The Cleveland Indians will send a rookie to the mound in their second attempt to finish off the Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series.
On Wednesday at Rogers Centre (4:08 p.m. ET), rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt gets the start against Blue Jays righty Marco Estrada.
Cleveland leads the best-of-seven series 3-1 after Toronto’s 5-1 win Tuesday.
Estrada is hoping to duplicate the effort from his start in Game 5 of last year’s ALCS, when he yielded one run over 7 2/3 innings against Kansas City to keep Toronto from being eliminated. The 33-year-old tossed his first major-league complete game at Cleveland in Game 1 of this series but took the loss after allowing a two-run home run by Francisco Lindor and six hits in eight frames.
Estrada also helped the Blue Jays avoid elimination in Game 3 of the 2015 ALDS at Texas, giving up just one run over 6 1/3 innings in his first career post-season start.
Merritt’s major league resume consists of 11 regular-season innings this year. He made one start, holding Kansas City to a run and three hits in five innings on Sept. 30.
Merritt will become the second pitcher in major-league history to start a playoff game after making just one regular-season start in his career. The 24-year-old Texan got the nod at Kansas City on Sept. 30 and recorded the victory after allowing just one run and three hits over five innings. Merritt began his tenure in the majors with three relief appearances, where he gave up one run and three hits in six frames.
“If you told me on the first day of the season I would be pitching in the ALCS, I might have thought you were crazy,” Merritt said. “Clinching this win would be awesome. To get this opportunity is awesome. It feels good that the team trusts me.”
Francona is optimistic Merritt will be up to the task.
“I think he’s OK,” the manager said. “He talked to [pitching coach Mickey Callaway] a little bit about the scouting report this morning.”
‘I like where we’re at’: Bautista
As for the Jays, they will have to prepare for a pitcher they have never seen. But Jays slugger Jose Bautista thinks the circumstances work in their favour.
“We’ll try to look at videos, look at some scouting reports, see how his ball moves,” Bautista said. “Not having seen him play, it’s something that could go either way. With our experience and our lineup, I’m pretty sure he’s going to be shaking in his boots more than we are. So I like where we’re at.”
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons shrugged off the suggestion Wednesday that Bautista had given the Indians some juicy bulletin-board material by suggesting rookie Cleveland pitcher would be scared of facing Toronto’s potent lineup.
“The game plays itself out. It’s not like I haven’t heard [Bautista] ever say anything before,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t put too much into that.”
Cleveland has been without starters Carlos Carrasco (broken hand) and Danny Salazar (forearm) this entire post-season. Right-hander Trevor Bauer left Game 3 after four batters when blood began dripping from his right pinkie, sliced open last week as the pitcher was repairing one of the drones he enjoys flying as a hobby.
The early exit by Bauer forced the Indians to get 25 outs from their stellar bullpen Monday night and prompted Francona to turn to Kluber on short rest in Game 4.
If the ALCS goes the distance, Kluber could wind up starting on three days’ rest again. Game 7 would be Saturday in Cleveland.
“We’re one win away from the World Series and that’s what we’re focused on,” Kluber said.