innings he gave up two runs on one hit, with 10 strikeouts, in a 7-4 Cleveland loss.

Clevinger’s last start came on July 9, a 7-5 loss to Cincinnati in which he pitched six innings, allowing five runs on seven hits with a season-high 11 strikeouts and three walks. In two career appearances against the Yankees, Clevinger has a 5.40 ERA and no decisions.

The Indians won Friday night’s game 6-5, snapping their streak of seven consecutive losses to the Yankees, dating back to Game 3 of last year’s American League Championship Series.

“They’re really good. They’re really talented. They play hard, and they play right to the end,” Francona said.